How to ESTABLISH your brand

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How to Establish your brandWhen starting a business, you need to think about how to establish your brand. Your brand is what drives your business, a set of promises and assurances that customers should think of when they see or hear your name. It is your unique identity that resonates within your target audience and differentiates you from your competitors.

With the correct strategy, your brand will continue to gain value over time. This value will come from the positive reputation your brand develops. Brand establishment should be considered as a long term goal and essential to your overall business strategy.

The following tips will help you consider how to establish your brand.

Establish your brand strategy

The first step is to establish your brand strategy. This should be considered when you first come up with your business idea, and should be kept in mind as your business develops. As part of the strategy ask yourself, what are the promises I want associated with my brand and how can I ensure my brand becomes a reflection of these promises? Also consider what you want as your brand identifier; a word, logo, or both?

Businesses naturally evolve over time, so your brand strategy will need to be reviewed as your business develops.

Search your brand name

Once you have the basis of your brand strategy, you can then take steps to clear your chosen name for use. A good starting point is to carry out an Internet search for the name. If you find a business using the same name or something very similar, this may cause problems when you come to register your name as a trademark. So, once you have a name you think may be available, you should speak to a trademark solicitor and get a legal opinion on the name. They can carry out comprehensive searches, even on an international level, to ensure your chosen name is available for use and stands the best chance of being registered as a trademark.

Trademark your name

Your brand name is an intangible asset and one of the most valuable assets your business will own. When you have chosen your brand name, and cleared it for use through a trademark search, it is essential to protect it through trademark registration. Registration will help secure the rights in the name and the goodwill your business generates, increasing the overall value of your brand.  Trademarks are split into 45 categories (or classes) of goods and services. This means a name can be used even if it already exists, provided there is no overlap in the goods or services being offered. Trademark drafting is a specialist skill, and should be carried out by an experienced professional. This will ensure you aren’t faced with a worthless trademark, or are subject to a legal dispute later down the line.

Apply your trademark

Once you have secured protection for your name, you can then start to apply your trademark as your brand identifier. When applying your trademark to your business, you need to remember that this is what consumers will associate with your brand, so avoid anything which may reflect negatively on your business. Remember, once your trademark is registered, you can use the ® symbol to denote to your customers and competitors that your name is a registered trademark.

Build your brand

As you start to apply your brand to your goods and services, the reputation and goodwill behind the brand will start to gain momentum. This is the time to start building on your brand awareness, promoting the benefits of your business over your competitors. The sooner you build on the reputation and recognition of your brand, the quicker your brand will gain value.

Learn what works

It is important to constantly monitor how your customers perceive your brand and whether this perception aligns with your brand strategy. Once your business has been running for some time, this is the point to look back at your brand strategy and learn what works and what doesn’t. The next steps involve improving your brand and securing additional intellectual property protection, so remember the lessons you’ve learnt from past experiences.

Improve your brand

Complacency can be dangerous and may damage the reputation of your brand. As a business, you will need to constantly improve your brand to stay competitive in the market. As you have learnt what works, this is a good time to review your brand strategy and consider what improvements can be made. Perhaps the business can offer more competitive pricing, or the quality of your products has improved, in which case these factors need to be communicated to your customers so they become associated with your business.

Secure your IP

You now have an established brand and a reputation to protect. This is a good stage to carry out an IP audit, and an IP risks test, to see what other rights your business should protect. Since establishing the brand name, there may be a host of other rights which have accrued and should now be protected, consider;

  1. Does my trademark still cover all the goods and services the business offers?
  2. Has my business expanded into other countries?
  3. Are there any other names, slogans or logos which are now associated with my business?
  4. Are there any domain names I should consider registering?
  5. Are all my innovations protected?

By securing the rights in your IP which develop over time, you can continue to increase the value in your brand and ultimately, your business.

Has it worked?

Finally, consider has your brand strategy worked and does it align with your original intentions for the business? If your strategy was to create a promise of lost cost, high quality goods, does your brand reflect this and is this what customers associate with your brand name?

Having a strong brand strategy and good knowledge of brand protection will help ensure the success for your next product launch, business idea or even just help continue building on the value of your current brand.

How to trademark: 6 points you need to know

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How to trademarkYour name is what you use to promote and advertise your business and it’s what your customers use to recommend your product or service. You build up goodwill in the name through using it.

Therefore, it makes sense to own the rights in it by registering the name as a trademark as a priority. Once registered, the rights in the name may be transferred just like any physical property.

