Intellectual Property - Are you protected?
George Lucas thought he was protected in a recent case concerning the storm trooper helmets, featured in the original Star Wars film.
Back in 1976 when Star Wars episode IV was being produced, Andrew Ainsworth, a young industrial design graduate here in England, was approached to design a helmet based on a set of drawings. He spent two days producing the prototype for the helmets used in the film. No written agreement for the production of these helmets existed.
Mr Ainsworth retained the moulds which gathered dust for years until 2002 when he sold a helmet and some other items for £60,000 at auction. Recognising the nostalgic value of these authentic articles, he began selling further helmets based on the original moulds through his website including a number in the US.
In 2004 George Lucas and others issued proceedings against Mr Ainsworth in the US for $20,000,000 on the basis that Mr Ainsworth did not own the Intellectual Property (“IP”) rights in the helmets and therefore had no right to sell them. George Lucas was successful in his claim in the US courts but as Mr Ainsworth had no assets there, the court battle moved to the UK.
After spending around £700,000 defending the claim, Mr Ainsworth was, on the whole, successful in his defence.
The main issue for the UK courts to consider, which was ultimately decided in the Supreme Court, was whether the helmets qualified as works of sculpture in which case they would be protected by copyright (which lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years) or whether they were simply functional costumes (in which case the protection would be limited to 15 years from the date they were marketed).
The Supreme Court ruled that the helmets lacked the necessary quality of artistic creation required of a sculpture. The protection had therefore expired and Mr Ainsworth was free to use and sell the helmets.
This case highlights the importance of ensuring that any IP you create or use is dealt with properly and the potentially huge costs involved when it is not. There are many simple and cost effective ways of protecting your ideas and your business.
For further information please take a look at our IP booklet or contact Michelle Waterman on 01245 216105.