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Top 10 most bizarre intellectual property disputes

Because intellectual property disputes can be a treasure trove of all things weird, wonderful, and downright bizarre, we’ve put together a rundown of some of the most unusual cases in this field that we’ve come across over the years, just for fun! 

10) 'Be Boss, Be Kind': Scouse slang and slogans (2020) 

An artist from Merseyside found himself subject to potential legal action brought by fashion titans Hugo Boss after he began marketing the slogan 'Be Boss, Be Kind', following the launch of successful online art classes attended by people all over the world during the first Covid-19 lockdowns. The artist, John Charles, would sign off the classes with his signature slogan ('boss' being Liverpool slang for 'great') and soon found himself receiving requests for it to be put on merchandise such as baseball caps and hoodies. It was after lodging a request to trademark the slogan that he first heard from Hugo Boss’s disgruntled lawyers. 

What Was The Outcome? 

Happily for all involved, Hugo Boss and Mr Charles reached an amicable out-of-court agreement which allowed Mr Charles to continue selling his merchandise and raising money for his daughter’s trust fund. 

9) A prickly business: Henry Martinez t/a Prick & Another v Prick Me Baby One More Time Ltd & Another (2018) 

A high-profile, Shoreditch-based tattoo artist, Henry Martinez (known as Henry Hate) took issue when a cactus and succulent plant shop named Prick Me Baby One More Time, owned by Gynelle Leon, opened in nearby Dalston: one of the primary issues being the fact that his tattoo parlour also contains the word 'prick' as it goes by the name of Prick Tattoos. The dispute arose over Mr Martinez’s allegation that Ms Leon’s using the word 'prick' in her shop’s name amounted to passing off (in other words, using the word as representing a link to Mr Martinez’s business in order to ride off the back of the goodwill and reputation associated with it). 

What Was The Outcome? 

Unfortunately for Mr Martinez, the court decided that the public would not automatically assume that use of the word 'prick' meant that there was inevitably a connection between the tattoo parlour and the cactus shop – and so his spiky claims were doomed to failure. 

8) The matter of Vera Lynn and a trademark for gin (2019) 

Anyone for a Vera Lynn and tonic? Halewood International found themselves in hot water with the centenarian before her passing when they tried to capitalise on the cockney rhyming slang for gin, attempting to trademark her name for its drink. 

What Was The Outcome? 

It was last orders at the bar for Halewood when they were told to pay Dame Vera £1,800 in legal costs after being unsuccessful with their trademark application. 

7) A Catholic copyright: Trademarking Mother Theresa’s sari (2019) 

Biswajit Sarkar, a lawyer acting for the Missionaries of Charity – the order that Catholic saint Mother Theresa formed over 70 years ago, sought to trademark the white, blue-rimmed cotton sari she made famous when he alleged that it was required in order to stop others 'misusing' the late saint’s reputation for commercial gain. 

What Was The Outcome? 

It became public knowledge in 2019 that the trademark application had been successful in 2016 – and Sarkar has warned that 'no exceptions' would be made for use of the pattern by any other religious orders or not-for-profit enterprises. 

6) Beats, books and biology: Dr Dre v Dr Drai (2018) 

A Pennsylvania-based gynaecologist found himself embroiled in a dispute with renowned hip hop star Dr Dre when he tried to trademark the name Dr Drai. Dr Dre wasn’t amused by this and brought a case against the doctor, because he alleged that it would cause 'confusion' when it came to both he and Dr Drai attempting to sell audio books and seminar products using their extremely similar names.  

What Was The Outcome? 

The US trademark office dismissed Dr Dre’s case on the basis that he had failed to show that people would be misled into purchasing Dr Drai’s products instead of his own.  

5) Sportswear spats: Michael Jordan v Qiaodan Sports Co (2016) 

A Chinese sportswear company was using the name Jordan (written in characters and read as 'Qiaodan' in Chinese) on its sportswear. Former US basketball star Michael Jordan didn’t agree to the company using his name in their branding, and was not affiliated with them in any way. He took them to court to dispute their trademarks and to protect his name. 

What Was The Outcome? 

The court agreed that the company shouldn’t be allowed to use Jordan’s Chinese name. However, they can still use the Romanised version of it, pronounced as ‘Chee-ow-dahn'. 

4) Trouble brewing: Elvis Presley v BrewDog (2020) 

The launch of BrewDog’s ‘Elvis Juice IPA’ caused a stir back in 2016 after Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), who manages Elvis Presley’s estate, took umbrage with the Scottish brewer – causing BrewDog’s founders to change their names to Elvis via deed poll in an attempt to convince the court that they had named the beer after themselves.  

What Was The Outcome? 

Although initially EPE were successful in the trademark dispute, 2018 saw the overturning of the decision; enabling BrewDog to trademark the beer in the UK as ‘BrewDog Elvis Juice’, but not ‘Elvis Juice’. However, the latest appeal by BrewDog to trademark the beer in Europe was dismissed – meaning that the brewing giant may have to alter the name of its beer when selling it within Europe. 

3) Literature and legalities: The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail v The Da Vinci Code (2006) 

Both books The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code are based on the theory that the Holy Grail is the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, who allegedly had a child together. Authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh claimed that the later book by Dan Brown was an infringement of their copyright. 

What Was The Outcome? 

The court found that it’s not possible to copyright historical research or historical conjecture, so there was no infringement in the book by Dan Brown. 

2) The battle of the dolls: Barbie v Bratz (2008) 

Barbie dolls were first produced in 1959 and Bratz was later formed in 2001. MGA (the manufacturers of Bratz) filed a claim against Mattel (the manufacturers of Barbie) claiming that a new line of Barbie with a big head and slim body copied the design of Bratz dolls. 

Mattel countered this by arguing that the designer of the Bratz dolls was employed by them when he created the design, so they owned the intellectual property in the designs. 

What Was The Outcome? 

The jury ruled in favour of Mattel, and ordered that MGA pay $100 million in damages and remove Bratz dolls from sale for one year. 

1) Monkeying around: Naruto v Slater (2018) 

Photographer David Slater innocently leaving his camera unattended in an Indonesian reserve kickstarted a long-running legal dispute begun by a crested macaque, Naruto, snapping cheeky selfies with the camera. These images were later published in a book, and subsequently PETA, the world’s largest animal rights organisation, took legal action as his ‘next friend’ against Slater, Wildlife Personalities Ltd and Blurb Inc for copyright infringement.  

What Was The Outcome? 

It was concluded that Naruto, as an animal, lacked statutory standing in law to sue Slater et al. However, Slater ended up agreeing to donate 25% of all future proceeds from the use of the selfies to charities protecting crested macaques’ habitats.  

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