The choice of name is important from a legal perspective. The more distinctive your name, the easier and more affordable it will be to take action against anyone who piggybacks off your success.

There are 6 key points to take into account in order to understand how trademarks operate.

Similar trademark names are a problem

An important objective of trademarks is to avoid customer confusion about the source or origin of goods and services. This means if you wanted to choose a name that was already registered, it wouldn’t be enough simply to make slight adjustments to the name (such as in the spelling or add an extra word) in order to avoid clashing with an existing registration.

The broad scope of protection of trademarks looks at the issue from the customer’s point of view. Without the legal protection of trademarks, consumers cannot rely on finding products and services they’ve liked in the past and want to use again. If the names are too similar, the customers can be confused and disappointed if they mistakenly purchased the wrong product.

Company and domain registrations are not enough

Owning a company name or domain name does not automatically give you a right to prevent others using a similar name. Even if you have registered the .com of the name or limited company, you will still need to check the trademark register first.

You may well be able to use the company or domain name you’ve registered, provided you don’t use it in competition with an existing business that has trademark rights in the name. It depends on the business activity you want to use it for and whether you will have a legal problem.

There is a difference between registered and unregistered trademarks.

It is not necessary to register a trademark in order to use a name. But there are serious downsides to not registering a name. For example unbeknown to you, someone else may have registration which prevents your using the name, or someone else might begin to use the same name or register it first.

If you have been using a name for a long time, you may have built up sufficient rights in it to be able to stop another party using the same name on the grounds that they are ‘passing off’ their business as yours. Bear in mind though, that it costs time and money to take action in these situation and you face all the uncertainties of litigation.

Trademarks are territorial

Trademarks are registered on a country-by-country basis. So if you register a trademark with the UK Intellectual Property office, it will give you the rights to use your mark in the UK. But if someone based in another country uses the same mark, your UK mark does not give you the right to stop them.

Trademarks comprise certain categories of goods or services

Names can be shared by more than one business, provided the businesses are not in competition with each other. The reason for this is that trademarks are registered against classifications, and you are permitted to use the trademarks for those predefined categories of business.

There are 45 trademark classes in all. The overriding issue is that the names must not cause confusion to consumers looking to buy products or services.

Famous marks are an exception to the classification rule

A famous or well-known mark may enjoy broader protection than an ordinary mark, in view of its widespread reputation or recognition. Such marks are not subject to the classification restrictions.

The objections to applications trying to register famous marks in different classes is that the applicant is taking unfair advantage of the mark’s fame and its use could have a detrimental impact on the well-known trademark.

These consideration need to be understood before choosing a brand name. To learn more, read ‘Legally Branded’ written by Shireen Smith.


Microsoft forced to rebrand following BskyB’s trademark triumph

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RegisteredTrademark_jpgMicrosoft has renamed its cloud storage service SkyDrive to OneDrive following a trademark infringement dispute with BSkyB, as discussed previously on our Azrights blog.

The broadcaster first issued a complaint to the EU’s trademark office in June 2011, insisting Microsoft’s use of the word “sky” infringed its copyright.

Microsoft released SkyDrive, formerly known as Windows Live Folders and Windows Live SkyDrive, in 2007. The service has since acquired in excess of 250 million users.

While BskyB ceased its own cloud storage service at the end of 2011, it said Microsoft’s product was misleading for users of its continuing digital services, such as Sky Broadband and Sky Go.

Microsoft argued it was difficult to mistake its own cloud-based services with BskyB’s satellite, mobile and online services. However, a UK High Court ruling last summer held Microsoft would need to rename its product.

In arriving at the decision, the judge noted that customers experiencing problems with Microsoft’s SkyDrive had often called BskyB’s helpline, mistakenly believing it was responsible for providing the service.

Microsoft initially threatened to appeal the decision, but later backed down after the companies reached a settlement permitting the US computer giant a “reasonable period of time to allow for an orderly transition to a new brand,” as reported by Computer Weekly.

The rebrand has now taken place, but for Microsoft this case is all too reminiscent of its earlier dispute with Gernany’s Metro AG, which pushed the company to rename its Windows 8 Metro interface shortly after establishing itself as a household name.  Microsoft also risked losing the right to trademark Windows due its delay in trademarking the name.  Clearly, the company needs to make some changes to its practices.

Trademarks are important assets which add significant value to a brand. The lesson to take away from this case is the importance of checking that you can use a name before you launch a new product. It is so much easier to find a new name at that stage if your preferred one is problematic.

