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Growth of App economy sees Telecoms trade marks up by a third

Published on 11 July 2016

Traditional telecoms companies innovate to remain competitive

The number of telecommunications trade marks registered in the UK has risen by more than a third (35%) over the last five years, following a surge in the popularity of social media and app-based instant messaging services, as well as innovation by traditional telecoms companies in attempts to remain competitive, says City law firm, RPC.


According to RPC, 2,575 UK trade marks relating to internet and traditional telecommunications were registered in 2015, up from 1,912 in 2010.


RPC explains that the trade marks cover all services which allow people to communicate with or transmit messages to one another. This includes all mobile phone services and any online means of communication.


RPC highlights the proliferation of instant app-based messaging services over the last few years- such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Viber- as one driver of the increase. These apps and products, available to consumers on their mobile phones, tablet devices and computers, allow low-cost, high-speed communication. They are now largely taking over from traditional text and MMS services.


The growth in popularity of image and video-sharing services, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Vine, will also have played a part in the rise. These allow users to share visual data with a large number of contacts in a matter of seconds.


There have also been a wave of apps branded with celebrity endorsements:


  • Tidal is a music streaming site owned by Jay Z that was launched in March 2015 with the premise of allowing paying artists higher royalties than tech companies such as Spotify etc. and has exclusive material from artists like Prince, Rihanna, Jack White, Beyoncé.
  • Knock Knock is an information sharing and messaging phone app launched in August 2015 that allows users to easily message each other and share phone numbers and other contact details. Will.i.am, Sophia Bush and Richard Branson have all invested in the app.
  • Taylor Swift recently partnered with tech company Glu Mobile to produce a mobile game based on Taylor.


RPC says that a number of traditional telecoms service providers have also been innovating in recent years, in an attempt to meet the challenge posed by these new entrants to the market. Many have developed their own messaging apps and data-sharing services in recent years. Vodafone introduced Message+ in 2013, for example, whilst US-based AT&T now offers its ‘Messages’ app.


RPC adds that the rise in registered telecoms trade marks may also relate to increased use of cloud computing services, by both businesses and individuals. These allow users to store their data on a network of remote servers, hosted online, rather than physically on a computer or on a local server. This means material can be accessed, managed, backed-up and shared from virtually anywhere.


Jeremy Drew, Partner and Head of RPC's IP and Technology Group comments: “The surge in registered telecoms trade marks reflects the rapid change in the way both businesses and individuals communicate and share data over the last few years- we have seen a wave of new services launched.”


Ben Mark, Legal Director at RPC in RPC’s IP and Technology Group comments: “The tech start-ups behind many of these new services are locked in a battle with traditional telecoms companies for competitive advantage, so protecting intellectual property is paramount. The upward trend in trade mark registrations is therefore likely to continue.”


“We are also, as a result, likely to see an increase in the number of trade mark-related disputes. In a highly competitive and fast-growing market like this, businesses will be sure to maintain every competitive advantage.”


RPC highlights that there have been a number of high-profile telecoms trade mark disputes over recent years:


  • Broadcaster Sky recently won a trade mark dispute with Skype, over claims that the video call service’s logo could be confused with its own.
  • Twitter launched a trade mark dispute with photo-sharing service Twitpic in 2014, threatening to deny it access to Twitter’s API unless it abandoned its trade mark application. Twitter eventually acquired Twitpic's domain and photo archive, once it announced plans to shut down.
  • In 2015, fintech start-up Ripple launched a $2 million trade mark infringement lawsuit against Kefi Labs, a social network app provider, for unauthorized use of the ‘Ripple’ name across its mobile application and website.
  • This year WhatsApp successfully saw domain names containing ‘WhatsApp’ launched by Brazilian-based company, Laticinios Itaruma, suspended for trade mark infringement.
  • Mexican telecommunications company iFone launched a successful trademark dispute with Apple over use of the phonetically similar ‘iPhone’. Whilst Apple was allowed to continue using the name on the basis that they do not provide network services, local mobile phone carriers were instructed to stop use using iPhones as a promotional tool for call plans and services.