Category Archives: Legal Updates

OMG – new company names %*@!

sheffieldQuiz question: which of the following names requires permission from the authorities before it can be registered as a company name in the UK, and which is automatically permitted?

(a) OMG F**K :–) Limited

(b) Sheffield University Patent Licensing Institute

Answer: (a) is now permitted, (b) requires permission.

Two UK statutory instruments (SIs) came into force on 31 January 2015, each of which has a very boring traditional name, with no use of symbols or accents, and only sensible punctuation:

The first of these SIs (the 2014 Regulations) updates the list of names that require permission before they can be registered with the UK Companies Registry (Companies House). The second SI (the 2015 Regulations) covers various points of detail relating to business names, but for present purposes we are concerned with the relaxation of the rules governing the letters and symbols that can be used in company names.

Sheffield University Patent Licensing Institute

The Government has attempted to “cut red tape” by reducing the number of names that require permission. However, many names still remain on the list. Before giving permission for a company to include those names, Companies House (on behalf of the Secretary of State) must take into account the views of various stakeholders – Government departments and others. The second company name mentioned above is an extreme example, as every part of its name requires permission. Before permitting this name, Companies House would have to consult with:

  • The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire (for “Sheffield” – because Sheffield Steel is well known)
  • The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (for “University”)
  • The Patent Office (for “Patent”)

In addition, Companies House would need to give permission for “Licensing” and “Institute” but these names do not require any specific consultation with others.

This company may be permitted to omit the word “Limited” from its name if it is a company limited by guarantee and meets some other criteria described in Regulation 3 of the 2015 Regulations.

In summary, it may be very hard work getting permission to have this name registered.

OMG F**K :–) Limited

frenchBy contrast, the first name mentioned above does not require any specific permissions. Under the 2015 Regulations, one is now able to register company names that include numbers, punctuation, symbols and accented (ie foreign) letters, though in some cases these cannot be used as the first 3 letters of the company’s name.

Companies House continues to have the power to reject a company name if it is offensive. However, as it has previously permitted the registration of FCUK Limited, it would be odd if it rejected a name that includes F**K.

The 2015 Regulations include provisions about rejecting names that are similar to existing names and use symbols such as “*”. These might be relevant if the proposed company name is “F**K Limited” (ie very similar to FCUK Limited), but the presence of other letters in the first example above brings us outside this territory. There are other companies whose name starts with OMG, but none that is followed by F**K.

While the name may be acceptable as a company name, this blog posting will probably fail to get through your office internet filters. Sorry about that!  &*%!

 

 

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Copyright reform and the bottom line

eames yellowIP Draughts has a comfortable office chair. It is a reproduction of a design by the famous, mid-twentieth-century designers, Charles and Ray Eames. The design is known as the lobby chair, because it was originally designed for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center in New York, in about 1960.

The chair was a bit of a luxury item, as it cost IP Draughts several hundred pounds. It was certainly more than his previous chair, which was also of good quality, but was bought in a clearance sale when Rio Tinto shut one of its offices in London. That one cost £10. The average price paid by IP Draughts for his office chairs is not too unreasonable.

eames redThere must be thousands of reproduction Eames lobby chairs in circulation across the World. They vary in quality and price, but many of them look very similar. You can spend nearly £5,000 on one at the Conran Shop in London, if that is your choice. Or you can get them much cheaper. This one costs AUS$499, while this one seems to cost only US$70-150 if you buy 20 of them, and pay the costs of importing them from China.

With such a disparity of prices, IP Draughts idly wonders whether it is possible to have a reproduction of a reproduction, or a rip-off of a rip-off, to put it less charitably. No doubt, readers who are copyright litigators will be able to answer that one.

IP Draughts is not an expert in US copyright and design laws, but assumes that the Eames design is no longer protected. He is on safer ground discussing the position under UK copyright law. UK copyright law in this area is about to change very significantly, and will make the sale of modern reproduction furniture more difficult (or more expensive).

Let us take the fictional example of a chair designed and first marketed in England in 1960, by the fictional English designers, Karl and Jay Eaves, who both died in 1976. The chair would probably have benefitted from UK copyright, as a type of artistic work known as a “work of artistic craftsmanship”. Usually the period of copyright protection for artistic works is the life of the author plus 70 years. However, section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 limits the period of copyright protection for articles that are manufactured by an industrial process, to 25 years. A statutory instrument states that this provision applies if more than 50 articles are manufactured.

In the above example, assuming that the current law applies, copyright expires in 1985 rather than 2046. (As this is only a blog article, we will skip over the fact that the chair would have first been protected under the Copyright Act 1956 and the effect of the transitional provisions in the 1988 Act for works that existed before the 1988 Act came into effect. This subject is far too boring and complicated for IP Draughts’ brain.)

