Buildings and property developments increasingly have unique personalities and commonly are given a quirky name or title as part of their address. They can also have distinct and instantaneously recognisable design features. Some even become iconic such as the Gherkin and the Shard in London. Nick names are also common.

This means that they can be viewed by 3rd parties as desirable images to be associated with when marketing a different product or service. If attempts to make such associations are left uncontrolled they can cause confusion and potentially damage what might be a prestigious and even iconic image – for example if the goods and services which are linked to the building name or image are of poor quality. It can therefore be important right at the start to capture and protect the intellectual property which exists in and around the real estate concerned.

If this is done effectively not only will it prevent such damage but it can also allow exploitation of these intangible assets and secure additional revenue by way of licensing fees. This means too that the portfolio value of the property will be enhanced by the value of the IP concerned.

There are a variety of IP vehicles which can be used to achieve these goals. However each building or development will differ in relation to the type of protection it can obtain or rely on to do this. Here are some of the main considerations that any property owner should consider in planning to protect and exploit its IP.

Trade marks

The name or nick name of the building – or indeed associated brand logos – can often be protected by a trade mark registration. For example the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Trump Towers, Canary Wharf, the Hydro, the Gherkin, the Shard……are only a few.

Such protection should be considered even when deciding to come up with a catchy name in the first place. Not only could there be pre-existing trade mark rights that could present difficulties in breaching 3rd party IPRS but there could be problems in obtaining a registration if the name chosen is not for example sufficiently distinctive to qualify for protection. Registered trademarks will also tend to be more attractive to 3rd party investors /purchasers of the property concerned.

The shape of a building could also potentially be trademarked but this is still a relatively new area and the hurdles can be high.

Copyright in the plans for the building(s) and in the buildings themselves?

There will be copyright arising automatically but it will be with the architect unless they have assigned it on to the owner or are an employee of the owner. This should be thought about at the start and assignation obtained if possible to secure the copyright which will last for the life of the architect plus 70 years.

Design Right

Registered and unregistered design rights can also be an option for particular features. This is a complex area however and the building design would need to be novel and have individual character to qualify for registered design.

Buildings and IPRs?

The value there can be in the IP in the various features of a building or development whether commercial or residential is becoming more important and thought should be given to this by all property developers, owners and investors from the outset of their planning. Not only can it add to the value of the real estate but merchandising rights can be very valuable. Such IP can thus be effectively exploited financially by way of licensing out the IP in a controlled way in relation to 3rd party products and services.

Why not think ahead and secure the IP and protect and gain maximum financial reward for the investment made?