Intellectual Property Rights for Charities

By Luke Jones, Attorney

Intellectual property rights (IPRs) are a key cornerstone of many successful businesses. The headline-grabbing use of IPRs can often be associated with big brands embroiled in litigation over patent and trademark infringement, or even high profile music artists associated with infringing copyright. However, almost all businesses own IPRs in one form or another. Understanding and utilising IPRs can be crucial to a business’s success.

Charities are one such sector that should be aware of the power of IPRs. IPRs can be an important asset for a charity to help secure donations and funding. However, charities may not appreciate the ways in which they may obtain IPRs and how they can be enforced. Below we highlight some of the more relevant IPRs that the charity sector should be mindful of.

Trademarks

Charities rely on donations from the public to provide funding for vital work. As such, ensuring that the name and brand of a charity is protected from being used and/or associated with other work is essential, particularly if such work is detrimental to the charity’s public image.

Registering a trademark can provide a charity with such protection. A registered trademark can give the charity the exclusive right to prevent others from using their trademark in a particular business area. A trademark can be anything which distinguishes the charity from another business, most commonly the charity name or logo. A registered trademark is obtained through an application to the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO).

The trademark registration can be used to prevent use of the trademark in work that can damage a charity’s brand. For example, if a charity discovers that their name is being used on an unethical product, they may use a trademark registration to prevent the use of their name on such products.

Registering a trademark early in the inception of a charity is important because it can prevent other businesses from registering the same trademark. For example, a charity may perform good work under a particular name or logo, only to later find that they may be prevented from carrying on such work using the same name or logo, due to a conflicting trademark registration. This may result in the charity choosing to undergo a rebrand or trying to obtain the already registered trademark, both of which can be costly.

Copyright

Charities regularly produce articles, research reports and fundraising materials. These, and other similar literary works, can be protected by copyright protection, even when published on the charity’s website. Similarly, sound recordings or films produced by a charity, for example, as part of a fundraising campaign, can also be subject to copyright protection.

Copyright can be used to prevent others from copying work produced by a charity. Copyright protection arises upon creation of the work. There is no formal registration process to obtain copyright, unlike with a trademark registration.

In general, if the work of a charity is created by an employee, then the copyright in the work belongs to the charity. However, charities should be mindful that when collaborating with other organisations or individuals, it may not necessarily be the charity which owns the copyright in the work. For example, when creating a film for a fundraising campaign, the production company used to create the film may be the automatic owners of the copyright of the film. When working with other organisations or individuals, charities should therefore carefully review the terms of any agreement, to ensure that they own any relevant IPRs resulting from the collaboration.

Enforcement

Whilst the above has focussed on the IPRs that a charity may own and use to protect their business, charities should be mindful that the way they choose to enforce their rights can also have a detrimental impact on their public image.

The standing of a charity in the mind of the public may be harmed if a charity enforces their rights too aggressively, particularly if action is taken against other charities.

Marking work, names or logos, which are protected by IPRs, can be useful to deter third parties from using such work in the first place, thus acting as a deterrent. For example, registered trademarks can be marked with the symbol ‘®’ and copyright protection can be indicated with the symbol ‘©’.

If an unauthorised use of a charity’s IPRs is detected, enforcing an IPR should be reserved for uses which harm the brand of the charity. Where possible, an amicable resolution between the charity and another party should be considered over heavy-handed litigation.

This is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Should you require advice on this or any other topic then please contact hlk@hlk-ip.com or your usual Haseltine Lake Kempner advisor.