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Ownership of rights in a logo can depend on a written, signed copyright assignment
A recent court decision reminds us again of the importance of a clear, signed contract dealing with copyright ownership.
The founders of the company behind Innocent Smoothies instructed a design company to develop their famous “Dude” logo. The parties had an agreement but appear never to have got round to signing a final contract. Believing themselves to be the proprietors of the logo, the present owners of Innocent registered it as a trade mark. The registration was challenged by the successors of the design company on the grounds that they, as its creators, still owned the copyright in the logo because they had never legally assigned it.
The trade mark was revoked and the parties ended up in court.
Due mainly to the length of time the logo had been synonymous with Innocent Smoothies and the fact that the designers had never until now suggested that they still owned the copyright, the court concluded that the owners of Innocent had equitable title to the copyright.
The crucial point about this case is that it is very dangerous (and in this case expensive) to overlook the formality required for a legal assignment of copyright. Such assignments must be in writing or else the parties will be left arguing about equitable ownership and having to rely on the reputation they have established in “their” logo. This was not easy even with such a fabulously successful product as Innocent and with such a well known trade mark as the “Dude” logo.