The perfect Christmas present – the gift of time

Mondaine watch

I guess in this ‘time poor’ era we could all do with an extra couple of hours a day, but in the meantime for me, a new watch will have to do.

For some years I have aspired to own a Mondaine watch. Based on the iconic official Swiss Railways clock-face, they are simple and elegant. The design with its distinctive red second-hand have indicated the famously punctual Swiss trains at their stations for more than 60 years.

So I was more than a little surprised, and extremely happy to be given one as a Christmas present from my partner. Especially as I hadn’t mentioned my interest in owning one.

Canary Wharf ClockIf you want to see an example ‘in the flesh’ in the UK there is a little cluster of them at Canary Wharf in London Docklands.

My intellectual property expert colleague Phil mentioned that the design was the cause of  court case between Mondaine and the giant Apple computer company. The story was covered by the Daily Mail website in October and November of last year.

Bet Apple wish they could turn the clock back: Swiss firm accuses iPhone 5 of copying their iconic face design.

Apple ‘paid £13million to Swiss national rail operator’ after using its iconic clock design without permission

There is some irony here, as this was the same time that Apple was suing Samsung in the United States for copying elements of the iPhone screen design.


Mondaine clock face
Image from

Disney forces ‘Passing off’ company to destroy ‘mockbusters’

A whole half-page story in tonight’s Evening Standard about a firm who have been creating poor imitations of Disney blockbuster films.

Brightspark Productions Ltd (not to be confused with Brightspark Studios who have updated their homepage with the message below) have been forced by the courts to destroy their infringing films.


Passing off is nicely defined by Wikipedia:

The law of passing off prevents one person from misrepresenting his or her goods or services as being the goods and services of the claimant, and also prevents one person from holding out his or her goods or services as having some association or connection with the plaintiff when this is not true.

In this case parents were buying DVDs such as Tangled Up and Braver below, and finding their children were disappointed with the films inside the cases. They didn’t come close to the Disney level of quality of storyline or animation.

Brightspark’s managing director Jeremy Davis seemed relatively unrepentant when he said: “I really believed no one in their right mind would buy Braver thinking it was Brave. It was on sale for £2-something in Tesco. You’ve never seen a Disney title for anything near that. I obviously wouldn’t want any kids upset, but the feedback we get is our titles are cheap and cheerful.”



Yamasaki YM125 motorbike – the ultimate in brand flattery

Yamasaki--logoThey say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I think the Yamasaki YM125 may well be the ultimate expression of that in the biking world. Yes, I’m back on my favourite topic of motorbikes again, but this story is all about trademarks and branding.

This rather unexpected brand name takes me back to my early youth, when the British Bike industry still ruled the world, but Japanese imports to the UK were just beginning. Needless to say the old British Bikers would have nothing to do with these young upstarts from Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda. Their short-sighted criticisms would often be expressed in dismissive pithy phrases such as ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead on one of those Jap-crap Yamasakis’.

So it is something of an irony that China is beginning its inroad to the established Japanese market hegemony with this portmanteau word based on two of the biggest Nipponese brands. Even more so, the bike spearheading the attack is a copy of the best-selling Honda CG 125. You can make your up own mind how much of a facsimile the YM125 is, by looking at the photos below.

Although not yet available in the UK,  Bike Magazine recently imported one in ready-to-build crated form. After two hours putting it together they weren’t entirely impressed by the build quality, but they were by the on the road price of £896, and the 95 miles a gallon fuel consumption.

Certainly Richy1986, who posted this critical review on Review Centre listing 25 faults, was not impressed with his bike. Yamasaki YM125-3 – Cheap Rubbish!!!





Hello Kitty – Goodbye Cathy

HelloKitty-vs-CathyI have to admit that children’s characters are not something I have spent much of my time thinking about since my kids left primary school some years ago. Despite this, the distinctive Hello Kitty brand has successfully impinged itself on my consciousness.

Such strong and simple designs obviously have a wide appeal. However, the lesson is that you need to ensure that yours are truly unique to avoid potentially damaging copyright wrangles.

A recent story from the Evening Standard about Cathy from the Hello Kitty range illustrates this problem (Hello Kitty waves goodbye to friend Cathy).

There have been months of legal bickering between the Dutch firm Mercis who own Miffy, the well known Dutch character created by Dick Bruna, and Sanrio, the Japanese owners of the Hello Kitty brand.

