Category Archives: trademarks

Ignorance not Bliss – Avoiding liability for infringing pay-per-click advertising activity

Often, businesses treat intellectual property just as something they need to own and register, without giving enough thought to the risk of infringement.  Even where the risk of infringement is considered, business owners don’t often realise that they could be liable for the actions of their contractors or employees, even if they are unaware of them.

This is increasingly a problem when it comes to social media and online marketing, and a recent dispute illustrates the risks involved.  Ayesha Vardag, a prominent divorce lawyer, discovered that, unbeknownst to her, the marketing agency her firm had engaged was bidding on the name of her previous employer in order to generate enquiries through Google AdWords.  Following negotiations, Vardag agreed to settle for over £40,000, as reported by The Lawyer.

European Trademark Registration

European Trademarks

European Trademark RegistrationIf you are doing business in a number of different European countries then, rather than registering your trademarks in each jurisdiction separately, you will likely apply for protection at the European level. 

This enables you, through a single application, to  secure protection in all 28 countries (and counting). 

Unless you only need protection in one or two member states, a European trademark is a far more cost effective, and straightforward solution.

However, it is not without its risks.  While a trademark application in just a single country generally just faces the possibility of an objection from other brand owners in that country, a European Community Trademark can be opposed by an existing trademark owner in any one of the 28 member countries of the EU.  This would then block the entire trademark.

So, how can you minimise your risks? The key is to commission professional searches to identify potential obstacles before you commit to a mark, and file your application.  You might begin by initially looking at the UK and European trademark registers, before then expanding the search to the national registers of each EU country.  International searches like this can be quite expensive, and offer diminishing returns, so it is important to discuss what degree of searching is appropriate with your legal adviser.  It is never possible to eliminate the risks entirely, but through appropriate searches, you can improve your chances without blowing your budget.  Your attitude to risk, and the funds you are willing to commit to searching, will generally depend upon how critical your brand is to your business.

But what if you do encounter a problem? That is not necessarily the end of the road.  If your European application is opposed by a business with rights in just a single member state, the first step will generally be to negotiate with them, and see if it is possible to come to an agreement allowing both businesses to coexist.  Under some circumstances, it might not be possible to reach an amicable settlement, in which case the European trademark courts may resolve the dispute.  However, this can be costly for all involved.

If, ultimately, you do decide it is best to withdraw your application in that particular country, all is not lost as you are free to file national applications in those European countries from which you did not face an objection.  However, there are no guarantees that those national applications would not face objections from other trademark owners.

A key issue when it comes to trademarks is what is known as the priority date.  Typically, this is the date on which you file your trademark application, and the date from which your registration is effective.  If you were to entirely withdraw your application following a dispute, and refile national applications, then you would receive a new priority date.  However, it is possible to convert a European trademark application into a group of national applications, and retain your original priority date.  An important advantage of doing so, is that your application will, broadly speaking, take precedence over others which were filed in the interim.

Still, converting a European application to national applications, or refiling directly in the relevant countries, can become very expensive as fees are payable in respect of each territory.  So, where resources allow, it is best to carry out appropriate searches in advance.  You can find out more about national, and international trademark registration on our dedicated website AzrightsTradeMarkRegistration.co.uk.

Pinterest will now have to change its name if it fails to obtain a licence from Premium Interest

European Trademark Office rules Pinterest doesn’t own rights to its name

US social network Pinterest has lost grip of its European trademark rights

US social network Pinterest has lost grip of its European trademark rights

Social networking giant Pinterest lost its trademark battle against Premium Interest, a London-based news aggregation start-up, following a ruling by the European Commission Office for Harmonisation of the Internal Market (OHIM). The implications of the EU trademark office’s decision is that Pinterest could be forced to change its name in Europe.

Premium Interest, founded by Alex Hearn, filed for registration of its European trade mark in January 2012 – two years after Pinterest.com launched. Although Pinterest was active at this time, it had yet to formally enter the European market or even register its name in the US.

