News > Cam Trade Marks at University of Cambridge Law Department Seminar

Dr Roman Cholij of Cam Trade Marks & IP Services was one of over 70 delegates from around the UK who attended a trade mark seminar organised by the Centre of Intellectual Property and Information Law (‘CIPIL’), part of the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge on Saturday 15th March 2008.

The Seminar, on ‘Trade Mark Dilution’, was the first of several public events planned by CIPIL in 2008 designed to foster knowledge and understanding of Intellectual Property.

Trade mark dilution occurs when the distinctiveness of a brand is affected or blurred by the presence of a similar mark that may be trading similar goods or services, or indeed even dissimilar ones. A consumer reacts less instinctively to the brand message of the original mark - which may have had millions of pounds invested in it - if copy-cats or look-alikes are allowed to enter the space in a consumer’s mind when out shopping. The consumer may even be left confused as to who the ‘intruder’ brand belongs to. The purpose of the seminar was to look at all angles of this problem, including, for example, whether ‘dilution’ also automatically harmed or ‘tarnished’ the mark, and whether it was always unfair or without due cause (requirements in law before action can be taken).

Chairman for the day was Court of Appeal Judge Lord Justice Jacob, a luminary in Intellectual Property Law and a man full of humour. ‘You must be all stupid’, were his rather unexpected introductory words to the gathered scholars and legal practitioners, ‘... for giving up your Saturday to hear lectures on law!’ Either that, or it was pure commitment. However, those of us present (and committed) thought, by the end of the day, that it was a Saturday supremely well spent in the presence of top quality speakers - even if it was also an excuse to leave to another the Saturday chores.

The list of speakers, a veritable IP Who’s Who list, included Richard Arnold QC, a Trade Mark Registry Appeal Judge (known as an ‘Appointed Person’) and Deputy High Court Judge, who spoke on recent developments in UK law and practice, David Keeling from the Board of Appeal at the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), who spoke on EU developments, David Llewelyn, Professor of IP at King’s College London and partner of White & Case law firm, who gave a practitioner’s perspective, and Dr. Jennifer Davis, Cambridge University IP Law lecturer who dealt with cultural issues. In addition, Dr. Dev Gangjee, lecturer from the London School of Economics, and several other leading academics from the US, France, Germany and Holland, discussed various technical aspects of the subject matter. John Noble, Director of the British Brands Group, gave a perspective from the actual commercial owners of brands, giving expression to their worries concerning the extent of the problem of IP infringement or ‘reputation-riding’ in the market place.

The overall feeling, articulated in various ways, was that the extent to which dilution of trade mark distinctiveness was permissible or inevitable in a competitive commercial world, where there is not an infinite number of trade marks to choose from, is an issue that has divided opinion and would continue to do so. On the legal front, different jurisdictions had different emphases and a decision in one country would not necessarily be upheld in another. Nor even within the same jurisdiction were all decisions consistent. This is a changing and developing area of law and no doubt there will be plenty more seminars like this one in the future before everyone is agreed, if they ever will, on trade mark dilution.