Heading to the movies: Looking at IP rights and toys

Sarah Lazarides

By Sarah Lazarides

May 25th 2017 at 10:12AM
UPDATED May 25th 2017 at 12:23PM
Heading to the movies: Looking at IP rights and toys

As Hollywood’s appetite for films based on toys becomes more voracious than ever, Harbottle & Lewis’ film and TV group partner, Sarah Lazarides highlights the areas to watch for when it comes to IP rights and the Silver Screen.

The link between toys and Hollywood has been lucrative since Star Wars.

Now, there is a strong appetite for the creation of films and TV shows based on successful toys and games brands. Such brands can also be adapted for the stage or theme parks. Whether it’s a musical show, a TV quiz or a Hollywood blockbuster, it is essential to be able to license all of the necessary intellectual property rights and get a commercial deal.

Many businesses get this wrong, but it’s quite easy to implement an intellectual property strategy.

For new toys and games, this includes clearing the proposed brand name across all relevant categories (including entertainment), before committing to it. Then protecting it through registration in the right territories.

Of course, that should extend not just to the main brand, but also characters, place names, player shapes or other features that could be significant in spin-off entertainment and merchandise.

The other common mistake is not obtaining ownership of the copyright and design rights in artwork, game boards and cards, catchphrases, toy shapes or other design elements.

If these have been commissioned from independent designers, the rights need to be transferred. If you always make use of certain music in your advertising, there is a good chance that a film or television producer would expect to see that music form part of the package of rights they acquire as well.

Heritage brands can be a headache, either because some of the rights ownership is unknown, or design protection has expired.

Where rights can’t be traced, so- called ‘orphan works’ legislation may help, but requires extensive searching.

So what happens next? The audiovisual world can be tricky to master and most rights-holders partner with an established production company.

It may be a passive licence of rights, or a much more involved co-production, but do research the production company’s track record, ensuring they are reputable and an appropriate fit.

Many film and television producers will want all audio-visual rights, and certain associated rights (such as interactive rights). Owning the rights in the first place puts you in a stronger negotiating position.