Then once a name has been identified as available, secure trademark registration in your main market straight away. It is not necessarily commercial at that stage to register in all other countries worldwide. However, if the product is successful, it’s important to have a strategy in place for registering in other markets over time to sustain the value of your brand identity. This is all too apparent following the recent European Trademark Office’s ruling that Pinterest doesn’t own rights to its name.

Trademark protection of pantone 2685c not wrapped up by Cadbury

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Securing trademark protection for colours is notoriously difficult, as demonstrated by the recent Court of Appeal ruling in the litigation between Cadbury and Nestlé, concerning the trademark registration of pantone 2685c.

Nestlé v. Cadbury

In 1914, as a tribute to Queen Victoria, whose favourite colour was purple, Cadbury started to use the shade of purple known as pantone 2685c on its packaging, and it has done so ever since. In October 2004 Cadbury applied for trademark protection of this shade of purple for all chocolate goods. In 2008 Nestlé opposed the registration. After three years of proceedings between the parties the case went through to a hearing. Five months later, in December 2011, a final decision was made by the Hearing Officer, who concluded that the colour was capable of being registered. Nestlé subsequently appealed this decision. In May 2012, the High Court ruled in favour of Cadbury but limited the trademark protection to chocolate bars and chocolate drinks. See our previous blog post (Can You Trademark A Colour? Cadbury Secures The Rights To The Colour Purple) for further details. In its ruling of 4 October 2013 the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the High Court.

Three Court of Appeal Judges found that the trademark lacked “specificity, clarity and precision of visual appearance”, and therefore to allow the trademark to be registered would, they said, “offend against the principle of certainty and the principle of fairness by giving a competitive edge to Cadbury and by putting Nestlé and its competitors at a disadvantage”. The reason for this decision was that the wording Cadbury had used to describe the colour was ambiguous. Cadbury described the colour in its application for trademark protection as: “the colour purple (Pantone 2685c) …. applied to the whole visible surface, or being the predominant colour applied to the whole visible surface, of the packaging of the goods“. It was the use of the word ‘predominant’ within this description that led to the Judges determining that the trademark lacked clarity, as it “opened the door to a multitude of different visual forms”. Cadbury argued that the word ‘predominant’ meant that the colour covered more than 50% of the surface area in question and Sir Timothy Lloyd did suggest that “if Cadbury had spelled this out in their registration it may have been possible to achieve certainty”.

Cadbury have indicated that they may appeal this decision. If they do appeal, the case will most likely be heard by the European Court of Justice. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens next.

It is important to remember that this decision does not mean that Cadbury cannot pursue anyone who now launches a range of chocolate bars and goods packaged within the same or similar shade of purple. They still have the right to bring a passing off claim against anyone who tries to misrepresent their goods as Cadburys.

Trademark protection for colours

To register a trademark, whether it is a word, logo, colour or shape, the applicant must show that the trademark is a sign, can be graphically represented and is capable of being distinguished from other trademarks. As this case demonstrates, it is difficult to secure trademark protection for a colour due to the requirement that the trademark must be graphically represented in a clear and unambiguous manner. Although difficult, it is not impossible to trademark a colour and many companies have managed to do so. For example, Tiffany’s have registered pantone 1837, better known as Tiffany Blue, for boxes, shopping bags and the cover of catalogues, and Heinz have secured trademark protection for the distinctive turquoise colour found on the packaging of its baked beans.

What can we learn?

It is important to ensure that when you register a trademark your application is clear, precise, durable and unambiguous. We must learn from the mistakes made by Cadbury in their application to register pantone 2685c.

Trademark law can be complex, especially if you are trying to register a colour or shape. Professional advice is essential, as trademark lawyers can help draft your application to ensure that it meets the necessary requirements, giving you a better chance of securing trademark protection. This is particularly important with UK trademark applications as the IPO appears to be taking an increasingly tough stance when determining what is and is not capable of registration.

Product Creation and Brand Protection: The Pitfalls of Duffins

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Product Creation and Brand Protection Recipes Coca Cola ImageSpurred on by the popularity of cookery programmes such as The Great British Bakeoff, bakers have reportedly been expanding their product lines to include hybrid bakery products such as ‘duffins’ (doughnut fried muffins), ‘cronuts’, (donut fried croissants) and ‘townies’ (a combination of tart and brownie).  This flurry in product creation has turned out to be unexpectedly controversial, as bakeries have attempted to stop other bakeries selling these products by using trademarks.

