Tag Archives: dispute

Bands and Brands: (Some of) The original cast of Bucks Fizz strike out

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Recently, Robert Gubby (aka Bobby G) succeeded both in an opposition brought against his former band members in connection with their application to register the trade mark mark THE ORIGINAL BUCKS FIZZ, and in defending an action for revocation of the mark BUCKS FIZZ, owned by his wife Heidi Manton.  The case report is available via the IPO Bucks Fizz to consist of the original lineup.  Further clarifying the Registry’s view, the Hearing Office explained:

‘Plainly, once the public became aware that most or all the original members of the group were once again performing under tha namen Bucks Fizz, the public’s expectations as to the line-up of any particular group appearing under that name was liable to change.  But the recent confusion is not the result of the use made of the mark by its owner … [who] cannot be held responsible for that because … such use was not with [their] consent’

This is not the first dispute arising in connection with ownership of an act’s name after members of the band have left.  The IPOs decision cites the SAXON case, in which Laddie J. explained that ownership of a band name vests in the band partnership, and that individual band members, though they have an interest in the name and associated goodwill, do not own the assets themselves.  Importantly, the judge found that a second band using the same name, established following the disbanding of the first, will acquire separate rights in the goodwill it generates.  The question was then whether or not the goodwill of the initial band has evaporated; whether its rights have been abandoned; or whether it has acquiesced to the second band’s activities – in that case, and as suggested in the BUCKS FIZZ case, the original band members were found to have abandoned their share in the goodwill, leaving the latest incarnation of the band with stronger rights.

Under dissimilar circumstances, the SUGABABES brand, after the last of the original band members left last year, has recently been the subject of a dispute.  Mutya Buena, one of the founding members, filed an application for the European Community Trade Mark in March 2009, on the assumption that after the last of the founding members of the band left, the Sugababes had effectively ‘ended’.  This was opposed on the basis of earlier rights owned by the latest incarnation of the band, whose Heidi Range argued: “Our record company [Universal] owns the name so there’s no conversations about who owns the name”.  The band currently includes 3 members, none of whom were involved in the original line-up, and in light of the strength of goodwill in the brand associated with the group the opposition was successful.  Buena’s application was stripped of much of its content, resulting in a narrow, arguably near-worthless registration for: Paper, cardboard and goods made from these materials, not included in other classes; stationery; paper gift wrap and paper gift wrapping ribbons.

The words of Laddie J. in SAXON are a concise warning, and of continuing relevance to bands and other businesses whose brands are liable to become valuable assets alike:

A properly advised band could avoid the problem that [a change in membership] might cause by entering into a partnership agreement which expressly provides for the partnership to continue on the departure of one or more members and which expressly confirms the rights of the continuing and expressly limits the rights of departing partners to make use of the partnership name and goodwill.

Facebook v. Shagbook

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Facebook has recently filed a lawsuit against Shagbook, an adult dating site. It explains that Facebook’s image would be damaged by any registration for the mark Shagbook. Shagbook is a site which allows consenting adults to make location- based searches ‘to hook up with local singles for no strings attached adult dating’.

 Shagbook is not going to take this lawsuit lying down said its founder. He claims he had been using the term ‘Shagbook’ since the year 2000 to refer to his little black book, and created his site in 2006, before Facebook became popular. Shagbook appears to be set on fighting Facebook at all costs.

 Is Facebook abusing its money power?

 Shagbook has accused Facebook of ‘trademark bullying’ and using ‘oppositions, litigation, and threats of the same to maintain a competitive market advantage’.  They state that ‘With billions of dollars in outside investment, Facebook appears to consider the court system, the United State Patent and Trademark Office and TTAB within it to be nothing more than tools it can use to fend off potential competitive threats before they actually materialize’.

 This is not the first time Facebook has gone after companies for names that are similar sounding to their own.  Last year, Teachbook suffered a lawsuit by Facebook for ‘misappropriating the distinctive BOOK portion of Facebook’s trademark’. However, the case was thrown out on a jurisdictional technicality.

 Amongst the other sites that have encountered trademark threats from Facebook, are Placebook for infringement, (which was overcome by renaming the site ‘PlacéBook’) and LameBook.  LameBook is a site parodying Facebook, so it actually decided to follow a strategy of suing Facebook first, which Facebook responded to by suing back.

 ‘Facebook’- Not distinctive enough?

 Shagbook is now planning on using Facebook’s history of trademark disputes against them, claiming that the term FACEBOOK itself is generic.  It argues that the Facebook trademark should never have been granted.

 The accusations of genericity go back to the history of the term ‘FACEBOOK’. Although currently the word ‘Facebook’ is synonymous with the Social Networking site, the term has been around before Facebook was even created. It has been used for decades to describe publications created by students, faculty and universities. Facebooks often contained pictures and limited biographical data.

 According to theRegister.co.uk, the term ‘FACEBOOK’ has been used since 1983, whereas the social networking site was set up in 2004, 20 years later.

 Shagbook argues that moving these facebooks online was just a natural progression.

 Facebook’s accusation that Shagbook has violated Facebook’s trademark, is based on the reasoning that the site’s name is similar in ‘appearance, sound meaning, and commercial impression’, and accuses the site of trying to ‘trade off the fame of Facebook’.                      

 Shagbook’s response is that their site cannot be confused with Facebook’s, as Facebook has often made it clear that it is not a dating site in its marketing strategies, and has even removed individuals who have been using the site as a ‘dating site’. Shagbook believes that therefore, Facebook cannot argue that it provides services that are similar to the ones provided by Shagbook.

Some think this case might be a tough one for Facebook, with even the site’s own trademark being put into dispute.