Protect your identity
Registering a brand name gives landlords their best hope of safeguarding their image, says Dr Michael Servian, partner at Freeth Cartwright
Branding has traditionally been a private sector thing, concerned with shifting more beans. However, the need for housing associations to push their name forward is growing, as they consider strategic partnering arrangements, mergers and acquisitions, private investments, franchising and diversifying into related fields.
It is fairly obvious that an association won’t want its brand used by someone else, not least if this is confuses people into believing that there is some connection with them when there isn’t.
But unless there is a specific legal right in a brand, apart from begging letters, there is little to prevent someone else from using the same or a similar brand for a different operation in the same or a related field.
These legal rights can arise from mere use. But if an association wants to assert the unregistered brand against misuse it would have three hurdles to get over, having to demonstrate that:
- it has built up reputation in the brand;
- the other organisation is mis-leading people into believing that it is or has a connection with the association; and
- these activities are likely to cause it damage.
Since putting the evidence together for full legal proceedings can be time consuming and pricey, it makes sense to try to get things sorted before the other organisation becomes wedded to the brand, invests heavily in it, and even starts to acquire its own rights in the brand.
Alternatively, the association can formally register its brands as trademarks in relation to particular activities. This is an inexpensive process in the face of the benefits. There are rules. For example, the brand mustn’t already belong to someone else or be overly descriptive. However, when and if obtained, the trademark registration very clearly identifies what the association believes to be its patch, and can be invoked against misuse.
There are various steps that can be taken by associations to mark out their branding, including:
- check the availability of the brand;
- ensure the landlord, not the brand’s designer, owns the copyright;
- register the key trademarks;
- use the brand as a brand, not just as the association’s name;
- use it exactly as registered;
- register key domain names and use your branding on social media;
- apply appropriate trademark and copyright notices to all your literature;
- log your use of any unregistered brands;
- record any confusion between your brand and third party brands.
Dr Michael Servian is a partner at Freeth Cartwright