In the resulting settlement Sanrio promised to drop the character Cathy. And both will donate £135,000 to the victims of the earthquake in Japan, rather than spend more money on legal fees.

Milking a story for all it’s worth

The_Monster_Ball_-_Poker_Face_revamped2.jpg: John Robert Charlton aka Bobby Charlton of Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, EnglandLast week I was admiring how successfully the Icecreamists have been at generating publicity for their Baby Gaga ice cream, made from human breast-milk, which costs £14 (Luxury foods in terribly bad taste). Then they had a set-back when their local council removed the milk for testing.

On Friday, yet another newspaper article appeared in the Evening Standard – Baby Gaga: Star takes legal action over London parlour’s breast milk ice cream flavour.

It’s a publicists dream come true. Probably the worlds most famous current pop star is threatening legal action over the ice cream, which her lawyers claim is infringing her Lady Gaga brand.

From a legal point of view, it seems unlikely that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also know as Lady Gaga, will win her case against Matt O’Connor the owner of the Icecreamists. He claims the term comes from the early sounds babies make when trying to speak, and has applied to register the trademark.

However, thanks to the Lady Gaga name, this story has now gone global, appearing in American, Russian and Indian newspapers within hours. Mr O’Connor must be rubbing his hands with glee.

Who owns the rights to the vuvuzela?

The vuvuzela may be the most annoying musical instrument to be manufactured in recent years. Not only does the buzzing sound have the ability to drown out the crowd and commentary in World Cup matches, the sheer 120 decibel volume of noise at close range can lead to permanent hearing loss. In fact a new model has been introduced with a modified mouthpiece the reduces the volume by twenty decibel.

The popularity of the vuvuzela is spreading to the UK, with Sainsbury supermarket stocking 40,000. And I have even heard the distinctive sound of the instrument around my village during warm evenings. With anything selling in the hundreds of thousands the intellectual property is worth protecting.

In this case the ownership of the idea is claimed by Freddie Maake:

Vuvuzela creator blown off?
Popular Kaizer Chiefs supporter Freddie “Saddam” Maake, who claims to have created the instrument, is an angry man and feels sidelined from the lucrative spin-offs of his “hard work”. He vows the rights of the vuvuzela belong to him and went on to put up a convincing argument for why he should receive royalties from all the companies that produce the horn… Maake’s anger about his loss in earnings is directed at Neil van Schalkwyk, the co-owner of Masincedane Sport in Cape Town. He accuses the 36-year-old businessman of “short changing” him after an earlier undertaking to share the proceeds. “He is making a killing out of my hard work while I starve,” says Maake. Masincedane has gone into partnership with a German company to produce the vuvuzela ahead of the 2010 World Cup. “Journalists from as far as England and Mexico have visited me here and say that I should be rich, but look at me.”

Africa: Doubts raised over vuvuzela trade mark
There have been a number of press reports recently on the issue of who owns the rights to the vuvuzela. In reviewing the fuss and bother around this quasi-musical instrument, it is not clear whether these parties are claiming rights to the trade mark vuvuzela, or the rights to the product itself. Be that as it may, it is instructive to look at the history of the vuvuzela.

One Freddie Maake, a fanatical Kaizer Chiefs supporter, claims he was the first person to create a vuvuzela, albeit an aluminium version in the 1970s. Maake claims that in 1999, with the assistance of Peter Rice, he produced a plastic version of the vuvuzela. He claims that until the late 1990s he was the only owner of a vuvuzela and the only user of one at soccer matches. In 1999 he launched an album called “Vuvuzela Cellular” which features this instrument.

Neil van Schalkwyk, a director of Masincedane Sports, a company that has been manufacturing plastic vuvuzelas since 2001, is also claiming rights to the name vuvuzela.

The Nazareth Baptist Church has now also stated that the trade mark Vuvuzela belongs to it. It claims that it has been using the vuvuzela since 1910.

However, no one has done the groundwork required to give effect to ownership of the vuvuzela. There are no valid patents or designs registered in respect of the musical instrument that is now called the vuvuzela.

Even if this instrument could have formed the subject matter of a design or patent registration, the opportunity of doing so has long come and gone. The only question now is who, if anyone, is the owner of the Vuvuzela trade mark.

