Emil Ford Lawyers

Trade Mark Disputes - where legal advice saves money

A decision of the UK Intellectual Property Enterprise Court provides a timely reminder of some of the issues in trade mark law of which charities should be aware.

The case involved a trade mark dispute between the adult education charity, “National Open College Networks” and a separatist organisation, “Open College Network Credit4Learning” in relation to its similar name and logo:

"The Judge did rule that the "swoosh" element of the logos were deceptively similar ..." 

The Judge determined that NOCN could not enforce the exclusive use of its name, as “Open College Networks” and by extension, the acronym “OCN” were descriptive. This reflects the doctrine in Australian trade mark law whereby trademarks must be sufficiently inherently adapted to distinguish the goods or services to which they are attached. As in this UK case, an organisation will have difficulty protecting its name if it is overly descriptive. This is more true of recently established charities, than of those with an existing reputation or goodwill. This illustrates that it is easier to protect a more distinctive name.


"... this was little consolation in a case that incurred in excess of £400,000 in legal fees."

The Judge did rule that the “swoosh” element of the logos were deceptively similar, and that Credit4Learning could not use its logo in connection with its services, but this was little consolation in a case that incurred in excess of £400,000 in legal fees. The Judge was highly critical of the parties’ use of their charitable funds, and failure to settle at a much earlier stage.  The Judge said:  

"I have one final observation which I think should be expressed even though it is self-evident. I now know that between them the parties, both charities, have incurred well over £400,000 on fees in this litigation. A very strong recommendation to settle at the case management conference was not taken up. The laudable cause of encouraging adult education will presumably have to endure an equivalent cut in funding solely because this dispute was not resolved at an early stage. Such an outcome is much to be regretted.”

This regrettable outcome could have been avoided if NOCN had entered into a clear agreement with its former partner organisation regarding the use of its intellectual property or sought some of the many alternatives to contested litigation.

Our lawyers can assist at every stage of a trade mark’s life, from the initial application for registration, to advising on licensing or the infringement of your trademarks. Please contact if you have any questions about the above, or want to find out more about protecting your charity.

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