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Trade mark saints and sinners

Posted on Jun 14, 2012 by Andy Harris  | 0 Comments

As if the political chicanery of a presidential campaign isn’t hard enough, President Obama’s campaign team have had to take action to protect their ‘Rising Sun’ campaign logo. They have filed trade mark infringement proceedings against a US company which appears to have ignored earlier requests to stop the unauthorised use. Apparently the company’s CEO has suggested there was no issue on the basis that ‘hundreds’ of other companies used some form of rising sun graphic in their logo.  Unfortunately for him and his company, this type of argument doesn’t tend to help. If you use a logo which is identical or confusingly similar to a registered trade mark then you are likely to face an infringement claim.  

The issue over the St. Kilda trade mark centres around the competing claims of two Scottish bodies: the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) which owns St. Kilda (Scotland’s most remote islands which although without permanent residents are something of a tourist attraction, and have enjoyed  World Heritage Site status for over 25 years); and Western Isles Council, which applied for a registered trade mark for the term St. Kilda as part of its marketing campaign for the Western Isles.

NTS opposed the application, claiming it had prior rights to the St Kilda name, however its opposition failed and it has now appealed to the General Court of the European Union.  It will be interesting to see how the Court decides this issue. NTS clearly have the advantage of ownership, however owning a property does not always mean that you own the name.

The Obama trade mark dispute is likely to be less complicated to resolve. It is however a reminder of the importance of taking care when choosing a company or product name. You can find out a lot of information online, and the input of lawyers or trade mark attorneys needn’t be expensive as a further check.  After all, if there is a problem with your chosen name you should want to know this as early as possible so damage can be avoided or at least limited. What you don’t want is to invest in expensive marketing and branding for a name which you then discover is going to lead you into expensive litigation.   Cue my favourite legal adage: better to have a fence at the top of the cliff than an ambulance at the bottom...

Andy Harris

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