According to the records of the South African Registrar of Trade Marks, 40 trade mark applications, by numerous persons and entities, have been filed over the past eight years for the registration of trade marks incorporating vuvuzela. These trade mark applications are in relation to a wide variety of goods and services.

One of the applicants for these trade marks is Rory Peter Rice (presumably the same person who assisted Maake with the manufacture of a plastic vuvuzela), who in 2004 applied for registration of the trade mark Vuvuzela in respect of a “plastic trumpet”. Three days before Rice’s application, Masincedane Sports also filed an application for the trade mark Vuvuzela in relation to “musical instruments”, a Mr Mafokate applied for the registration of the trade mark Vuvuzela in 2003 and in 2009 so also did Messrs Urbas, Kehrberg and Bartels, all German citizens.

All of the vuvuzela trade marks are still pending, which means that at this point in time no single party can claim to be the registered owner of the vuvuzela trade mark in South Africa. Masincedane Sports’ application has been accepted by the Registrar but it would appear that this trade mark is under opposition, presumably by one of the other people who claim to own the vuvuzela. Despite the fact that at this point in time no-one can claim to be the registered owner of the Vuvuzela trade mark in South Africa, the question still remains whether any party can claim to be the common law owner of the trade mark. An internet search revealed that there are many entities or persons making use of the vuvuzela as a musical instrument. It would appear that most, if not all, consumers regard the trade mark vuvuzela as not belonging to any single person.

For example, one can buy vuvuzelas on, which would appear not to be linked to either Rice or Masincedane Sports. The website that can be found at also advertises vuvuzelas. There are other websites, such as, which openly state that the vuvuzela belongs to the people. Even if one looks at the website of Masincedane Sports, which can be found at, there is no claim on the website that the company regards itself as the owner of the vuvuzela trade mark. In fact quite the contrary: on its website Masincedane Sports appears to use vuvuzela in a sense to indicate that no single party can claim a monopoly on the name.

The South African Trade Marks Act provides that a mark that consists exclusively of a sign or indication which has become customary in the current language is not registrable as a trade mark. In short, a word that is used by all and sundry to describe a particular thing cannot be protected as a trade mark as the word has become generic.

It would appear that the trade mark vuvuzela is used by the people of South Africa to describe a type of musical instrument. It can therefore be argued that the trade mark vuvuzela has become generic and that no single party will be able to claim ownership of the name vuvuzela when referring to the musical instrument.

Carl van Rooyen, Spoor & Fisher, Pretoria, South Africa

Vuvuzelas: 10 things you need to know about the fans’ World Cup instrument

1. A vuvuzela is a blowing horn approximately 1 m in length commonly blown by fans at football matches in South Africa.

2. To blow a vuvuzela you need some lip and lung strength to produce a loud monotone sound.

3. Practised players can generate an awesome 127 decibels when blowing the horn.

4. Researchers even claim to have found evidence that vuvuzelas can lead to permanent hearing damage

5. Where the word vuvuzela comes from is hazy with one theory being that it came from the Zulu word for making a vuvu noise. It is also a township slang word for shower.

6. The vuvuzela is unique to South Africa and is an emblem of hope and unity for many.

7. It was originally made from a kudu horn and it’s claimed in South African folklore that in the ancient days, it was used to summon people to gatherings.

8. The sound made by a vuvuzelas has been compared with “a stampede of noisy elephants, “a deafining swarm of locusts,” or a giant hive of angry bees.”

9. Kaizer Chiefs FC fan Freddie “Saddam” Maake claims he invented the vuvuzelas in 1965 by adapting an aluminium version from a bicycle horn after removing the black rubber to blow with his mouth. He later found it to be too short and joined a pipe to make it longer.

10. Ronaldo has hit out at the sound of the vuvuzelas saying: “It is difficult for anyone on the pitch to concentrate.”

Protect your content against online plagiarism and theft

Many of my Business Advice clients are concerned about rivals stealing their on-line content, so I was pleasantly surprised to come across the free Copyscape service whilst researching a replacement mobile phone on the Mobile Phones UK: Reviews & Best Buys website.

All you need to do is post in your website address and see where (and how much of it) is appearing elswhere on the Web. Needless to say Copyscape offer a premium service with no monthly limit and batch searching for a fee.

Copyscape recommend you put a warning notice on your website to help scare off any potential content theives.

Defend your site with a plagiarism warning banner!