The High Court has recently heard a case in which it was alleged that the famous Innocent smoothies logo was not in fact owned by Innocent’s trading company.
When the business was in its start-up phase back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, it struck up a deal with a design agency to undertake various branding activities in return for shares in the drinks company. The contract provided for copyright in design work approved by Innocent to be owned by them, with unapproved works remaining with the design agency. (This conditional ownership created technical legal issues in itself, noted below). The contract however was never signed.
The famous Innocent logo was designed and approved, but before shares were issued the design agency became insolvent and was wound up. However, a third party saw an opportunity to buy out its rights (if any) in the Innocent material to try and force a claim against what was (by this point: 2007) a booming business founded on its brand.
Ultimately, the Court was asked to decide whether the contract had been (i) signed (ii) was otherwise binding and (iii) the scope of rights – if any – Innocent had in the logo.
As there was insufficient evidence that the contract was signed - and a signed contract is essential to transfer absolute ownership in copyright - Innocent did not have the highest form of title in the logo. The judge also noted that the fact Innocent had to approve a design before it got copyright meant even a signed contract may not have satisfied the requirements for absolute ‘legal’ title.
However, luckily for Innocent, the judge did find the contract to be binding, despite not being signed, on the basis of the parties carrying out its terms in practice. This was enough to mean Innocent had beneficial ownership of the logo, to which the third party who had bought out the design agency’s rights was bound.
The case was therefore a victory for Innocent, but nevertheless, an issue which could have been avoided had it ensured the contract was properly drafted and signed in the first place. Yet another reminder to get the contractual documents in order early on…
Taylors' Intellectual Property team, led by Tony Catterall, is recognised nationally and internationally for its expertise and experience in protecting and enforcing the rights of designers, particularly in the textiles, fashion and home furnishings sectors. It has won many notable and key cases in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court against major corporates. Taylors is the only North West-based firm to have been appointed as a Legal Affiliate to the national organisation, Anti-Copying in Design (ACID).
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Tony Catterall, Head of our Intellectual Property team, on 0844 8000 263 or via email email@example.com.