Any business that creates innovative products is interested in how these can be protected from being copied by competitors. Businesses in the food and drink industry often find it frustrating that recipes are not protected by copyright. Recipes can be copied, changed and circulated without legal redress for the originator. This does not mean that it is not possible to secure protection for a successful recipe.

A useful way to protect recipes is by keeping the recipe secret. Coca-Cola is an example of a thriving recipe that is protected by trade secrets. Any business that wants to use trade secrets should take legal advice early in the product development process to ensure that the appropriate confidentiality arrangements are put in place.

Another useful legal protection for recipes can be found in trademarks. If the business can develop a brand name or other elements of branding to market their food products, then trademarking a name can help protect the product the brand is used for, even products that can be easily copied. Think about food products like Bisto, who have managed to maintain a strong market share for an everyday food product using Bisto branding for over 100 years.

A UK trademark for DUFFIN has recently been registered in the name of Rich Products Limited, a bakery wholesalers who supply retailers like Starbucks. The brand name CRONUT is also trademarked. Independent SMEs manufacturing hybrid bakery goods now run the risk of trademark infringement if they use the names ‘Cronut’ or ‘Duffin’ for their own products. Disputes about trademark infringement can be time-consuming and costly for an SME.

Branding strategies of start-up businesses often focus on the protection of the business brand name. Creating an ‘umbrella’ brand, so that all the goods and services a business sells use the same brand, is often an efficient branding strategy for an SME as energy can be focused on building up goodwill in one brand name. However, it is important not to forget that products can be separately protected, and that giving particular goods or services their own distinctive brand name might create a commercial advantage. For example, Rich Products and their distributors now have a commercial advantage as only they can legitimately use the brand name ‘duffins’ for donut-muffin hybrids.

In order to benefit from trademark protection, the name chosen for a product must fit the criteria for trademark protection. In particular, it must be distinctive and not descriptive. The words ‘muffin’ and ‘donut’ are not trademarkable, because they are generic descriptive terms. The word ‘duffin’ could be seen in a similar light as it just merges the two words to describe a combination product, although combination words like this can have many variations. The word ‘duffin’ is not in widespread use yet, so the name contains an element of surprise or creativity that some might consider distinctive and therefore trademarkable. As hybrid bakery goods become more popular, this distinctiveness could wane.

When using brand names that verge on descriptiveness, early trademark registration is essential. Without registered trademark proprietors rigorously enforcing the distinctiveness of marks, the terms ‘cronut’ and ‘duffin’ might well go the same way as ‘sellotape’ and ‘hoover’, which both started out as brand names and are now generic descriptive words.  Avoiding descriptiveness in a product name should be part of a product development strategy. Descriptiveness should also be avoided if trade secret protection is sought for a recipe – keeping a secret is no use if it can be easily guessed.

The game is not over for bakery sellers. The underlying hybrid bakery products themselves are not protected; they can be freely made and traded. However, bakery businesses are going to have to carefully consider their product branding. Greggs, for example, are now marketing a product called the ‘Gregg-nut’. Bea’s of Bloomsbury are reportedly challenging the trademark registration for DUFFINS, on the basis that they have been using the name for their own products for over two years, and it will be interesting to see the outcome. Businesses seeking to exploit the popularity of certain products should always seek legal advice, both on how they can use trademarks to protect their own products, and on how their businesses may be affected by the trademark registrations of competitors.

Product manufacturers and developers often focus on brand protection for their business name, and don’t seek advice about the protection afforded to their products by intellectual property law until their products are already on the market. It is important to consider your brand strategy for your products from the beginning of the product development process and to obtain legal advice on trademark protection if your product is not eligible for patent or copyright protection.




UGG Trademark Disputes

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Trademarks are territorial, which means you register them country by country wherever you do business. Although this is can be expensive, and it may be tempting when starting out, to think it’s easy enough, in theory, to trade in other countries under a different brand, UGG is an example of what can happen when a trademark is not available to a business internationally.

TMRBoots known as UGGS are worn around the world particularly in rural locations. The term UGG for this specific type of sheepskin boot has been used in Australia since the 1950’s and now many consumers believe the boots are from Australia.

The term UGG-BOOT was registered in 1971 in Australia, but then lapsed as it was not used. Then in 1999 the American outdoor company Deckers registered the word mark UGG AUSTRALIA. Celebrities began to wear the boots and by the early 2000’s the boot became popular and sought after all over the world. As a result Deckers became more protective of the brand and began issuing legal threats against companies in Australia who were using terms similar to UGG such as UGH.

