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Intellectual property protection a hot topic for media companies


Clarion was delighted to host its regular round-table for the heads of leading media companies in the region recently. The event was well-attended by some of the largest media companies and gave those present a chance to discuss the major opportunities and issues currently affecting their businesses.

The discussion was, as always, lively, with quite a few interesting themes raised, particularly around the areas of technological change and innovation, expansion and intellectual property protection.

Media companies are harnessing the future

There has been a huge change in the media environment over the last decade or so. The transformation of digital technology has meant that media companies have had to undergo radical change – quickly and creatively - in order to ensure their content and revenue models are diverse, flexible and inventive.

While most of the media companies at our event didn’t exist ten years ago, and so have not had to undergo quite the same evolutionary process, one company attending could can trace its lineage back to the early 1900s, when it began as a printing company, demonstrating that their ability to innovate has obviously been part of the business’ DNA for a while.

This radical change in digital technology has mean that media companies are often at the forefront of the current wave of technological change, helping to drive it by pioneering many of the cloud computing and platform technologies that are becoming ever more ubiquitous.

And as Industry 4.0 takes hold, customers are also expecting more from the brands and products they associate with. Economic and technological shifts have rewritten the shopping experience and consumers now have more products available at more price points than ever before – this level of choice has created an ‘instant gratification market’, whereby customers want things and they want them immediately. Media companies will be able to benefit immensely from this kind of market, by leveraging the ever-increasing opportunities for targeted, addressable and commerce experiences that are mobile and cross-screen.

Expansion across the pond

But opportunities for evolution and innovation don’t just exist online. A lot of the companies present at the event are very excited about the opportunity to expand across the pond into the American market.      

The UK has some of the best media companies in the world, with excellent client service delivery. Technology now means that the barrier to entry into the market is much lower and a currently accommodating exchange rate is a bonus.

Of course, expansion into a new market means having to consider things like protecting your brand and your intellectual property (IP).in those new markets, and also ensuring that you don’t infringe other companies’ rights already existing in that market place. Protecting your IP appropriately in any country in which you trade is really important, especially as companies start to learn new tricks to get around poorly thought out brand or design protection. This was a topic of interest at the media event, as these companies are often at the pointy end of designing brand identities.

Intellectual Property Protection

Companies trying to sidestep brand and design protection is big news in retail, particularly. Esther Kirwan, Head of Clarion’s Intellectual Property Team, described how disruptor discount grocery stores are producing their own-brand products, which are often purposefully packaged to look very similar to market-leading brands, but without infringing their trade marks or other rights. Known as copycat packaging, this technique can only be prevented by trade mark laws if customers are confusing the copycat product for the brand owner’s product – if they know they are buying an own-brand product, as most customers do, it can be very difficult to put a stop to this kind of thing. It’s a real issue for brand owners.

So how do you handle this? Esther explained that one way is to protect the packaging itself rather than the brand. She suggested looking at how discounters could copy the way a product looks, and then registering those elements so that the packaging itself – or its most prominent elements at least – are protected as designs. Media companies, such as those attending our event, are in a prime position to bring this solution to their retail clients and can work with them to help make sure their branding is distinctive and unique enough to enable it to be protectable.

Funnily enough, a recent Christmas TV advert from Aldi provides an interesting demonstration of the copycat issue. An anthropomorphic character called Kevin the Carrot is seen driving along in a van that is incredibly similar in appearance to the one that stars in Coca Cola adverts every Christmas. The look of the van, the scenery it’s driving through, even the background music are all incredibly reminiscent of the famous ‘Holidays are Coming’ Coca-Cola Christmas adverts.

At first - even second – glance, the advert looks like it’s for Coca-Cola, not because the Aldi brand name or logo could be confused with that of Coca-Cola, but because the other elements of the advert are so similar to those Coca-Cola uses annually at Christmas. It’s only once the driver is revealed to be Kevin the Carrot that a casual viewer would realise the product being advertised isn’t Coca-Cola at all. While the advert is undoubtedly intended as a pastiche – and while it might seem to be less damaging than passing off your product’s packaging as the same as the market leader, the advert is essentially utilising the goodwill that people have for the Coca-Cola brand, and for its Christmas advert, in particular, to advertise a different company.

Leeds and Channel 4 – a marriage made in TV heaven

However, the biggest news being discussed at the event was whether Channel 4 would choose Leeds as its new location for its national HQ. Of course, we’ve since learnt that Leeds was successful in its bid, beating Birmingham and Greater Manchester. With around 300 of Channel 4’s 800 jobs to move out of London and up to Leeds, this announcement represents a significant shot in the arm for the city – with an expected economic impact of more than £1 billion over the next decade.

Business leaders hailed the announcement, calling it a clear driver for further cultural and economic prosperity, giving the city the ability to attract and retain talent and boost inward investment. It was also recognised that the successful Leeds bid was only possible thanks to the skill and talent of the people already working in the city and the wider region, such as those we were joined by at the media event.

If you’d like more information about intellectual property protection, please get in touch with Esther.

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