The High Court recently published its judgment in a case involving the Marussia Formula One team. The case related to a claim for trade mark infringement and underlined the importance of businesses ensuring they properly manage their IP rights.
The court heard how the claimant had licensed its trade mark to the defendant Formula One team, but that the defendant team had continued to use the trade mark after the licence term had expired. The team was refused permission by Formula One’s governing body to change its name during the course of a season, leaving them with little option but to continue racing and infringe the claimant’s trade mark as a result. Refusing to race would mean forfeiting the team’s entitlement to a substantial amount of money due to it.
The court held that the defendant therefore had no real prospect of proving, as it had asserted, that the use of the claimant’s trade mark had occurred with the claimant’s consent. It further held that the defences advanced by the defendant were unlikely to succeed and that the defendant would need to provide £1.75 million by way of security for costs if it wished to proceed to trial.
The case shows the importance of considering IP rights at an early stage and ensuring any agreements entered into properly reflect the needs of the parties and protect their interests. In particular, the defendant in this case would have benefitted from ensuring the licence was not timed to expire part way through a season. The facts of the case show the balance of power was strongly weighted in the trade mark owner’s favour, since the licensee was heavily dependent on the owner providing the funds which would allow it to participate in the Formula One season.
Many SMEs could potentially benefit by holding their IP in a separate IP company and having the holding company licence that IP to the company through which the business is operated. This has the benefit of protecting a business’ investment in its IP by ring-fencing its intangible assets. This will be particularly important if the main business falls into difficulties and should be considered at an early stage.