The “use it or lose it” principle with regards to trade mark registrations applies in numerous jurisdictions around the world. However, as highlighted in a recent decision of the UKIPO involving three Trade Marks relating to the British “Carry On” film series, it may not be as straightforward as one might think. For instance, how easy is it to prove valid use of a Trade Mark where that Mark is used under a licence, and in conjunction with another Mark?
This most recent “Carry On” caper begins in April 2018, whereby Brian Baker applied for revocation of three UK Trade Marks for “Carry On”, on the basis of non-use. ITV Studios Limited, proprietor of the “Carry On” Marks, was tasked with proving use of their Marks. The “Carry On” Marks were the subject of numerous internal and external licence agreements. After evaluating the evidence of use submitted by the proprietor, the Hearing Officer found in favour of Mr Baker. Two of the three Marks in question were invalidated in-part, with the remaining Mark being invalidated entirely.
On the face of it, you could be forgiven for thinking that proving actual use of a Trade Mark associated with such a widely known and popular film series would be easy to demonstrate. However, throughout the decision, reference is made to the inadequacy and insufficiency of the evidence put forward by the proprietor, with questions being raised as to the function of the “Carry On” Marks. For example, were they merely titular in nature? Or did they indeed indicate the origin of the goods and services in question? Further to this, the Hearing Officer was not satisfied with the proprietor’s evidence in displaying that their Mark indicated a single trade source. That is, on the end products, the Marks were used alongside a second mark, namely another Mark belonging to the proprietor, the ‘ITV Studios Logo’. This is despite the advertisements mentioning the licence arrangements (albeit in small print). The proprietor’s use of their Marks alongside other marks would not, in itself, have precluded the “Carry On” Marks from demonstrating valid use; however, by using their Mark alongside another Mark, the burden of proof in displaying valid use was increased. In this case, DVD sales of £6 million spanning 11 years, was not enough to show valid use of the “Carry On” Mark, whilst it was being used alongside the ITV Studios logo.
The difficulties encountered in this case appear to be more related to the proprietor’s poor accumulation and organisation of their evidence, rather than to the issue of multiple Marks appearing on the final product. It goes without saying that each case is decided on its own facts, but this decision does offer food for thought on the levels of use required, when a Mark is used alongside a second, or possibly multiple, Marks. This should serve as a wake-up call for rights holders, in-particular to those that own, and use, multiple Marks that are licensed to third parties or licensed within their own organisation. What can be taken away in this regard is that particular attention should be paid to the look of the packaging, for example: where on the packaging the Mark is located, and the size of the Mark in relation to any other Marks featured.
The decision of the Hearing Officer is now open to appeal, whether the proprietor will be able to sway the UKIPO during a second round of arguments remains to be seen. Regardless, the importance of documenting thorough, and concise, evidence of valid use throughout the lifecycle of the Trade Mark should not be underestimated.
Should you be interested in seeking advice on the use of your Trade Mark, please contact us, and our highly experienced team of Trade Mark Attorneys here at Albright IP, will be pleased to advise you further.