Disclaimer sign pollution: time for a Rio summit?

IP Draughts is back at work after a week’s canoeing in Scotland.  During that time, he thought little about intellectual property, except when the canoe club’s Chairman mentioned his trip, the previous week, sea-kayaking around the Hebridean island of Lewis and Harris, and the gift that he had received from a local weaver of some pieces of Harris Tweed. As all UK IP lawyers know, Harris Tweed is protected by a trade mark that consists of an orb with a cross on it.

One legal issue kept intruding into IP Draughts’ life as he stayed in hotels and visited tourist attractions: warning signs.  By paying close attention to these helpful signs, IP Draughts avoided (just in the nick of time, in some cases) burning his hand on a hot towel rail, scalding his fingers in hot water, drowning in the outfall pool of a hydro-electric power station, and falling down a concrete staircase.

By careful attention to yellow plastic signs, he also managed to avoid slipping on a dry floor in a Tesco supermarket in Lockerbie and on another dry floor in a pub in South Queensferry, just by the iconic Forth Rail Bridge.  As he didn’t visit a McDonalds, he is unable to report on whether he would have been warned that his coffee was hot, as apparently is required in the USA.

Go for it, towel rail – you can do it!

Meanwhile, IP Draughts’ far more dangerous (okay, slightly more dangerous) activities of canoeing and scrambling about in the countryside (often during heavy rainfall) involved no warning signs.  At one point on our canoe trip we passed a class of primary school children who seemed to be on a field trip, and who were throwing stones in the water with minimal supervision by their teachers.  Our half-joking offer to give some of the children a “go” in the canoe was met with a teacher’s deadpan response that they couldn’t accept because they hadn’t done a risk assessment.  We had passed them by before we thought of asking whether a risk assessment had been done on throwing stones in the water while canoeists were passing.

So, what is the point of these meandering thoughts?  Merely that we are bombarded with warning signs in public places that often have very little meaning.  A cynic might say that the signs are really there to avoid liability in tort.  An optimist might say they are there to help the public to avoid harm.  A realist might say they are there because a risk adviser recommended them or said they were necessary to comply with health and safety legislation.  (In IP Draughts’ experience, hotel warning signs are often much more prevalent in cheap hotels than in expensive ones, perhaps because the cheap hotel relies on the advice of a health and safety consultant who takes a very risk-averse approach.)

What is this sign asking us to do?

As a companion to IP Draughts’ campaign to banish terms and conditions booklets that come with consumer products, IP Draughts hereby announces a campaign to reduce disclaimer sign pollution in public places.  If we all point out how ridiculous these signs are, we can end this global scourge….  Or is IP Draughts being too idealistic?

1 Comment

Filed under General Commercial, Legal practice

One response to “Disclaimer sign pollution: time for a Rio summit?

  1. Risk advisers, especially those who are lawyers or insurance underwriters, are remarkably impervious to ridicule. It might be less substantively effective, but more therapeutic, if you just had a separate section of this blog for reporting idiocies you observe or that your readers notify to you. A good example is the “sic” column in Michael Quinion’s Worldwide Words newsletter (disclaimer [or should that be styled a claimer?] he hasn’t paid me for the plug).

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