Pinterest tried to overcome its own lack of registration by taking advantage of a provision in the trademark regulations which protects well known marks. It argued that the Premium Interest application should be refused as it took unfair advantage of Pinterest’s reputation to register a similar name. However, in the view of the registry, Pinterest failed to prove it was well-known enough in the continent at the time of the registration.

Hearn’s legal representative, Mishcon de Reya’s Adam Morallee, said Pinterest will now have to change its name if it fails to obtain a licence from Premium Interest to use the name Pinterest. In the meantime, Pinterest remains defiant and is set to appeal the ruling. To win the case, Pinterest will need to demonstrate it had rights in Europe before Premium Interest registered its trademark. The site’s prominence in the US will not be considered.

This case highlights the dangers of not acting quickly to protect your brand name in the global marketplace. Indeed, Hearn has also registered its Premium interest trademark in other markets, including Australia.

A solid reputation in one country may be insufficient in a different jurisdiction if you aren’t the first to file for a trademark there, irrespective of the size of your business. This is of particular relevance to digital online businesses.

Given Pinterest’s reputation as a robust defender of its branding – from its Pin-it button, to its curvy P logo, and its discouragement of partners using variations of the words “pin” or “pinterest” as puns in their names – this is a serious blow to the social network.

The moral, as with so many trademark disputes, is to take action early to protect the investment in the brand by registering trade marks in your key markets. Pinterest is now set to face an uphill battle which, apart from the legal fees it has already incurred, will likely involve extortionate settlement fees or the costly and damaging requirement to rebrand.

Entertainment_jpg

Battle of the Bands

Entertainment_jpgTrademarks can be one of the most significant of IP rights as a recent case involving the band Wishbone Ash  demonstrates.

The band was popular in the 1970s, and as often happens with bands, members came and went, so that eventually Andy Powell was the last man standing from the original group. He nurtured a new team so that the Wishbone Ash band still performs under that name. He registered the name as a European Community trademark. Then a former band member, Martin Turner set up a new band under the name calling his band Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash. So, Andy Powell successfully applied for an injunction to stop the use of the name Wishbone Ash. Martin Turner is apparently appealing the court’s decision. The judge awarded Andy Powell more than £40,000 in costs and has ordered Martin Turner to deliver up all flyers, CD covers and other material which bears the Wishbone Ash name.

Over on Azrights trademark registration blog we recently reported the Nestle v Cadbury case which demonstrates how difficult it can be to secure trademark protection for colours. We also discussed the lessons to be learned from the Duffins trademark case about what to do during product creation in order to protect your brand.

 

Trademark Registration A Lack of Finality?

Trademark Registration – A Lack of Finality?

Trademark Registration a lack of Finality?Over half a million trademark applications are filed each year throughout Europe, and a memo of the European Commission indicates that as of March 2013 there were nearly 10 million trademarks listed in European registers.  Putting it mildly, the Commission notes that “The demand for trade mark protection is high”.  But if you consider the essential purpose of trademarks, a problem starts to emerge.

Are the Trademark Registers too Crowded?

At their most basic, trademarks are a way for consumers to tell the goods and services of one business apart from those of another.  In principle, trade mark rights can also last indefinitely.  So, if the number of trade marks registered continues to grow in this fashion, with every combination, and every permutation being snapped up, surely businesses will run out of words to use?  Some people worry that it is already difficult to find a good .com domain name, but what would be the impact if you faced an uphill struggle when looking for a brand name you could use in general?  What if all possible brand names were taken, what would you call your new business, or products?

Fortunately, even if the rate at which trademarks are applied for is set to increase significantly, this scenario is far from becoming a reality.  First of all, just to cover all possible combinations of letters and numbers with marks only as long as the word ADIDAS would mean every single human being on the planet registering at least 10 trade marks, and that doesn’t take into account stylised text, logos, sounds, colours, shapes or other types of trademark.  Of course, the scope of protection extends further than basic identity – the use of a similar word can constitute infringement of a registered trademark, so not every combination of characters need be registered before it becomes difficult to conceive something novel.  However, this becomes even less of a problem once you account for the fact that the same trademark can be registered by different owners who are not competitors, but even so, the cluttering of the trademark registers is undoubtedly a valid concern.

