I received this question, as part of my A Question for Graham the other day, and although it: Logo Design Naming, Copyright and Ownership Problems, sounds, at least on the surface, reasonably straightforward, there are some possible hidden dangers, complications etc. I don’t have an awful lot to go on, so my responses are little bit of advice, or general insights, and should definitely not be taken as legally sound, as I am not a lawyer.
All I can do is answer based on the information I have, and hopefully, at the very least, provide some useful insight and suggestions to take the issue forward:
“I designed for a client. The client is a good friend of mine and I did a logo for free for her. I also named the company. Friend’s partner, who I don’t know, registered the corporate name and purchased the website with the name but failed to register the logo. The partnership is now breaking up and I want my friend to be able to use the logo and name in her new venture.
What’s you opinion?”
Right then. First things first. You maintain full rights and ownership over the logo design until you say otherwise, and you can transfer that to whoever you want. The name, however, looks like it’s been taken off-your hands, and now registered by this ‘partner’. As you probably had no agreement in place, pretty sure there is not much you can do with getting the name back, but your friend (for what it’s worth), is free to use your logo design.
One solution then is to cut your losses with the name you came up with, and try come up with a different name. You may want to word it so it works with your logo design, or at the very least, adjust the logo to work with a new name. Then you can make a clean break from this other ‘partner’, and have no risk of treading on each others toes.
This is important: You, or your friend, must make sure that this ‘partner’ is fully aware they cannot use your logo design without your express permission, and have a written transfer of ownership from you. If they are using it, then you’ll need to find a way to explain to them that the logo you created does not belong to them, and they are certainly not permitted to use it in any form.
Hopefully, you have some form of correspondence between you and your friend that shows the ‘paper trail’ regarding the intended use and purpose of both the name and logo design.
This should also then make it quite clear that this ‘partner’ wasn’t part of this arrangement, and they cannot effectively argue that it belongs to them, more so if they have no proof that the ownership of the rights etc, having been transferred from you to this partner, as well as any money exchanging hands.
Trademarking a Design that Is Not Yours
There is one tricky scenario that comes to mind: if this ‘partner’ has managed to register the logo design, or part of it, as a Trademark/Registered Trademark, then this could be a whole different problem for you/your friend. Something I can’t really advise on, as this really needs to become a legal matter.
Technically, I believe, you still own the logo, so you’d need to contact this ‘partner’, and carefully explain they have in fact registered a design that they had no rights to register, mostly because it’s not theirs to register. If this ‘partner’ is reasonable, then hopefully you can come to some sort of financial solution, but this would probably mean you no longer have a name, OR a logo design.
However, not so good for your friend.
If they are not so reasonable, then you still need to start creating a digital ‘paper trail’ of correspondence, at the very least, showing you have made attempts to explain to this ‘partner’ that they are using a logo design that does not belong to them.
You can ask them to provide proof of hiring you to design them a logo, proof that they paid for it, proof that you signed over your Ownership of the design to them, all of which they won’t be able to do. Maybe, just maybe, once that realisation hits them, you might be able to negotiation some form of financial compromise/settlement.
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