Tag Archives: Social Networking

What is Intellectual Property Part 2

What Oracle v Google Teaches Business Owners about IP Law

What is Intellectual Property Part 2The digital revolution is redefining businesses.  Companies that were once confined to marketing to a local audience now have the potential to operate international business from little more than a mobile set up.

However, the simplicity involved in starting up online can be a trap for the unwary says Shireen Smith, Intellectual Property (IP) law expert of London-based law firm Azrights.

One area that Shireen believes needs more legal attention is business concepts that require setting up a social media platform.

Social media platforms are experiencing exponential growth, with 72% of UK internet users now
having a social media profile in 2015 according to Ofcom research. And success can turn a penniless business into one valued at almost £300 million in a year, like that of US-based app YikYak.

“Firms may want to interface with other sites in order to access media.  This involves knowing about your legal position when using an Application Programming Interface, or API for short.  Put simply, an API is a language a programmer can use to talk to a system.”

“The law in this area is constantly evolving and with the web design and development industry being unregulated, it is crucial to seek legal advice.”

Oracle and Google have had an ongoing legal dispute concerning APIs since 2012, which Shireen discusses in her new book Intellectual Property Revolution published by Rethink Press.

“Google made use of Oracle’s API and the question concerned whether the API was protected by copyright.  If so, then Google was not free to make use of it without Oracle’s permission.

“The courts ruled that APIs are in fact protected by copyright in the US.  According to the US-based digital rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation this gives tech firms ‘unprecedented and dangerous power’ over developers by making it substantially more difficult for upstarts to create new software.

Shireen Smith continues “Although it would be interesting to have a ruling from the EU on the same facts, given that most APIs that you might want to use are US-based, the US ruling is one that you would need to heed if you wanted to use an API.

“The upshot is that you may need permission from the owner of a platform if you want to create another system which is compatible with it, for example Facebook.  The legal protection of computer software is a complex and fast-paced area of law.”

With regards to other social media platforms, ‘tropicalisation’ is an occurrence that has been significant in China and Brazil.  The term refers to the practice of investing in start-ups which take an established business model and adapt it to an emerging market – a feat that is easily achievable in today’s digital economy.

“Examples include Peixe Urbano a Brazilian clone of ‘daily-deal’ site Groupon, Weibo  the Chinese Twitter-like microblogging platform, RenRen the Chinese version of Facebook, Baidu the Chinese take on Google and Alibaba a Chinese copy of eBay.”

“From an IP perspective there are few legal barriers to this tactic.  The law does not protect bare business models.  Elements of a business model might be protected.  A patent can sometimes
protect the technology, copyright can protect the expression of a concept, designs can protect the aesthetic aspects and trademarks protect business and product names.”

Shireen sums up by saying “Securing a range of intellectual property rights in different elements can combine to provide the most powerful protection as each IP right protects you in subtly different ways and situations.

A video which was especially commissioned for Azrights and can be found here explains further how the digital economy is changing IP.

‘Intellectual Property Revolution’ by Shireen Smith is available from Amazon and is priced at £12.99.  The book contains expert advice for businesses on how to successfully manage IP assets, protect brands and add value to businesses in the digital economy.  It is written in plain English and is intended for use by business owners and ‘brand guardians’.


Azrights website

Azrights on YouTube

Azrights on Twitter


What Karaoke Can Teach Us about Intellectual Property Law

Community Registered Designs and PatentsAccording to a Parliament briefing paper  published on Monday December 7, the number of businesses in the UK grew by 146,000 between 2014 and 2015 to 5.39 million, with 95% of firms employing fewer than ten people.

The emergence of the digital economy has allowed small businesses to market themselves to a global audience, removing a traditional barrier to entry in many industries.  However, if these small businesses don’t take steps to protect their intellectual property (IP) they can risk losing out.

Leading IP lawyer and founder of IP specialist law firm Azrights Shireen Smith believes small businesses can learn from the branding failures of large multinational corporations.

“Nowadays, SMEs are exposed to a global audience in ways that simply did not occur in the industrial era. We have more businesses today than we’ve ever had before, and because they can market to a global marketplace it is important for them to pick names which can help them to stand out, while not infringing on the rights of others.