Trademark Revocation

That’s why the role of trademark revocation is important.  Trademark registrations are not immortal, and although it’s feasible to maintain them indefinitely provided that renewal fees are paid promptly, there are a number of grounds on which a registration might be challenged.  One of the fundamental grounds on which you might apply for revocation of a registered trademark is that it isn’t being used.  Richard Arnold QC put it like this:

“The purpose of revocation is to remove trade marks or parts of the specifications of trade marks where there has not been use.  It is there to serve a purpose in trade; it is the Lipitor that stops the arteries of commerce being blocked with the cholesterol of unused trade marks”

Broadly speaking, if a trademark is left languishing for a continuous period of 5 years, it is vulnerable to revocation.  So, out with the old (owner) and in with the new.  But this is far from the only reason a trademark might be struck from the registers.

As discussed above, the purpose of a trade mark is to help consumers distinguish the goods and services of one undertaking from those of another, and once a word becomes the common name for something, it can lose this ability to designate origin.  This process is referred to by trade mark professionals as genericide – once a trade mark becomes generic it loses its distinctive character.  Some common examples of genericide are Hoover and Escalator – both of which are brand names which have become accepted into general language.  Once this happens, trademark registrations are on shaky ground.

Although far less common, another basis for revocation of a registered trademark is the argument that it is likely to mislead the public, for example if the trademark suggests that products have a particular geographical origin, or a particular quality when in fact they do not.

Invalidation

Aside from revocation, registrations can also be declared invalid.  Whereas the impact of revocation is that the mark is removed from the registers, if a trademark is declared invalid it is treated as never having been registered at all.  Trademark applications occasionally slip through the net, and so a registration might be invalidated if later on, it is discovered that a similar or identical trademark was already registered by someone else, or because another business had built up rights in a conflicting trademark by using it.  Alternatively, having been reassessed the trademark could be deemed descriptive in retrospect, and therefore lacking the ability to distinguish the origin of goods and service.

Should I still try to Register my Trademark?

So, registration is feasibly indefinite, but there are no guarantees as it suffers from a lack of finality.  Does this mean it isn’t worth registering? Absolutely not. The key message here is that there is far more to registering a trademark than simply making it onto the registers.  All of the risks mentioned above can be managed by taking care at the outset.  By casting a critical eye over your trademark before applying for registration, an expert will be able to assess whether it might later be deemed descriptive, or deceptive, and a professional search will reduce the chances of conflicting rights turning up out of the blue later on.  They will also be able to advise you of ways to maintain your registration, for example by using the registered trademark symbol you may be able to avoid genericide, alerting people to the fact that the mark isn’t simply a common word but an indication that you are the source of the product.

To help avoid losing your rights you should also take care to make genuine use of your trademark.  The concept of genuine use is complex, and you might be surprised by some of the situations which don’t meet this test.  For example, a manufacturer promoted its clothes by giving away drinks labelled with its brand, and because the freebies were not distributed with the aim of penetrating the drinks market, it was not sufficient to maintain rights over the brand in that class of goods.  On a related note, it’s important that you take care to use the mark in the way it is registered, and if you do make a change, for example by altering the design of your logo, you should consider whether it’s necessary to file a fresh application for the variation.

SkyDrive

SkyDrive Set for a Skydive? – Cloud computing service faces dispute over similar trademark

SkyDriveA recent decision of the High Court provides a useful illustration of the breadth of the rights granted by trademark registration.  In that ruling the use of SKYDRIVE by Microsoft for its cloud storage solutions, was found to infringe the trade mark SKY, used in connection with, among other things, broadband internet.  For context it is worthwhile getting a better picture of the rights you receive in exchange for successfully registering a trademark.

When you register a brand name as a trademark, you might assume that the law will simply prevent others from using that name in their business. However, the position is somewhat more complex, and the protection you receive is in a sense both broader and narrower than that.

