You don't need me to tell you how valuable branding can be for a business. So anything that makes it quicker and easier to protect the various intellectual property rights that make up a company's brand is good news.
I want to draw your attention to two emerging, but very different, areas of brand protection. The first concerns the introduction of legislation which gives new rights to brand owners (enforced by the Company Names Tribunal) and the second concerns developments in the contentious area of bidding for keyword advertising online.
Company Names Tribunal
The Company Names Tribunal was recently established to enforce newly implemented provisions in the Companies Act 2006 which relate to opportunistic company name registrations. You could think of it as the offline equivalent of the Nominet internet registry for domain names.
It allows you to object to the registration of a company name if it is (a) the same as a name associated with you in which you have goodwill, or (b) sufficiently similar so that its use in the UK would be likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between you and the company.
The Tribunal has made 5 decisions so far and each of these has favoured the applicant brand owner. For example, The Coca Cola Company successfully objected to the registration of Coke Cola Limited. Interestingly, each of the respondent companies who registered the 'opportunistic company names' failed to respond to the allegations made. It will remain to be seen how the Tribunal reaches decisions when a respondent defends the application.
For further information on the Company Names Tribunal and the protection it offers to brand owners, see our Guidance Note in the Knowledge Zone.
Following the "Mr Spicy" keywords decision, which we blogged about last April, there has been further consideration of the issue of bidding for keywords owned by brand owners in the context of paid-for online advertising such as Google Adwords. Since then, the German courts have joined the French and Dutch courts in referring a question to the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) about the link between sponsored search engine keywords and trade mark infringement.
Again, see our article in the Knowledge Zone if you'd like to know more.