Brand Licensing: Kat on the prowl finds ... cats

Pip the Cat
Yesterday the IPKat took a detour from his usual prowl and found himself in one of London's shabbier corners, the Grand Hall, Kensington Olympia, which housed the Brand Licensing Europe 2010 Show (if you've not yet been and are thinking of doing so, it runs till tomorrow afternoon). In a way, he was very much in his element -- the show was crammed with celebrated cats that are the subject of merchandise licensing deals, format agreements, animations and any number of other means of turning fictional felines into hard cash. Among the better-known of the species were Tony the Tiger (part of Kellogg's packet of retro-products), Postman Pat's Jess, Puss in Boots, Garfield and Hello Kitty [or should that be "Hello, money in the kitty", queries Merpel]. Other feline properties include Poppy Cat, Pip the Cat, Loretta the Cat and an entire clan of stylistically distinctive cats from the hairy paintbrush of Ann Edwards. As a Community trade mark-protected Kat which has its own licensees, the IPKat felt he was in the company of kindred spirits. Oh, and to show his ecumenical side, the Kat also met a very sweet dog, courtesy of Darndog Licensing (alias Julia Teare).

An Ann Edwards cat
Chatting to many of the exhibitors, the IPKat was distressed to discover that some of the first-timers -- and even a couple of more experienced hands -- had little or no idea of intellectual property law and notion of how you go about establishing and carrying out a policy for it. One very talented exhibitor told him how she had no IP rights at all, not realising that her artwork attracted automatic copyright protection. Another confidently stated that she had no worries about enforcing her IP rights against infringers: "Oh, I leave that sort of thing to my licensees", she said.

Poppy Cat takes flight
Several exhibitors who were aware of the availability of IP protection still didn't have it because it was simply too expensive -- or had laid out large sums for what they perceived to be expensive protection for which there was no need. In at least one case, this was a misfortune that could have been avoided: a company simply told its professional advisers which marks it wanted registered and then incurred considerable expense dealing with actions against similar-ish earlier marks in a variety of countries. Had the client understood the situation more clearly, it would have changed one of its own marks a little bit rather than try to blast its way through a heavily-inhabited thicket of earlier rights.

A dog from Darndog
It wasn't just prospective licensees whose wares were on show. Apart from companies offering services as middle-men, graphic enhancers, animators and the like, there were some law firms present -- and the UK's Intellectual Property Office was reassuringly there too. The IPKat wonders whether it might be possible for the IPO to offer, either as well as or instead of a stand at the exhibition, an informal seminar for first-time exhibitors on the basics of IP protection and licensing law, in the hope that they might thereby reduce the risk of talented and well-intentioned people doing silly things. Another service provider, of which readers of this weblog and IP Finance may hear more in due course, specialised in the auditing of IP licences with a view to ascertaining whether licensors are receiving (and licensees paying!) the right sum, an issue which often leads to uncertainty when licences are negotiated and drafted by businessmen and subsequently construed by lawyers or, worse, accountants.

"Little Corkers": distinctive
style, but IP doesn't help there
A number of exhibitors, of whom Nikki Corker ("Little Corkers") was one and the impressively creative Scottish business AeroSkip ("The Skelly's at No.42"") another, were displaying work which was notable for the overall style of the artwork which constituted its unifying feature. While copyright protects individual illustrations, design protects the shape or appearance of manufactured products and trade mark law protects indicia by which the public identify their trade origin, "style" per se is not an easy subject matter to protect in terms of fixing clear legal parameters.  In some circumstances an action for passing off or unfair competition may avail a licensor whose works are emulated without being closely copied, but that's not a form of protection that can be predictably relied on, a factor that might deter some investors.

The endearing Skelly's
Eavesdropping on plenty of conversations, one of the words the Kat heard most often was "Disney". Sentences like "If you want Disney to take in interest in your product, it has to be presented their way, not yours", "That would never do for Disney", "It's got to be really good if Disney even look at it since they develop their own stuff now" and "It needs a proper story line if it's going to interest Disney" reflected the notion that Disney remains the gold standard, the measure by which the commercial value of many an incipient idea or young product is gauged.

The IPKat and Merpel had a lovely time at the Show. The woeful absence of catfood in the refreshment areas was more than made up for by the warmth and friendliness of the exhibitors. If you can, do go, and be sure to give lots of encouragement to the small exhibitors -- they may be the megastars of tomorrow.  If you're thinking of taking a licence or striking up a business alliance, there's plenty to choose from (as you can see from the properties illustrated here); if you just love fictional cats, dogs, bears, mice, pigs -- this is your spiritual home!
Brand Licensing: Kat on the prowl finds ... cats Brand Licensing: Kat on the prowl finds ... cats Reviewed by Jeremy on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 Rating: 5

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