Regular readers of our blog are likely already aware that when registering a trademark, that registration is restricted to certain specified goods and services.  For example, you might register YOURBRAND for use with clothing and accessories.  While this limits the exclusivity of your rights to a certain extent, such that another business might be entitled to sell cars, or make a TV show called YOURBRAND, you may still be able to take action if another business uses the same brand with goods or services which are similar to your own.  But what if the name they use isn’t exactly the same, just similar?

In fact, there are a number of situations when you might be able to take action upon discovering your registered trademark, or a similar trademark, being used without your permission.  This is because the law looks in detail at whether the marks are in fact identical, or just similar, and whether they are intended to be used in connection with identical or similar goods or services.

Even if someone uses just a similar brand, with similar goods or services, you can nonetheless take action if you can show that the public is likely to be confused.  If your trademark has a reputation and a similar or identical mark has been used without permission in a way which takes unfair advantage of, or is detrimental to, the reputation or distinctive character of your mark, that may also constitute infringement.

So, the strongest case arises when an identical trademark is used for identical goods or services, but neither of these elements are essential.

Returning to the recent dispute over use of SKYDRIVE on the basis of the registered trademark SKY, the court found that although the two trademarks were not identical, there was sufficient similarity between the two marks, and between the goods and services for which they were used, that a claim for infringement should succeed.

The court also found that there was infringement on the basis that Sky’s reputation in the UK is strong, that use of SKYDRIVE would reduce the distinctiveness of the SKY brand, and that Microsoft was not compelled, or otherwise had due cause to use that particular wording.

There are a vast range of factors which influence such a decision, for example in this case the fact that the word “Drive” is arguably descriptive of the service Microsoft provides, that the core goods and services provided by each business were complementary, and that third parties have created apps based on SkyDrive, such as SkyWallet, all supported the court’s judgment.

Serious repercussions can arise from unjustified claims so, given the wide range of factors that are relevant when assessing whether trademark infringement has taken place, it is important to seek specialist advice before taking action yourself.

Microsoft have said that they will appeal the decision, so the dispute is far from over, and it will be interesting to see if the company chooses to continue using the brand name despite this ruling, in the hope that they are ultimately successful.

Apple granted a trademark over physical layout of the Apple Stores

Fifth Avenue Apple Store (Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

Trademarks can protect more than just a brand name or logo. Chocolate maker Cadbury successfully trademarked the shade of purple associated with the brand, while Coca-Cola famously managed to secure a trademark over its iconic Coke bottle. But, in typical ‘think different’ fashion, Apple has now gone a step further, and legitimately trademarked the physical layout of its popular retail stores.

Although not the first instance of a shop interior being granted a trademark, the news has attracted a lot of attention. The U.S Patent and Trademark Office twice rejected Apple’s efforts to trademark the store layout, before finally accepting a “distinctive design and layout” after additional documentation was submitted.

The stores are known for their sleek and uncluttered look. Apple reportedly spends an average of $10 million launching each individual store, usually located in carefully selected upmarket districts. Attention to detail is taken very seriously- the sandstone flooring is imported directly from Florence, while the late Steve Jobs even patented the minimalist glass staircases himself.

Apple’s new trademark covers the trade dress, and overall visual appearance of its stores in the United States. This encompasses elements of the store design, such as the “rectangular tables arranged in a line in the middle of the store” and “multi-tiered shelving along the rear walls”.

With so much investment to ensure the overall quality and unique identity of the Apple Stores, one can understand why Apple is so keen to prevent anyone else mimicking its stores. Competitor Microsoft recently launched its own retail store strategy, while Google has also unveiled plans to open retail stores in California. In fact, Microsoft reportedly acquired a trademark for its own stores in 2011, which covered “a retail store with four curved tabletops at the front and rear side walls and a rectangular band displaying changing video images on the walls”.

