Unlawful use of trademarked logos in Brexit campaign

Written by Éamon Chawke | June 22, 2016


All’s fair in love, war and referenda

Earlier this month, in the days leading up to the Brexit vote, the trade marks of a number of global manufacturers appeared in a leaflet advocating for Britain to leave the EU. The leaflet stated that “major employers like Toyota, Nissan, Vauxhall, Honda, Unilever, GE and Airbus have all said they’ll stay in the UK whatever the result of the [Brexit] referendum”.

Unlawful use of Company logos

The heads of Unilever, Airbus and GE accused the Vote Leave group of using their names and brands in bad faith to imply their support for the UK to exit the European Union. Nissan went one step further and threatened to seek an injunction in the High Court after it said that the Vote Leave group had ignored repeated requests that the company’s logo not be used. Nissan also said that it vigorously defends the Nissan brand and intellectual property rights in all markets where it operates.

Briffa comment

Now that the referendum is over and the majority of voters in the UK have voted for Britain to leave the EU, it remains to be seen whether Nissan or any of the other manufacturers will actually pursue legal proceedings against the Vote Leave group (the manufacturers may struggle to prove damage/loss attributable to the alleged infringement of their trade mark and an injunction may be a toothless tiger at this stage since the leaflets are no longer in circulation). However, there are a couple of points to be taken away from this saga:

  • First, stay vigilant for infringement. Intellectual property owners (including trade mark owners, but also owners of registered and unregistered designs and owners of materials protected by copyright) should expect infringement of their intellectual property rights and carry out regular searches online (e.g. on social media) for unauthorised use of their intellectual property (trade marks, designs, materials protected by copyright etc).
  • Second, valuable trade marks should be protected. An established brand name or brand logo can be incredibly powerful and trademarks are the intellectual property rights that protect these brand identifiers. Accordingly, if any action is taken which does or may undermine the value of a brand, appropriate action (i.e. enforcement of the relevant trade mark rights) should be taken immediately to protect the integrity of the brand.
  • Finally, don’t unknowingly infringe. Caution should always be exercised when using the brand name or brand logo of another on one’s own promotional literature, website etc. This risk frequently arises in the context of comparative advertising where clients inadvertently infringe third-party intellectual property rights by using a registered trade mark without the owner’s consent.

Briffa advises its clients on all aspects of contentious and non-contentious intellectual property law. If you have concerns about third-party use of your IP or your use of third-party IP, please get in touch and we will be happy to assist.

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