“Given the possibility for a business with a good idea to create a substantial niche for itself, it is important that the name chosen is one that the business can uniquely own, ideally internationally. It should be a name which creates valuable IP – and that means it must be distinctive and capable of being trademarked.

“It is also important to understand some of the subtleties of IP law to appreciate why there does not need to be a dramatic consequence to ignoring IP, for there to nevertheless be a severe impact on a business which limits its potential. So, the owners may never be aware of the loss for the business.

“For example, you might find yourself like Daisuke Inoue, the Japanese businessman, who invented the karaoke machine. He hadn’t patented the invention, and others made significant sums of money from the invention while he made nothing. You would be aware if, like karaoke, you could have patented something, and would have some idea of what you lost.

“Alternatively, you could be like László József Bíró, a Hungarian born inventor, who in 1938 had patented the universally known ballpoint pen, or biro for short. Before the inventor had the chance to benefit from its huge commercial potential, László Bíró decided to sell the patent to Marcel Bic for $2million, around £11.6 million today. Bic soon used it as the main product of his Bic Company which is now reported to sell an estimated 15 million pens every day, and over 100 billion ballpoint pens globally. That is enough to draw a line to the moon and back more than 320,000 times, and to make £11.6 million look like short change.

“However, on the other hand, you may never know what you could have had exclusive right over, and hence earned more revenues from. What you don’t know you lost is not going to worry you. Although it should. Most people are in business to, among other things, make money. So, why wouldn’t you want to maximise your revenues by taking account of IP?”

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


Azrights website
Azrights on You Tube
Azrights on Twitter
Intellectual Property Revolution on Amazon




Intellectual Property Revolution – Book Launch – Video Highlights

IP Revolution Book Launch 1

The Intellectual Property Revolution, my second book, was launched with great success on 13 October 2015 at the Institute of Directors in London.

For those of you who were unable to attend the event the next best thing is to watch the videos of the night.

Daniel Priestley of Entrevo, who runs a global entrepreneurship accelerator programme known as Key Person of Influence (that I myself have attended) gave the introductions for the night.

He also took us through the ages pointing out that at one time it was ownership of land that enabled people to build fortunes, these people built themselves a reputation and became influential. Then after this agricultural age came the industrial revolution where people built their fortunes by  owning the means of production. In the digital economy it is intellectual property that is the means to building fortunes. He said millennials would rather spend all their time and money to build start-ups  than purchasing houses or land.


Next up was Will Critchlow of Distilled, CEO of a digital marketing agency based in London with offices in the USA. He reinforced the importance of using the right name and protecting intellectual property rights very early on, an issue he himself had encountered at the early stages of his business ventures while at school. Intellectual Property, in particular securing a trade mark helps provide businesses big or small with strong foundations to securely expand and build a reputation they establish. This will strengthen branding strategies becoming real investments rather than failing later on.



Then finally, I spoke about the importance of taking early IP advice in order to position yourself for maximum value if you succeed, and reduce the risk of disaster. When overlooked, IP can be damaging to the core features of any business. For example, a poor choice of name can be a real set back. This is something I discuss in more detail in my blog Intellectual Property Value – Do You Need Specialist Skills to Value IP?

IP is so important to any business, as the internet now dominates our daily lives, it is the ownership of these intangibles which is so necessary to protect. At Azrights, we offer a fixed price service that provides early stage businesses with comprehensive advice concerning Intellectual Property rights and strategic building of them.


There was a chance for guests to mingle over canapes and here are some vox pox and highlights of the event. The vox pox discussions give some insight into why attendees believe IP is so important in today’s society.

While the highlights below will give you a general flavour of the eventful evening.

Since the launch, I have revised the conclusion of the book, as this was a chapter I struggled to write last year. At the time, I wanted to finish the book so I used something. However, having had time to  reflect over the festive period, I have changed the conclusion, and am now very happy that the book will be an easy, insightful read for businesses interested in IP.

The new conclusion fits much better with the book as a whole being a kind of synopsis of the book and summarises the transformative effects of Intellectual Property rights. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, you’d now get a strong indication of what the book is all about by reading just the conclusion and perhaps revisiting the book when time allows.

What should your social media strategy be for multiple brands?

