Intellectual Property Issues Facing Charities
Intellectual property (IP) matters aren’t always the primary concern of charities.
That’s not a criticism; it’s just the way it is.
Charities are organisations set up to help society in some way. Usually run by people from non-executive backgrounds, brand protection is not always entrenched in their thinking. However, for companies, it’s part of the commercial psyche.
It’s not uncommon for charities to lose large sums of money when creating a brand or rebranding.
Very often they opt for the assistance of a marketing agency only to discover (usually after the website and marketing materials have been designed and domain names bought) the name they have chosen is unregisterable.
This can be for many reasons, such as the exact name is already in use by another organisation, there is one very similar in existence, or the name is too generic.
The same is also true when choosing a slogan or strapline.
Ownership of Intellectual Property rights
There is another issue with Intellectual Property rights of which charities may not be aware.
Here’s the scenario:
A charity commissions a design company to create a logo. Once a design is agreed upon, the charity doesn’t make sure it has rights over the logo. As a result, the designer continues to own the rights.
What does that mean?
Well, although the charity gets a licence to use it when it decides to re-use it in marketing campaigns or on its website, the charity ends up paying again or faces a legal challenge from the designer.
Trade marks extend beyond your charity’s name
Just registering your name at Companies House isn’t enough to protect it; you must also register a trade mark- a vital part of your Intellectual Property.
It’s also important to think beyond your name. It’s possible to trade mark campaign names, logos, domain names, and jingles.
In the case of slogans and campaign names, you may need to prove it has acquired distinctiveness and has become indelibly linked to the charity.
An example of this is the Dogs Trust’s ‘A dog is for life’ phrase, which was registered as a trade mark. Just as well as it provided the legal backup, they needed when the retailer Ann Summers used the phrase.
Another case was that of the World Wildlife Fund. In 1994, it signed an agreement with the World Wrestling Federation, limiting the ways the sports entertainment network could use the initials. In 2001 it was deemed to be in breach of contract; as a result, was forced to change its name to WWE and ordered to pay damages.
A tale of two trade marks
Within Intellectual Property there are two types of trade mark: registered and unregistered.
The familiar TM initials denote an unregistered trade mark. It can be attached to anything in the hope of scaring off a competitor, but it is not enforceable under the Trade Marks Act.
Charities wanting to defend an unregistered trade mark have to rely on a process known as ‘passing off.’
An R denotes a registered trade mark, but it’s important to remember this doesn’t offer you universal protection.
Firstly, the Trade Marks Register has 45 classes of goods and services, and you have to specify which class or classes you want to trade mark.
Secondly, trade marks are jurisdiction specific. That means a UK trade mark is only enforceable in the UK. Therefore, it’s essential your name be registered in each country in which you operate.
How to avoid the pitfalls
There is only one option available to make sure you avoid these pitfalls, and that’s by working with a trade mark attorney.
Just carrying out an online search for existing names doesn’t always flag up similar matches. The same issue applies to when choosing a strapline or slogan.
Getting professional help to do the groundwork for you will ensure you won’t be treading on anyone’s toes and that your charity’s identity is secure.
Rachael Ward of Ward Trade Marks provides a cost-effective service for charities looking to protect their name, integrity, and probity. To learn more, call +44(0) 1284 774841 for an informal chat.
BACK TO NEWS & OPINION