Who owns your logo? Put it in writing, say copyright experts

Designers should make logo ownership clear when writing up contracts with clients, intellectual property experts have advised following a recent court case.


Intellectual property experts have stressed that designers should make logo ownership clear in contracts with clients, following a recent court case outcome.

Logo copyright law in the Intellectual Property (IP) Act 2014 states that designers own copyright of designs, unless a contract states otherwise.

But a judge’s ruling in a court case last month found that an “implied” ownership fell with the client, because it was not “explicitly” written into the contract that it would stay with the designer.

Dids Macdonald, chief executive at ACID (Anti Copying in Design), says: “This case highlights how important it is that designers ensure that they have written contracts covering all eventualities – especially intellectual property ownership regarding the creation of logos and their uses.

“We have created generic, industry-standard agreements that can be easily adapted to cover most commercial situations, with minimal help from an IP specialist.”

She adds that when relationships break down between client and designer, ACID advocates a “mediate to resolve” outlook – where a mediator will facilitate a conversation between the two parties to help resolve it instead of a legal dispute.

The dispute, which took place in the Chancery Division of the High Court in June this year, was between Kilnworx Climbing Centre, and Purple Penguin Design Limited.

The consultancy started the dispute, claiming that Kilnworx owed it up to £45,000 because of repeated logo use.

Kilnworx won the case, and was found not to be liable for infringement of logo copyright.

This law is based on another case, which took place in 2005 in the Chancery Division of the High Court between Doc Martens footwear and the freelance designer of the company’s logo.

This 2005 case concluded that there is a “presumption that the client has the right to prevent others from using the logo” in order to ensure “business efficacy” of its company.

Niall Head-Rapson, an ACID legal affiliate from McDaniel & Co says: “This has been the law for a significant period of time but it does reinforce the need for ownership clarity in writing so everyone knows where they stand.”

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  • Maxine Horn August 14, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Clarifying IP matters at the outset solves all manner of issues arising further down the line. Too often designers terms of business, if indeed they even mention IP, simply say, copyright transfers to the client on receipt of payment. However, that too can cause problems as designers cannot assign elements of a project they do not own, such as illustrations, photographs, fonts and typefaces – which tend to remain the copyright ownership of for example the photographer, or fonts-house when using fonts and faces under license to the design firm not to the client.

    Creative Barcode IP Tag system was designed for such simple clarity where designer is named, IP status and ownership stated, others with an IP interest stated etc etc. And once the project is complete, the system enables the IP tag and ownership to be formally transferred including a Certificate of IP transfer generated automatically, which list the specific items being transferred and the exclusions. It takes minutes to do without requiring in-depth knowledge of IP.

    Brand agency Mellor & Scott have a current challenge on their hands seeking to track down the original designer of the first Neighbourhood Watch scheme – details here http://mellorandscott.com/design_neighbourhood_watching/

    It’s been really difficult to find the designer as no records of ownership exist and even the commissioning body C.O.I kept no design records when it was shut down.

    Had Creative Barcode existed back then, and an IP Tag been created, full details would have been easy to find, instantly. http://www.creativebarcode.com

    Accurate record and attribution of the designer of a work is as important as knowing the IP ownership status.

    So all the fast, easy and low cost tools are available to designers to use in order to easily remain IP compliant as well as add value to their clients using the Ownership certificate the client can use as a record of their own IP asset, and in some instances even gain R & D Tax credits

    Trouble is designers find IP issues tedious and tend to go into avoid mode. If they recognised it as a value add to their clients, perhaps they’d take more notice and use the tools offered to them on a plate, to pick up on the opportunity.

  • Paul Mellor August 14, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Maxine is correct, we are finding it very difficult to find out who designed the original Neighbourhood Watch logo.

    If only attribution could have been made then!

    Neighbourhood Watch are a client of ours and we are looking at their brand in a piece of work, I’d love the opportunity to meet the original designer from 1982.

    Does anyone know who designed the original Neighbourhood Watch logo?

    A quick summary of me deceptive work thus far is here http://mellorandscott.com/design_neighbourhood_watching/

    Paul ‘Detective Columbo’ Mellor

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