In principle, this shorter period of protection seems right to IP Draughts. There may be arguments for a long period of copyright protection for creative works such as books and paintings, to give a revenue stream to struggling individual creators and their descendants. But industrially-manufactured items seem to IP Draughts to be in a different category, and the duration of design right (much shorter than copyright) reflects this difference.

morrisThe precise meaning of a “work of artistic craftsmanship” has not been fully established. There has been very little case law on the subject. It probably covers a chair that was designed specially for a building in New York, by leading designers, but this is not certain. This category of works was originally introduced into UK copyright law in response to the UK’s Arts and Crafts Movement, led by William Morris, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. William Morris wallpaper designs are still selling today.

Part of the problem in deciding what is the right period of protection for works of artistic craftsmanship is that they straddle the line between purely creative works and industrial works. They have both art and craft.

Never mind the historical position, the UK Government is now proposing to repeal section 52, to align UK copyright law more closely with that in the rest of the EU. This will result in a much longer period of copyright protection for iconic furniture designs and other works of artistic craftsmanship. The Government’s detailed proposals, published last week, can be summarised as follows:

  1.  Section 52 will be repealed in the near future. The repeal will take effect from 6 April 2020. In other words, there will be a period of about 5 years in which makers and sellers of reproduction articles can adjust to the new legal regime, in which copyright will last for the life of the designer plus 70 years.
  2. Following the effective date of the repeal, traders will be allowed to sell off existing stocks, and trade in copies that already exist, but will not be allowed to make or import new unlicensed copies.
  3. The Government will issue non-statutory guidance about the types of product that are within the category of works of artistic craftsmanship.

The effect of this change on traders in reproduction furniture and other artistic products is likely to be dramatic. A large number of items will be brought back into copyright. It may be necessary to stop selling items or take licences. It will be interesting to see what happens to the trade in reproduction ‘designer’ chairs. Will the bottom drop out of the market?

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New UK Intellectual Property Act 2014

bitThe Intellectual Property Act 2014 received Royal Assent earlier this week, so is now enacted, but has not yet been brought into effect.  It will be brought into effect by statutory instrument, probably in October.

The Act is a rag-bag of detailed changes to the UK law of unregistered design right, registered designs, patents, and copyright, which the UK IPO considers will “modernise” the law. The UK IPO’s summary of those changes can be found here.

Only a few of those changes are of direct interest to this non-contentious IP lawyer, mainly the following:

  1.  To make the first owner of a commissioned design the designer rather than the commissioner. Under previous (and still current, until October) design laws, the party commissioning a design (ie the client) was the first owner of design right. This change will apply to both unregistered design right and registered designs, and will align the commissionerlaw in this area with the position for copyright. Under UK copyright law, the author is the first owner unless he is acting in the course of his employment. IP Draughts recalls when unregistered design right came in, in 1989, and has always thought it very odd that the rules were different for design and for copyright, respectively. It has only taken the Government 25 years to correct this confusing anomoly! See sections 2 and 6 of the Act.
  2. To introduce criminal offences for intentional copying of registered designs in the course of a business, and marketing of those copies. See section 13 of the Act.
  3. To allow patent marking by means of an internet link rather than providing patent numbers on the patented article. This is relevant to the question of recovering damages for infringement. See section 15 of the Act.
  4. To enable the Secretary of State to make arrangements to establish the Unified Patent Court in the UK. See section 17 of the Act.
  5. To introduce an exception from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in the case of certain information obtained from a research programme, so as to allow orderly publication of results at a later date. See section 20 of the Intellectual Property Act.

 

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Sex bomb

sex bomb

There are no interesting IP contract court cases to report this week.

Readers from the academic sector may, however, be interested to read a Court of Appeal case in which an academic is accused of:

“(a) being a sex pest;

(b) being an alcoholic;

(c) being unqualified for his lecturing post at the university;

(d) being guilty of deception in apparently buying his qualifications;

(e) making false promises to external departments of the university;

(f) professional incompetence;

(g) being arrogant and patronising in his manner; and

(h) telling lies.”

IP Draughts can’t imagine any academic he has encountered falling into any of these categories.

mark anderson qcIn other news, IP Draughts’ (“MA1″) namesake, Mark Anderson QC (“MA2″) has become a Deputy High Court judge.  MA1 and MA2 attended Bar School together in 1983 and were in the same advocacy class.  All that MA1 can remember of MA2 is that MA2 commented in class that MA1’s advocacy was “very earnest”.  IP Draughts feels that, after 30 years, he should forgive MA2 for this remark.

Finally, IP Draughts urges people who are still considering whether to sign up for next February’s UCL course IP Transactions: Law and Practice, to get their applications in as soon as possible, and to let Lisa Penfold (lisa.penfold@ucl.ac.uk) at UCL Faculty of Laws know of their intentions.  The course attracts 29 CPD points and students can take an exam after the course, leading to a Certificate in Intellectual Property Transactions, issued by the Institute of Brands and Innovation Law at UCL.  The official deadline for applications was yesterday, but there are still a few vacancies.  The course brochure can be downloaded from here.

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