In 2006 a competitor of Deckers, UGG-N-RUGS successfully applied to remove UG, UGG and UGH Boots from the Australian Trademarks register on the grounds that the term was generic and descriptive of a specific type of sheepskin boot in Australia.

Deckers still has its trademarks in the EU and the US However, in Australia the company  aroused much controversy over the question whether the name is a brand name or a geographical indicator for a type of boot., and as mentioned Deckers lost its trademark there.  The fact that Deckers is still a registered trademark outside Australia means that competitors cannot market their boots as UGGs in the EU and USA. Instead they have to use terms like Australian Sheepskin boots to describe the boots.

Competitors are trying to change UGG into more of a regional mark like Champagne and want consumers to associate UGGs with a particular type of sheepskin boot made in Australia and not a trademark which indicates they are made by Deckers. In response, Deckers is focusing on the fact that its UGG boots are made in China and not Australia.

The fact that the UGG trademark has been revoked in Australia but is still registered in the EU and the US presents Deckers with serious challenges.

It is difficult for Deckers to tackle the companies selling UGG boots from Australia on the internet as I found out when I tried to buy a pair of UGG boots for my daughter back in 2009. As I wrote on the Azrights IP Brands blog that’s when I became aware that UGG is not a trademark in Australia and Deckers can’t stop vendors from Australia labelling their boots as UGGs within Australia. It is notoriously difficult to prevent sales online from entering the EU or American markets once to reach  consumers in these markets. This is despite the fact that many of them are likely to have bought the boots online believing them to be the genuine article, and not from some Australian boot company producing a lower quality boot.

Arguably, Deckers could do more to prevent consumers from being confused. For example, they could rebrand so as to remove the word Australia, especially given that its UGG boots are in fact made in China. It would be even better if the company were to change its brand to DECKERS UGG.

Deckers would benefit from taking swift action to prevent confusion in the market place, and to ensure the name UGGs is associated with its own quality products. The importance of educating the public about its boots so people are not duped into buying UGG boots from Australia when what they’re actually looking for are branded UGG Australia boots from Deckers can’t be overstated. What do you think? Have you had any experiences buying UGG boots? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

What is Copyright?

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Copyright is a wide-ranging subject, and relevant to many creative and non-creative industries.  It is arguably the most universal of IP rights, covering written materials, music, art, logos, and computer programs, to name a few.  It protects most visual brand elements, such as logos, packaging and websites, though it may also be possible to register some of these as designs or trademarks to secure added protection.

Copyright protects original expression, but not ideas themselves.  So, if someone were to suggest you draw a picture of a bird, or gave you an idea for a plot, you would own copyright in the picture or plot you produce, as long as you don’t copy the words or image from someone else.  The person who suggested drawing a bird, or whose idea it was that you write a love story would not have copyright in your work.

Can I copyright my name?

Some people ask to “copyright” their name.  Surfers wonder whether copyright prevents them from using particular words for their product or business.  Even newspapers and popular online publications make the basic mistake sometimes of reporting names as being copyrightable.  In fact names are not protected by the law of copyright.  It is trademarks that protect names.

It was in a case in 1982 Exxon Corp, where it was decided that copyright does not protect names.  The company unsuccessfully applied to stop Exxon Insurance Consultants calling themselves Exxon, arguing that it had copyright in the name as it had spent substantial amounts of money developing the name.  In a landmark decision, the UK Court of Appeal disagreed and took the view that it was not possible to have copyright in a name, because a name is too brief.  Regardless of how much investment or time is put into the creation of a name, no matter how clever it is, from a policy point of view the court decided to keep names outside the scope of copyright protection.  Instead, names are protected by the law of trademarks.  Some famous examples of slogans which are also protected by trademarks are Nike’s Just Do It, and L’Oreal’s Because you’re worth it.

What does this mean for you?  Well, for names and slogans you need to turn to a trademark expert for help.  While for other works, such as those outlined at the start of this blog, generally all you need to do to own your work is to record it in some way (for example by writing it down, taking a photograph, or getting it on tape).  If you ask someone else to do work for you, for example to develop a website, then you need a contract before you engage them, to give you the copyright, otherwise they will own the rights in the site.

To secure exclusive rights to the name of your business or product, it’s important to get an expert in trademark law to evaluate whether the name is legally effective and available.  If it is, then registering it as a trademark is a sensible step to take so you can own the rights to the name you are generating goodwill in. So, when you come up with a name you like, remember that there are steps you need to take to own it.  Why not drop us a line to discuss trademark registration?

