Intellectual Property Rights
ineffective, it may be appropriate to disclose the information to a profes-
sional body or to a public official. Only in the most serious of cases will
disclosure to the media be protected.
TRADE MARKS AND PASSING OFF
The law regarding trade marks in the UK is based on the Trade Marks Act
1994, which consolidated and updated existing legislation. The Act defines a
trade mark as:
. . . any sign capable of being represented graphically which is capable of dis-
tinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other under-
takings. A trade mark may, in particular, consist of words (including personal
names), designs, letters, numerals or the shape of goods or their packaging.
Some of the best known examples of trade marks include the name Coca
Cola, the characteristic shape of the Coca Cola bottle, and the large M that
serves to advertise McDonalds hamburger outlets. Microsoft is a trade mark,
as are the names of many Microsoft products such as Outlook.
Provision is made for registering trade marks and most trade marks are
now registered. In the UK this is done through the UK Patent Office. The
Patent Office maintains a database of registered trade marks and their
owners that can be searched over the internet. Trade marks are associated
with particular classes of products so that it is quite possible for the same
trade mark to belong to several different owners because each has registered
it for a different class of product. There are comprehensive rules limiting
what can be registered as a trade mark. Place names and the names of people,
for example, will not generally be accepted for registration.
The1994 Act makes it an offence to:
apply a unauthorized registered trade mark (that is, a registered trade
mark that you do not own or do not have the owner’s permission to use)
to goods;
sell or offer for sale (or hire), goods or packaging that bear an unauth-
orized trade mark;
import or export goods that bear an unauthorized trade mark;
have in the course of business, goods for sale or hire goods (or packag-
ing) that bear an unauthorized trade mark.
In most circumstances, the offence will be criminal and punishable by a fine
or up to two years’ imprisonment. However, the trade mark owner can
also bring civil proceedings to claim for the financial damage he may have
suffered.
Under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), to which most
countries are signatories, countries that do not have suitable laws to protect
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