December 14, 2023

The Season of Goodwill … As Long as No Intellectual Property Rights Are Infringed

Insights London Market

Christmas is a time for hope, joy and giving. It is a time when gifts are exchanged and any ill will is set aside. Although that’s not always the case — particularly when it comes to intellectual property (IP) disputes.

In fact, there aren’t many aspects of Christmas celebrations that haven’t had some form of intellectual property right applied to them. Did you know that the popular Christmas cracker — a staple of Christmas tables, particularly in the UK — was first patented in London in 1847 by confectioner Tom Smith? The first patent relating to Christmas lights also traces its origins back to the 1800s.

In Court for Christmas

The Christmas marketplace is a highly competitive one with brands keen to protect their unique seasonal products through patents, trademarks and copyright. Whether it’s Christmas tree lights, baubles or even Santa’s sleigh, chances are some forms of legal protection have been applied.

One headline-making infringement case that ended up in the UK Intellectual Property Enterprise Court was between two well-known supermarket chains, Aldi and Marks & Spencer. The case dealt with bottles of festive gin. In 2020, M&S released a light up Christmas-themed gin, with Aldi launching a look-alike product the following year. The High Court in the UK ruled in favour of M&S in February 2023, stating the Aldi version infringed its bottle design, with the company as a result potentially having to remove the item from its shelves or pay damages.

However, perhaps nowhere is the potential for infringement disputes higher than when we look at the toys under the Christmas tree.

The Barbie doll, a longstanding popular Christmas present, has been the source of several cases as creator Mattel has sought to safeguard its intellectual property on the character. Aspects from the design of the doll to the colour known as ‘Barbie pink’ have had some form of protection using intellectual property rights. Therefore, it’s no surprise lawsuits have been brought against a wide range of IP rights from the use of the Barbie name in other products to the use of Barbie figures in art works.

Another Christmas Day present stalwart, Hasbro’s Monopoly game, has not only been the cause of many family arguments but also the source of several IP disputes. Trademarked in the UK since the 1950s, there have been a number of IP-related cases over the years in which the company has had to protect the Monopoly brand vigorously.

Applying the Insurance Wrapping

The list of household name brands that have been involved in intellectual property-related litigation is a lengthy one. At this time of year, that is certainly one type of list you don’t want your name on.

So, whether organisations are manufacturing, selling or distributing Christmas-related products, taking time to review their insurance cover is essential. Whether its infringement liability cover for risk of infringing on IP rights of others, IP rights protection for challenges to the validity or ownership of their IP, or IP rights enforcement to pursue their rights against infringers — having the right policy in place can help organisations sleep more soundly during this festive period.