How Small Businesses are Wasting Money on Branding by Failing to Take Account of Legal Principles – Legally Branded Book

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Legally Branded is a new title by Shireen Smith of Azrights Solicitors, which fills a gap in the market by providing accessible, and easy to understand explanations about intellectual property law and brand law to help business owners consider the legal dimension of branding.

Image of Legally Branded book coverIn the book, Legally Branded, Shireen Smith, founder of Azrights Solicitors, a niche IP and Internet law firm, guides small business owners on the laws relevant to brands and online business.

‘I wrote this book as there are currently no accessible books for business owners on the legal aspects of branding’ Shireen said ‘For example, there is a world of difference between suggestive names and names that describe a product or service. Business owners should know that suggestive names are desirable brand names, and that descriptive names should be avoided at all costs’

Using insights from the book, business owners will be better equipped to avoid common problems, such as having to rebrand for infringing on the rights of others, or having inadequate branding that fails to serve their long term entrepreneurial dreams. Among other things the book addresses:

  • how to avoid infringing on the copyright, and design rights of others
  • the most effective ways to use domain names and search engine optimisation
  • why it’s important to ‘own’ names, logos, slogans, designs and innovations, and how to go about this
  • how to retain the rights you need when engaging staff or outsourcing
  • when to avoid making information public so you don’t lose valuable rights
  • how to manage your reputation in the digital word-of-mouth environment of social media
  • how to recover domain names registered by others which incorporate your brand name.
  • what not to do if you want to avoid litigation for passing off or infringing on others rights.
  • how to create and maintain a successful online brand

Shireen Smith is an experienced lawyer in Intellectual Property and Internet law. Before founding Azrights Solicitors, Shireen had extensive experience both in private practice and in industry, having held positions at Coopers & Lybrand, Reuters and Eversheds. Shireen completed a Masters degree in IP law at London University’s QMW in 1996, when QMW. She has written numerous articles on IP branding issues, including contributing a chapter to Bloomsbury’s recent publications Reputation Management Building and Protecting Your Company’s Profile in the Digital World. Shireen has also given Masterclasses in IP branding at LSE’s Entrepreneurship unit and delivered workshops to entrepreneurs at the British Library’s Business and IP Centre for two years between 2008 and 2010.

Azrights Solicitors is sponsoring a book launch to celebrate the release of the book which is taking place on September 11th. In the meantime, the book is available for pre-order on Amazon. The launch of Legally Branded will be at the British Library, and Shireen Smith will be signing copies of the book and will also give a brief talk introducing the book. She will be joined by some special guests, who will be announced at a later date.

A virtual launch accessible to people wherever they are in the world is also planned. A live video stream from the main event itself is on the cards, as is a podcast interview of the author to be released around the date of the launch.

The details of the events are still being planned, and in the meantime, save the date in your diary and join Shireen, either virtually or in person, on the 11th September to celebrate the launch of Legally Branded.

For additional information about Legally Branded please visit

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Protecting the Shire: Fry and McKellen step in to save the Hobbit

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Some may see it as unwarranted bullying, while others say it is to be expected.  Either way, the publicity arising from recent allegations of IP infringement have certainly thrown The Hobbit pub in Southampton firmly into the limelight.  The Saul Zaentz Company, owners of rights to the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings brands, among other JTT Tolkien work, have taken action against small business owners in the past, such as in November of last year where their lawyers argued that the Hungry Hobbit cafe took unfair advantage of the Hobbit trade mark.

While the cafe is reportedly considering a change of name, the pub, which sells Frodo and Gandalf cocktails, has received overwhelming support not only from the online commuity, but from actors involved in the upcoming Hobbit film. A Facebook campaign has rallied the support of 60,000 Facebook users (Save the Hobbit, Southampton), and actors Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen have even agreed to pay licence fees on behalf of the pub to settle the dispute.

When issues like this capture the imagination of the public, the results can be surprising, I’m sure that SZC were not expecting such a backlash.  More so than any marketing or education by businesses in the field, these disputes serve to increase public awareness of IP issues crucial to businesses worldwide.  Taking advantage of the public interest, a group of Tolkien enthusiasts have now also begun a campaign against exclusive rights in the word Shire, encouraging visitors to their website to proudly showcase a Save the Shire poster.  It will be interesting to see how much momentum they are able to generate.