PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.
Mixing business and personal relationships can produce additional complications if a break-up occurs, as evidenced by the stalemate reached by a warring former couple who are at loggerheads over the future of their deadlocked business and its intellectual property (IP) rights.
The ex-couple were partners in business and in life for 26 years and ran their company together. Following their acrimonious separation, they had planned to split the business and all its assets equally but had since failed spectacularly to reach a final accord on how that would be achieved.
Each of them had formed new businesses in the same field and had sought to assign trade marks belonging to their joint company to their fresh ventures. Before a hearing officer appointed by the Registrar of Trade Marks, each claimed that the other’s assignment was invalid whilst their own was not.
Ordering the former couple back to the starting gates, however, the hearing officer ruled that neither of them had any right to use the disputed trade marks without the other’s consent. She directed that both assignments should be deemed never to have been made and that both trade marks be returned to the joint company.
The hearing officer observed that it appeared that there had been no final agreement as to how the company’s assets should be divided, and even if there had been agreement, this had been rescinded by the ‘subsequent behaviour of both parties’.
Observing that the ex-couple were ‘in deadlock over the fate of the company’, the hearing officer declined to make costs orders in favour of either party on the basis that their respective legal bills were likely to cancel each other out.
Says Clare Towers, “In many businesses, there is considerable value in trade marks and other IP. It is important that the legal ownership of critical IP is clearly established and evidenced. Contact us for advice.”