It is well known that social media can be an important and powerful marketing platform for businesses of all sizes, but what do you do if you have multiple brands, such as different products and services? As a small business do you create an identity on all the major platforms for each separate brand? What social media strategy would be most beneficial to your business?

Where people write books, there is a tendency to have a specific website and profiles for the book,  but is it really a good idea to have a distinct profile for your book and your business on Facebook, Twitter, Google plus and so on?

My own experience

Personally, this has been a question I have been asking myself recently. In order to market my new book Legally Branded, we created separate social media profiles for the book a few months ago, as well as maintaining the main Azrights profiles. However, now the book has been released for a few months, I find myself questioning the logic of having multiple social media profiles.

I think the main issue here really depends on what you are trying to achieve by having multiple social media accounts. For me, although it seemed logical to keep Azrights and Legally Branded separate as one was a book and the other a business, in reality the two profiles covered very similar topics which were primarily intellectual property, and branding. So whilst they were two separate products – a service business and a book – they essentially were promoting the same values. In fact Legally Branded was always intended to benefit the Azrights business rather than being something separate.

As business owners we learn all the time.  What I’ve been learning in the last few months is the increasing number of new social media platforms which keep popping up.  Many of them are essential to join if your aim is to optimise your website for the search engines.  So, as your search engine optimisation strategy increasingly means adding new social media platforms (such as PInterest) to the mix, it becomes critical to focus resources on the main business brand.  That means not spreading ourselves too thin. Therefore, for  it makes sense to merge the two profiles in order to concentrate our efforts on the Azrights profile

What is best for businesses with distinctly individual brands?

But what if your business has brands which are separate and are not necessarily going to cover similar products or talk about the same topics? Building engagement on social media is about communicating with your customers on their level so that you are posting content that they will be interested in.

If you have different brands that might have different audiences, then having multiple platforms could be a good idea to ensure that each profile is suitably optimised for its specific audience.

On the flip side, John Souza, argues that ‘having the same person [a single business] communicate between brands can confuse and irritate people’

On top of the risk of confusing people – there is also the question of resources mentioned earlier. Even managing one profile across the many different social media channels that now exist can be time consuming enough, but add another profile into the mix and you might really start to stretch your businesses capacity.

As Jane Treadwell-Hoye, an expert in customer operations, says, the ‘biggest challenge is being able to ensure consistent, excellent customer experiences across all’. She assured that it ‘can be done’ with the right resources. However, it really is important not to sacrifice customer experience if these resources are scarce.


Ultimately it comes down to the different products and the overall business aims. If your company has different brands, and each of them have unique and distinct personalities, and you have the capacity to maintain separate profiles to a high standard, then multiple profiles might be the best way to go.

Certainly for large companies such as Unilever that have a huge portfolio of brands, having separate profiles is almost mandatory. (Although of course a company does not have to be a house brand like Unilever to justify this tactic. Hershey’s has multiple Facebook profiles for their individual chocolate brands which has worked for them)

However, if your brands or products have not yet taken off as separate entities, or if you simply do not have sufficient resources, it is best not to follow the trend of having multiple profiles. It could be confusing to customers and could lead to two profiles that are only half as good as they could otherwise be. In such situations using the founder’s own personal brand for discussing different products and services might be a better option than compartmentalising the product into its own separate profile.

If you want to learn more about online profiling, and the different approaches a company can take when naming products and services, why not buy a copy of Legally Branded?

Social Media Lobbying vs Phone Hacking

In days gone by a public scandal would have us going out into the street to vocalise our discontent, visit our MP, sign a petition, publish leaflets to spread the word. The phone hacking scandal has raised more than a few eyebrows and, on Wednesday, Cameron said he wants an inquiry. The story has gradually received more exposure in the press over the past year. In the normal course of events stories either escalate or peter out. However we have seen quite a consistent rise in interest with the phone hacking story. The facts have dripped out and on Wednesday the public’s patience hit the tipping point. In the face of inept quasi-judicial bodies the people, via social media, have taken effective action by instigating advertisers’ withdrawal from the News of The World (NoTW). By Thursday the 168 year old tabloid paper announced its closure.
What is interesting is that, apparently the phone hacking story has been around for 9 years. People have been prosecuted for phone hacking and the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has already reeled out a 167 report on this. The Information Commissioner (IC) has been implicated. The Select Committee has referred to the IC as ‘obfuscating’ and it seems the IC refrained from pursuing Fleet Street because of budgetary considerations. The Select Committee has brandished the Press Complaints Commission own investigation as ‘simplistic and surprising’. In all, the quasi-judicial machinery has not effectively clamped down on phone hacking practice.

