Does your Company Logo Actually Belong to your Company

Most businesses have a logo these days; even the smallest companies appreciate the importance of carrying an identity to reinforce their brand.

Logos form a significant part of the marketing armoury because they allow people to instantly recognise a business. When you see the Lacoste crocodile for example, or the bitten-into Apple logo, you know straight away who you are dealing with. These examples work at all levels of the business scale and demonstrate how valuable a logo can be.

With this in mind, it may come as something of a surprise that in some cases, companies don’t actually own their own logos. Here is a story to illustrate what we appreciate has probably come as something of a shock to you.

An Innocent Tale

Travel back in time in 1998 when smoothie maker Innocent was a new business. It commissioned a logo to be designed by a branding company, which produced the now well-known halo/face design. The two parties liaised over how the designers would be paid for their work, but no contracts were ever signed and no money changed hands.

Two years later in 2000, Innocent applied to register its logo as an EU trade mark. At first the registration was accepted, that was until the company that had designed the logo applied to cancel the registration, claiming that they were the rightful owners of the logo. Innocent could not own the logo trade mark, because no copyright had been assigned.

What the Law Says

According to UK copyright law, when a business commissions a design agency to undertake any type of design work, the designer is deemed to own the copyright on the designs, unless an agreement to the contrary has been signed.

Whilst the party doing the commissioning retains an implied licence and with it a right to use the logo once they have paid for its design, the intellectual property rights do not automatically become the property of the commissioner, unless there is a contract stating otherwise.

What to do?

Every time you commission any design work, you need to request written assignment of copyright from your design agency courtesy of a contract agreed and signed by both parties.

Check ownership of your current logo and branding work. If you are not clear who owns it then talk to a lawyer about having a copyright assignment contract drawn up to present to your design agency. Your logo is valuable: make sure you own it!

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