Another obvious reason behind Apple’s move is to protect itself against the cheap ‘copy-cat’ stores popping up in China. These stores are deliberately conceived to fool customers into thinking the traders are selling official Apple merchandise. Indeed, many of their customers may have never set foot in an authentic Apple store, and would be unaware they were buying false products.

While the decision clearly benefits Apple, some commentators question if it is appropriate to grant companies trademarks over the layouts of retail stores. Forbes  has criticized Apple’s ability to prevent competitors using in-store rectangular tables, and argues that in the fight against Asian rip-offs, the law of passing-off is sufficient to defeat copy-cat merchants, without resorting to trademarking physical spaces.

But while this argument is valid, proving a passing-off claim is often much harder and more expensive without an established and watertight trademark. With an army of handsomely paid corporate lawyers, Apple is leaving nothing to chance.

Many business owners and company directors are calling for legal reform, to further assist businesses to protect their carefully nurtured brands without resorting to costly litigation. However, some fear that companies would soon monopolise combinations of fairly simple features. IPKat points out, that UK law is far stricter when granting trade dress, as the test requires a mark to be “truly distinctive”.

For the Apple Store layout to acquire a trademark or trade dress in the UK, Apple would have to demonstrate the stores were so unique and distinctive that the public would easily associate the store designs with the Apple brand. Clearly, for most businesses, attempts to secure a trade dress will not be viable. And as the law currently stands, it is difficult to protect distinctive features of a shop layout without engaging the expensive litigation route.

In the high street, distinctive stores can be beneficial. Customers are able to immediately identify store branding and associate particular shopping experiences with particular stores. Therefore, as branding becomes increasingly important, the expansion of legal protection over unique in- shop experiences is likely to be sought out. But until it becomes easier to protect others from copying the interiors of a retail business, the easiest option for most business will be to rely on printing their trademarked brand names or logos on various surfaces throughout the store to act as identifiers which are protected against copying.

Licensing- Don’t Risk Losing Your Trademark

Licensing – Don’t Risk Losing Your Trademark

If your business has reached the stage where you are looking to expand abroad or diversify into different markets, licensing your brand could be the ideal way of achieving this.

With licensing, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t the staff or the money to fund your expansion.  You license your brand to a third party that already has the staff and resources available within the target market in which you wish to expand.

The positives are many: it can be a lucrative move and can generate additional revenue for your business; it can increase your brand awareness; and it can help create new products for your brand without running the risk of failure on your part.

Licensing

Licensing Without Controls

However, licensing has its downsides, too, which can be exacerbated if you don’t manage your licensing effectively.  One of the biggest concerns to be aware of is loss of control.  So, whilst licensing can boost your brand’s strength, it could equally damage your brand’s reputation.

This is the risk you run if a third party is licensed to use your brand without any restrictions.  It’s not just your brand’s reputation that could be damaged; in some cases, a lack of monitoring on how a third party is using your brand name could result in you losing the rights over the name.

Eva’s Bridal Shop

Take the case of Eva’s Bridal Shop in Chicago .  In 1966, Eva Sweis opened a bridal shop under the brand name, Eva’s Bridal.  The brand built a reputation for providing top quality goods and services.  Eva obtained trademark rights in that name.

The trademark was used for generations; friends and family were allowed to set up bridal shops under the Eva’s Bridal label.  But in 2007, Eva’s Bridal attempted to take legal action against a former licensee for trademark infringement as he was using the trademark after the license had expired.  On the surface, this appeared a fairly simple case of infringement.

However, the original licence agreement exerted no control over the way the trademark was used, and the court ruled that this therefore eliminated Eva Bridal’s trademark rights in that name.

This is because licences over a trademark granted without any regulations or restrictions, are considered to be abandoning the trademark, no matter how long you may have previously had the rights over it.

Therefore, it is vital to ensure when you license a trademark to a third party, it is  not just an agreement stipulating how much you are licensing a trademark for, but also to ensure you have control over the way the trademark is used.

Trademark as a Symbol of Trust

Trademarks are there primarily to indicate to the public the origin of goods, and to protect them from confusion.  It enables the public to rely on a brand as a signifier of quality, or standard, and is a symbol of trust.