In the face of this ineffectiveness, people have taken charge themselves to cause change. However rather than running out in the streets to vent their fury, they have taken to social media to be, arguably, more effective than the institutions. As with all newspapers advertising is a big earner. Advertisers have to take a view sometimes to dissociate themselves from a wayward personality or company. Tiger Woods saw some of his sponsors (Gillette and Accenture) pull the plug when the public found out about his indiscretions. Twitter campaigners on phone hacking understood this. So on Wednesday when the Guardian released the story that Milly Dowler’s phone was allegedly hacked and messages from her phone deleted, a firestorm of public fury broke out on Facebook and Twitter. A Melissa Harrison started to tweet the names of the advertisers on the News of The World (NoTW). This started a swarm of re-tweets and initiatives by other tweeters adopting a similar approach. One tweeter set up a way to automate the process of tweeting messages to the NoTW advertisers. Another tweeter set up a site with a downloadable spreadsheet with the details of the executives of the advertisers. According to the BBC this site has had over ’40,000 views in 24 hours’.

What impact has it had? Ford, O2, Shop Direct, Boots pulled out of NoTW and yesterday James Murdoch announced that the NoTW was to close. Of course some of these companies would have been aware of the scandal in the press and may have reached this conclusion separately. For James Murdoch maybe it was better to close NoTW to avoid the phone hacking ‘cancer’ spreading to News International.

Nonetheless, the power of social media has undeniably shown itself to be a force to reckon with. The Arab spring has shown us its role in the cause of overthrowing tyrants; now we see it used in a less radical but effective way in the cause of political and industry lobbying.

It was possibly too late for the News of the World already. Perhaps nothing they could have done would have made a difference. But if anything could have made a difference it would surely have been to deflect further criticism and outrage by immediately admitting their wrongdoing and apologising. The power of simple transparency and honesty should not be underestimated.

Preventing the cybersquatters and name squatting opportunists

It is obviously easier and cheaper to prevent cybersquatting and name squatting by pre-emptively protecting your brand and blocking your trade marks from being used by others.

For those who have missed the chance to register their business names with Facebook (see earlier post) the solution is to set up a Page and then register your company name once registration of further usernames opens.

Facebook does have a grievance procedure allowing you to report if someone’s username infringes on your intellectual property or publicity rights.

In the meantime, I noticed when I accidentally misspelt Facebook that the opportunists are fast at work buying up misspellings of Facebook user names. See here.

I predict a spate of cybersquatter and typosquatter disputes as Facebook and some of the brands whose names are registered in this way decide to challenge the registrations.

Why TWITTER application for drinks could fail

Continental Wine & Food Limited has applied to register the mark TWITTER for beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks;  Can they do this?

As a general rule trade marks are granted for particular activities – that is, classes. So you indicate which business categories you want to use your brand for when applying for your trade mark.  This limits the scope of your rights in that name.  There are 45 classes of goods and services, and trade mark filing fees being expensive, it would cost you a lot to include all 45 classes.  Anyway, even if you wanted to do so, you would have to have a genuine intention to use the mark on all the classes, and as there are thousands of descriptions within each class you still may not succeed in locking others out entirely from using the same name as yours for their non competing business.

Once you are granted the trade mark you get exclusive rights to use the name or logo in relation to those business categories you included in your application form.  You also get some level of protection over overlapping areas, but this is a grey area, and sometimes involves litigation to determine.  So it is much cheaper, if in doubt, to include the class, to ensure you obtain protection in all the classes that are appropriate to your business.  Otherwise others might register to use the same or a similar name in other areas of activity, locking you out from extending your brand to those areas in future.

