Heavenly Hot Seat: Stobbs IP
Andy Hayes, September 29, 2022.
In the Heavenly Hot Seat today is Julius Stobbs, Founder of Stobbs IP, speaking with Andy Hayes, Managing Partner at Heavenly
Welcome to the Heavenly Hot Seat.
In the Hot Seat today, we’re delighted to welcome Julius Stobbs, a specialist in trademark, registered design and copyright law. It’s good to have you here, Julius.
Thanks, Andy. Thanks for the opportunity.
So, Julius, you’ve got a wealth of experience in trademark proceedings and in guiding clients through intellectual properties, strategies and portfolios. And of course you founded and run your firm Stobbs IP. According to your strapline, you’re in the business of ‘intangible asset management’. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Yes of course. In very simple terms, if you take any business and look at all of its assets, any asset that isn’t a physical asset is an intangible asset. Now for us, that’s mostly advising on things that might be covered by intellectual property – so rights, legal rights that could cover a brand or other artistic work, ideas or creative works. It could extend to things that aren’t formally covered by intellectual property, like data, or even things in in your sphere like tone of voice or things around the brand that couldn’t formally be protected by way of intellectual property. So we like to look at all of these things from a business point of view, rather than only from a legal point of view.
Why is it so important for businesses to consider IP early on in any branding process? And why do so many brands fail to do so?
Well, it’s really important, from at least two different directions. One, because there’s an awful lot of intellectual property in the world. So when people are creating brands, changing brands, creating new assets, there are often intellectual property rights out there that might get in the way of that process. So, understanding and knowing what rights are out there, to be able to inform the process of creating and choosing new brands and new brand assets is very important. You don’t want to get two-thirds of the way down the line to launch a new brand and then find that you can’t actually use it because someone else owns the rights.
The flip side of that is in the other direction. If you’re creating brands and brand assets, you really want to create something that you’ll be able to own, and count as one of your important assets in the business – and prevent others from using or adopting it. I think understanding IP through that process, to be able to feed into the creative process to make sure that you’re creating things that could be protected by way of IP is really important.
A lot of brands don’t consider it because they really don’t understand IP. Even though a lot of people talk about IP in the world nowadays, and say it’s very important, there isn’t a wide understanding across most businesses. Most businesses don’t have people who are dedicated to dealing with intellectual property, and so often these processes are driven by marketing or brand functions who aren’t necessarily aware of the importance of it.
“And so the scope of the intellectual property rights and the potential for that to be exploited more widely than their core business is not what they’re looking for. They’re not keeping their eyes open for that kind of opportunity, or proactively seeking out those opportunities – and actually that’s often missing a trick.”
I think most people in marketing or brand functions who deal with IP think this is mainly about names or logos. What other intangible assets do they actually have, and do you think they’re fully monetising their intangible assets, and if not why do you think that is?
Well, it’s really interesting. I think, as you say, most people think of intellectual property around a name. That, of course, often is the most important part of a brand from an IP protection point of view. But it can extend to all sorts of other things, like logos, colours, colour combinations, sounds, even smells. There’s also a lot of argument over shape of products and packaging. And that’s purely from a brand point of view, before you get into design protection and copyright. And there is real potential to be able to monetize those things.
I think the reason why a lot of brands don’t do that, or don’t do it to its full potential, is that that isn’t the reason why they’re creating the brand in the first place. Usually the marketing or brand teams are looking to create and exploit assets to run their core business and do that in as effective a way as possible. And so the scope of the intellectual property rights and the potential for that to be exploited more widely than their core business is not what they’re looking for. They’re not keeping their eyes open for that kind of opportunity, or proactively seeking out those opportunities – and actually that’s often missing a trick.
Can you give examples of how your work has helped increase this impact for a brand?
Yes, it’s a lovely area to work in, actually – as you know, because you work on the idea creation side. The great thing about this area is that you see it all around you all the time, so you see the impact of what you do.
Fortunately our work impacts quite heavily on the clients that we work with, for example when Facebook rebranded to Meta, our work with them involved clearing and obtaining rights that otherwise would have prevented that change. The likelihood is this change would have been very difficult without a very thorough process in relation to third party rights.
We also deal with ‘lookalikes’ quite a lot, where retailers are copying third-party products to produce lookalike products. Our ability to advise on that and create a good IP strategy changes the ability to prevent that use or not. So for example we’ve been involved in around 30 product rebrands in Aldi where they’ve been doing lookalike products, and we’ve been able to advise a client properly on the scope of their rights.
Also something as simple as the structuring of who owns what, particularly in relation to monetisation: is it being owned in the right entity to be able to go ahead and deal with exploitation, either pre- or post- exit or sale on rights.
And there are many others. But we’re in a fortunate position that actually this area can impact very heavily both on brand and the ability of a business to use and monetize the brand.
Just to build on that, do you find when speaking to your clients that there is a disconnect between the legal side and the marketing and brand side within an organization? Do you think more needs to be done to synchronize better?
Absolutely. Of course there are exceptions where businesses work very smoothly between those functions, but in the majority there is a disconnect. Either there isn’t an in-house legal function, or the in-house legal function is very separate and seen as perhaps a block to what the brand teams or marketing teams are trying to do. So often those issues don’t get raised early enough with the legal team, because the brand teams are trying to get on with their projects and get brands launched – but it can be a Pyrrhic victory, if IP issues are raised too late. Often the problems can’t be resolved, and then things get worse rather than better.
In respect of that disconnect, we’ve found that doing in-house training sometimes can really help, such as providing further information on IP so marketing teams can take it into account early in the work that they’re doing – this can really have an impact.
That’s been fascinating Julius, and thanks for joining us in today’s Heavenly Hot Seat.
Not at all, thank you.