Therefore, if you are planning on licensing your business, be sure to introduce quality controls, and limit the distributor’s rights to sub-license the trademark.

How to License Effectively

The first consideration when approaching a licence agreement is to describe what is being licensed, and to take account of the extent of your trademark portfolio.  What specific products or services are covered and in which geographical areas?  Who will be responsible for filing further trademarks, and who will bear the cost of these?

As a general rule, it’s important for you, the licensor, to retain responsibility for the trademark registration.  The licence will be for a specific period of time and may impose a number of conditions.  In return, the licensee agrees to pay you royalties and is willing to do so because you have something that’s popular.

Licensing can be an invaluable tool to some business owners wishing to expand their brand, so, it is essential to make sure that licensing helps rather than hinders your business.

If you have had any experiences of licensing which you would be willing to share, I’d love it if you left a comment below.

Do you need to bother with trade marks?

Since writing my book, Legally Branded, a number of business owners have thanked me for making this fundamentally important subject of intellectual property (particularly trade marks) understandable.

Some entrepreneur friends have even  suggested I emphasise the risks, and danger of ignoring intellectual property advice.  However, I’ve always tried to steer clear of scare mongering as a tactic to raise the profile of intellectual property, preferring to work with those clients that “get” the importance of intellectual property.  Our clients are the ones that get it, even if they’re not in industries where IP is obviously critical to their success.  They value their IP from the moment they start their businesses as did our client Headspace, for example, who are doing great things to make meditation accessible.

I recently attended a meeting with a business owner whose mind was firmly made up that there was no point paying expensive lawyers to give advice on IP.  I had agreed to meet with him at the request of his marketing manager who understands the importance of IP and hoped that someone more aware of the ins and outs of IP may be able to persuade his boss.  However, this business owner’s views did not shift one bit as a result of our meeting mainly because he talked far more than he was willing to listen, and his mind was already made up.  So, I know better than to try to address those whose minds are already made up that they know all they need to know about IP.

This is for readers who are curious, or undecided

This post is for those who may be curious, or who are still on the fence about whether it’s worth bothering with trade marks.  While it’s never a good idea to generalise about who does or does not need IP, I will stick my neck out and say that if you’re a lifestyle business (by which I mean you’re aiming to earn a livelihood and are not trying to build a big business or one you can ultimately pass on or sell) you can ignore trade marks.  You’re unlikely to come to anyone’s attention, or pose a threat to existing trade mark owners such that they would want you to rebrand for infringing on their rights.  Even if someone did require you to rebrand, chances are it will just be an inconvenience to change your marketing materials and rename the business.  You won’t have a name that attracts business, so could rename the business without suffering a drop in activity.  Similarly, if you’re setting up a business and want to first see if it will take off, then you MAY, depending on your business idea, be able to use a temporary name, or take a chance with the name you want to use (provided you’re willing to change it if the advice is that you would do better to choose an alternative name), and see if you can get anything off the ground before worrying about trade marking.  But for everyone else, it would be really foolish not to get trade mark advice from a specialist lawyer on the name you’re using.

Trade marks may be revoked

Trade marks can be cancelled, so even if you’ve secured a trade mark registration it doesn’t mean you’re alright to use that mark.  That’s why it’s misguided to do your own registration work, just to save on legal fees.  You may end up getting a registration, but it may not be for a mark that is capable of generating brand value.  You may not have an adequate scope of coverage, so that although you’re registered, it may not protect you if someone were to challenge your rights.  For example, registering a logo with a totally descriptive name – that is, one that describes what the business does – is easy enough to secure.  However, it’s an extremely poor choice of branding.

The law protects businesses against various unfair competitive practices, and helps you fight off competitors who use similar marks to yours, but you have very limited recourse with a descriptive name.  Using a descriptive name or a name that is otherwise incapable of being owned by you as a trade mark, leaves you wide open.  You will lose business that may have been intended for you, and you will have a business that is far less valuable than it might have been had you selected a legally powerful name.  This is the reason you should always consult your own IP lawyer on any name your branding professionals help you to choose, unless they are willing to take responsibility for its legal effectiveness.