That is how it happens that the same name is registered by several different non competing businesses. For example, POLO is a registered trademark belonging to three businesses operating in different sectors – cars, confectionery, and clothes.  Another famous example of a registration shared by two famous brands is APPLE.  They are both registered in class 9 but as technology and music have converged their co-existence has been problematic and caused disputes.

In practice an effective way of drawing inspiration for names is to look at the trade mark registers and choose names you like which are registered for totally non competing business categories.  This is what happened in Exxon Corp v Exxon Consultants International Ltd (1982).  Exxon tried, but failed to argue that Exxon Consultants should not be allowed to use the name EXXON for insurance services.  Their argument was that they had paid substantial amounts of money to have the name developed.  Therefore they claimed copyright in the name.  The Court disagreed.  It said that it is not possible to have copyright in a name.  There would be too much overlap with trade marks if people were able to claim copyright in a name.

So, the only way to own rights over a name is through trade marks. On this basis you might think that TWITTER for drinks should get through.  However, different rules apply for well known marks.  Have you noticed how only COCA COLA uses the name COCA COLA, or MICROSOFT uses the name MICROSOFT?
It will be interesting to watch this application to see whether TWITTER opposes it.  A possible ground of objection is that the applicant is using the sign TWITTER without due cause and is taking unfair advantage of it, or that its use is detrimental to, the distinctive character or repute of its trade mark.

Twitter Logo available through Istock

The value of a logo has no bearing to the amount your designer charges you.  Nike’s $35 “swoosh” design is one example, and now another example is Twitter’s bird logo.

Twitter reportedly only paid $6 for this logo.  However, there is a sting in the tale because Twitter’s bird was licensed through iStockphoto.   So, my guess is Twitter will want to try and buy the rights to the photo from Simon Oxley the owner of the graphic.  Otherwise there is nothing to stop any Tom, Dick or Harry legitimately licensing and using the Twitter logo.

Marketing, Keywords and Social Networking

How not to lose sense of priorities when running a business, that is the question.  As you get sucked into the day to day, it is all too easy to forget the bigger picture.  So, the holidays were useful thinking time.  This year, as recommended in the E-Myth I will be reserving blocks of time away from the office in order to work ON the business.

One goal is to keep this blog on track during 2009.  I want us to be writing about law as part of the business issues people are facing.  Many of these issues are internet related, given the vast changes being brought about in all walks of life by the connected web, or web 2.0, as it is sometimes referred to.  There are already plenty of others who write pure Intellectual Property blogs so that the law of IP is already exceptionally well covered.  IP law as part of the many issues businesses need to understand is not so well covered.

Last year I attended the Society for Computer and Law conference, a full report of which appears here and returned very enthused to participate in the world being opened up by social technologies like blogging, facebook, Second Life etc.  So in a fit of enthusiasm  some time after the conference I did a lot of surfing to formulate a plan for our participation in these social developments.  I didn’t get very far though.

So, I understand the huge challenge businesses face when trying to formulate a plan and a strategy to participate in web 2.0.  How do you even begin to decide how to make best use of your limited time and resources when you first have to understand what’s out there, how it will be changing, what it could mean for your business, what you need to do to join in etc?  This is especially difficult given the unfamiliar concepts and jargon.  There’s plenty of free advice and nuggets of information, but information overload is the problem.  If my experience is anything to go by, surfing is hugely entertaining, but unlikely to produce answers to key questions.

To compound the problem, every site has its own lengthy terms and conditions.  Is it any wonder then that nobody bothers to read these?  One assumes and hopes for the best that they will be fair.  But that may not be a reasonable assumption.

yahooWhich leads me onto a separate matter, namely Yahoo’s terms and conditions for keyword advertising.  From this post I gather Yahoo has quietly introduced new terms of business giving itself the right to change customers keywords and ads.  Reportedly, judging by the comments to that post, Yahoo has used this right to change some people’s ads, ( and even sent traffic to website pages of their own choosing).  In the process, some customers have received substantially increased charges on their accounts.  All this, without even an email forewarning them of these unilateral changes…  The mind boggles.

Clearly Yahoo needs legal advice because it would have serious problems enforcing these terms.  And in this web 2.0 environment when people are more easily able to unite to take a stand against large corporations, if Yahoo has any sense it will immediately take steps to reverse these changes before it suffers further  adverse publicity.