What do Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Bongo’s Bingo have in common, aside from their equally intriguing alliterative titles? The answer: they have each recently been involved in disputes regarding the ownership of the intellectual property (“IP”) rights in their respective brands.
More specifically, both cases relate to situations in which a promoter or venue provider claimed possession of certain IP rights that naturally belonged to the band or entertainer, and both involve the association of valuable goodwill with a distinctive name or logo.
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (the “Band”) is a comedy rock/jazz/pop ensemble formed in the 1960s. In 2016, Anglo Atlantic Media Ltd (“Anglo Atlantic”), a company linked to the Band’s former promoter, registered a UK figurative trade mark for the Band’s name. Members of the Band applied to cancel the mark in 2017, and their invalidity action was upheld by the Registrar of Trade Marks on the basis that the trade mark was applied for in bad faith and, as such, invalidly registered. The Registrar also found that the goodwill associated with the name of the Band flowed to the Band itself, rather than its former promoter or Anglo Atlantic.
This invalidity decision was just one element arising out of a sprawling dispute between the parties in respect of IP proprietorship. Most recently, a related claim brought by Anglo Atlantic against the Band members in respect of various economic torts was struck out by the High Court in a judgment that concluded such claims were “totally without merit”.
Bongo’s Bingo is an entertainment business offering bingo games incorporating raves, dance-offs and catwalk shows. Camp and Furnace Ltd (“Camp”) provided premises for Bongo’s Bingo events. An IP dispute arose between the two, and proceedings were issued in relation to passing off and the infringement of copyright in two logos relating to Bongo’s Bingo. The High Court has recently ruled on the preliminary issues in these proceedings including, among other things, the question of which party owned the copyright in the logos and the goodwill in the business.
On the issue of goodwill ownership, the Court found in favour of Bongo’s Bingo on the basis that its creators (Mr Burke and Mr Lacey) had validly assigned their goodwill to Bongo’s Bingo in May 2019. Camp had not played a significant role in the concept creation, and its venue was considered neither essential to the concept nor “the attractive force which brings in the custom.”
The Court found that copyright in the two logos also belonged to Bongo’s Bingo. Although they were designed by a Camp employee, this work did not fall within the scope of his salaried employment and he was separately remunerated out of a share of the bar receipts in respect of Bongo’s Bingo events. Copyright in the logos was validly assigned from the designer first to Mr Burke and Mr Lacey, and then to the company trading as Bongo’s Bingo.
While the outcomes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Bongo’s Bingo cases are not surprising, their similarity is of note. Questions surrounding the ownership of IP is a common basis for disputes in the media and entertainment sector, and these two cases highlight a number of issues that can arise for businesses where possession of key IP rights is not, on the face of it, clear-cut.