Keyword rich names probably best avoided 

Also, take a look at the blog I wrote about Google’s recent algorithm change, which makes it even more of a poor decision to use descriptive names now online.  The writing is on the wall, so I would avoid choosing keyword rich names too when branding your business online.  The slides from my talk at Make It Big in 2013 also discuss descriptive names more.

Get legal advice

Even though you get some protection in this country just by using a name, don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security.  For example, if someone registers a Community Trade Mark they can stop you using a name you’ve been using, or limit you to using it only in a certain geographical area.  Why court the vagaries of litigation with all the cost implications when you can secure your rights in a name you’re getting recognition with, by paying ten times less?

Trade marks and legal advice should not be dismissed as too expensive to bother with for anyone who has a viable business.  They are an investment, and are the foundation for licensing and other ways of monetising your products and services.  In particular, don’t wait till you have reached certain turnover targets, because trade marks are fundamentally relevant to any business that aspires to be more than a lifestyle business.  Your business name is what the law protects when competitors behave unfairly.  So, trade marking is good business practice and isn’t just about whether you intend to become a brand, or think that if you sold your company whoever bought it would want to use your brand name.

Misunderstanding IP

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the relevance of IP, and huge generalisations are made about its costs.  But given that there are many different IP rights, of which trade marks are just one type, it’s foolish to dismiss them all as too expensive.  Knowing how to implement procedures to protect just one of these rights may be the critical element to your business success after all.

I think the problem is down to the complexity of IP law.  We are still in a transitional period between an industrial economy and a knowledge economy.   Consequently knowing how to deal with the physical things, the tangibles comes easy while intangibles that you can’t feel or touch, are less well understood. Intangibles are our knowledge, our brands, our digital content, and more.  By their very nature, they are easy to lose. Being transient, and non-physical, their legal significance can sometimes be overlooked or misunderstood.

Scrabulous and other high profile cases

The fact is that it can be difficult for lawyers to point out the benefits of IP except by pointing to situations where there have been well known incidents, such as with Scrabulous, which I discussed in a post recently.  Those of us IP lawyers who prefer to focus on the positives, won’t therefore want to keep pointing out the dangers, but I have outlined a number of scenarios in my book Legally Branded, which should help you better understand the risks.  Don’t assume that just because big businesses like Apple resolve their IP issues, that you will do so too.  People should know that for smaller businesses, the scenarios they hear about in the news about the Googles, Microsofts, Apples of this world would put them out of business because they would not have the resources to get themselves out of trouble.

So the moral is if you are a small business without access to huge sums of money to litigate your way out of  trouble then you absolutely need to make sure you avoid the problem in the first place by getting professional advice to register your trade mark.

Also, if you’re going to ignore IP protection, you need to know what you’re doing.  It could in some cases be rather like deciding not to bother with the foundations of a house you’re building.  In television programs like Grand Designs, the participants who overspend may end up not having enough money to do all the fine design details they had wanted.  Their  lack of funds means they have to compromise on the surface issues like designs.  They can’t compromise on the very structure and foundation of a building.  Unfortunately, the opposite approach happens in business when IP is ignored.  People can spend a fortune on the surface things like branding and websites while ignoring the fundamentals.

Distinguish IP from other legal work

While there are some legal issues you can and should skimp on in the early days of a business, IP isn’t one of them.  Note that IP is very often a contractual matter, and isn’t just about registrations.  So, take advice to see how to minimise your IP expenditure in a safe way if you think spending on IP may seem a waste.  Some business owners question any expenditure which doesn’t enable them to make money (such as learning a new marketing trick would increase their  chances of generating revenues).  However , think of IP as what enables you to keep the money you make, and in some cases to continue to earn revenues. So at the very least you absolutely have to take advice in order to develop your strategy for IP.