Sunday, 25 September 2011

A trade mark dispute to follow with Glee

Finding a trade mark you can use without invading someone else's comfort zone is increasingly difficult. It is one of the side-effects of globalisation: a multi-national player has the name registered everywhere you can think of, and probably has an extensive comfort zone so is inclined to take a dim view of a newcomer whose business, or sign, or both, is by anyone else's standards very different from what the trade mark protects. I've had several such cases in the last few years, and it tells me that the trade mark system isn't just cluttered (per the Max Planck Institute) but well and truly broken. Often it resembles nothing more than a tax on businesses, especially small ones, who are obliged to register trade marks that (a) they don't want or objectively need to register or (b) shouldn't be within any sensible person's definition of distinctive signs anyway. As a tax, it is regressive, which of course makes it worse: small businesses pay a higher proportion of their income on silly trade mark applications than large ones. Because of the magical properties that all IP is generally thought to possess, it is rapidly developing into a protection racket.

It isn't always like that, though. Here is a refreshing story of the small business (a comedy club called the Glee Club - not the strongest of trade marks, but the established meaning in the US shouldn't affect its validity here) taking on a multinational juggernaut (Twentieth Century Fox), and with a strong chance of winning. A small business that, unlike many, had the foresight to register its trade mark a long time ago (though a glance at the UK register shows at least two Glee Club trade marks). The report describes an open-and-shut case of infringement, though a newspaper article isn't ever a very reliable source, and I'm looking forward to seeing this one going further. Damages perhaps for the false suggestion that the club is associated with News International?

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