According to Ukie , the trade body for the games and wider interactive entertainment industry, the UK games industry was worth over £3.9 billion in consumer spend in 2014 and the sector is expected to grow at an annual rate of 8%.
The games industry is relatively new and therefore 95% of companies are microbusinesses or SMEs. Leading intellectual property (IP) lawyer Shireen Smith thinks that many of these companies could be at risk of losing out as a result of an IP dispute, if they don’t take the necessary steps to protect themselves.
“If names are chosen without involving a trade mark expert, the business is at risk of losing out. A poor choice of name can lead to a constant loss of value or difficulty in securing registration either in the UK or in other countries.
“An IP expert should always be consulted at the early stages of launching a new business or product.
“Otherwise, as soon as a new business starts up, the business owner might receive notice that it is infringing on another brand. This can have serious consequences for those that have invested significantly in their branding and search engine optimisation. Sadly for some, they don’t have the time or resources to overcome such a setback.”
Shireen Smith, who is the founder of London-based law firm Azrights, continues to give an example.
“Scrabulous was an app, created by two Indian brothers, which allowed people to play a Scrabble-like game online with friends anywhere in the world. It was a huge hit – attracting 600,000 users per day – when in 2008, Hasbro, the owner of the Scrabble trademark, shut it down because their name suggested to the market that this was a similar game to Scrabble. As trademark law helps to prevent piggybacking off the success of others’ brand, Scrabble was able to get Facebook to pull the Scrabulous app even though it was extremely popular.
“The founders had even applied to register a trademark for their name, clearly unaware of the wide scope of protection that trademarks give. Had they taken advice before using the name they would have realised the choice was unwise.
“The fact that their app had gone viral did not stop Facebook from simply removing it. This paved the way for Zynga to create what is now a highly successful app: Words with Friends. The brothers’ advantage of being the first to build a Scrabble-like app on Facebook was lost, and we will never know how big Scrabulous would have been today if it had opted for a better name.”
Shireen Smith has recently launched a new book called ‘Intellectual Property Revolution’, published by Rethink Press which is all about how to successfully manage IP assets, protect brands and add value to your business in the digital economy. It is written in plain English and is helpful for business owners and ‘brand guardians’.
A video explaining more about how the digital economy is changing IP can be found here