Trademarks, Lost Sales and Why You Need to be Extra Careful

When it comes to trademarks, it pays to be careful.  A recent ruling by the Patent County Court has significantly raised the stakes, and should leave nobody in any doubt that a cavalier attitude to trademark infringement can end up costing you a lot of money.

The case was brought by the National Guild of Removers and Storers (NGRS), the trade organisation for the home removal industry.  Like all trade organisations, the NGRS exists to promote professionalism within its industry.  Its trademark is a “seal of quality”.  Any firm who displays one is sending out the message that they are a trustworthy and professional outfit working to the highest standards.  It’s therefore not surprising that the NGRS would vigorously pursue any infringement of its trademarks.

The case was brought against four defendants, one of whom was an obvious choice for legal action.  This defendant had never been a member of the NGRS, and was blatantly using its trademarks for unauthorised personal gain.  The remaining three were in a slightly different position, in that they had been members but had for various reasons let their membership lapse.  These defendants had neglected to remove the trademarks from their advertising, signage and stationery.  Whether this was a deliberate action or an unfortunate oversight, the Court ruled in favour of the NGRS, and awarded damages accordingly.

An interesting feature of the ruling is that for the first time in a trademark case, the Court awarded damages even though the infringement hadn’t resulted in lost sales (the NGRS, after all, isn’t in direct competition with its members over the supply of services).  This type of damage award is usually found in patent infringement cases.

In practical terms, if you’re found guilty of trademark infringement, you’re going to have to pay out a lot more in damages.  Be very sure, therefore, that you don’t claim to be something you’re not, and that all your professional subscriptions are up to date!

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