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Not just for the Big Boys: IP Law Defends Small Business over Infringement

Friday May 17, 2013 at 2:35pm

A recent case in the Patents County Court demonstrates that, for all the limelight shone on fights between giants such as Apple v Samsung, intellectual property law still serves to protect small businesses.

Last week’s payout was barely £8000 in settlement fees, and the players weren’t big conglomerates either; rather, just two men fighting over the right of particular designs on products. But it shows the law in action in a very practical way.

Ian Allen, the creator of the 1980s children's TV show Button Moon, filed suit against Robert Redshaw, of Bridlington, East Yorkshire, for copyright infringement when he discovered T-shirts and mugs bearing his Button Moon and Mr. Spoon designs for sale online back in 2009.

Although the images were not an exact replica of his designs, Mr Allen argued that Mr Redshaw had "passed off" Button Moon designs as authorised merchandise. In response, Mr Redshaw claimed his intentions were to create a parody of Button Moon and Mr Spoon rather than to copy them. To support his argument, Mr Redshaw explained how he included a disclaimer on all his items which stated they were not official Button Moon products.

No stranger to the value of copyrighting, Mr Allen still owns the copyright of his original Button Moon designs and regularly grants rights to manufacturers for the production and selling of Button Moon-related merchandise. In this particular case, the court heard how Mr Redshaw had asked Mr Allen and was denied a licence to create and sell Button Moon T-shirts. Despite the refusal, products began to appear on eBay and Amazon in addition to his Bridlington-based Kapow Gifts shop.

Upon finding this discovery, Mr Allen recalled his initial reaction: "It was like someone taking your children and doing what they want to with them, and making money from it."

The court ruled in Mr Allen’s favour. Recorder Amanda Michaels confirmed, “There is no doubt in my mind that Mr Redshaw has infringed Mr Allen's copyright. In my view, even though Mr Redshaw's goods do not bear the Button Moon name, and bear the disclaimers described above, they so closely copy the Button Moon characters' designs as to make a misrepresentation that the goods are licensed or official products."

Justice prevailed and Mr Allen was awarded £3,736 in damages for infringement plus full recompense for legal costs totalling £3,421. Faith in copyright law fully restored.

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