Bull in a souvenir shop: Osborne out to sidestep fake industry

The first Tienda Toro opened last week in Madrid to sell products bearing the image of the famous Osborne bull

The Osborne bull is over 50 years old, and its dark silhouette is famous across Spain ever since Manuel Prieto designed it in 1956 as the image for a brandy called Veteran. For decades the enormous, two-dimensional animals have loomed over Spanish roads, and their impact on the national psyche is such that in 1997 the Supreme Court raised them to "national symbol" status, excluding them from a law that prohibits billboards outside city limits.

Two years ago, Osborne began commercializing the bull by issuing 30 licenses for various products bearing its image. Many of these items are now on sale at Spain's first Tienda Toro, located in downtown Madrid and officially opened last Thursday. And even though the products on display - pens, cigarette lighters and so on - are typical of any of the myriad souvenir shops in the area, this establishment looks more like a boutique than a bazaar thanks to its high ceilings and old iron-wrought columns.

According to Iván Llanza, Osborne's communications director, the company has spent years fighting against the sale of fakes - t-shirts, pins, stickers and bags bearing the "typically Spanish" bull image.

"In the last 10 years the police have seized over 500,000 articles worth an estimated 3 million euros," says Llanza.

The courts have ruled in the company's favor, arguing that although the bull is a national symbol, it is also a registered trademark and its rights belong to Osborne.

Britney and William, two American students who are here to practice their Spanish, visited Tienda Toro last week. "This is a great place to buy a souvenir - there's something for everybody," said Britney as she examined the mugs on display. Although neither youngster knew about the history of the Osborne toro , William said that bulls are the animals most readily identified with Spain. "The two really go together!"

Alexandra Nieto, 22, the store clerk, confirmed that most clients are foreign tourists.

Juan Alegría, Osborne's director of new business, says it hopes to open 40 stores in Spain over the next five years. "And we have a list of interested parties, including some in Germany and other countries."