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Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Business, Copyright, Europe, International, Trade marks

Three avid footy fans I spoke to recently were on the ball when it came to protecting their brand.

Where it all kicked off

Ray Duffy, Dean Walton and Chris O’Nyan came up with the concept for Mask-arade in 2008 over a few drinks at the local pub. They decided to test their product at a West Bromwich Albion football game, the team all three support.

Ray and Chris stayed up all night making 600 masks of the then West Brom and England striker Kevin Phillips, cutting each mask by hand. All their hard work paid off as they sold all 600 before the game. When the whistle blew, the pitch was awash with fans and even the players wearing the masks.

Mask-arade logo

Realising there was a market for their product, they spoke to a local law firm for intellectual property (IP) advice. After agreeing on a name, they registered Mask-arade as a limited company and purchased the domain name. With the help of a specialised IP attorney, they filed a community trade mark on the word Mask-arade. This protects the mark in all countries in the European Union, including the UK.

We realised early in the business that the appeal of our products was very broad. We knew that our face masks would appeal to people in foreign territories. Protecting our IP is crucial to expanding the business and brand to a global audience. We currently sell to more than 10 countries and are in discussions with larger target territories.

Moving up a league

A few months later, Mask-arade appeared on Dragons’ Den pitching for £50k. They wanted the cash to buy a large printer and more suitable premises. At the time they were working from Chris’ spare bedroom and Ray’s garage.

Although the Dragons liked the idea, they thought the concept could easily be copied.

In spite of this, Mask-arade got the exposure they needed and their website hits increased by 450% with a flurry of orders made.

Although business had boomed, the Dragons were correct in that competitors would try and copy their idea.

Although they had protected their brand with a registered trade mark, their product was still open to being copied.

So they decided to buy the copyright licences to use the images of many well-known celebrities and icons. They also negotiated exclusive rights to create masks for popular TV shows and football teams.

Being able to offer an official product ensures that we offer an instantly recognised brand. It is a brand that multinational clients are keen to associate themselves with. Bootleg copies of products are usually avoided by the quality conscious public.

In the early stages of business, obtaining these celebrity licences was much more difficult. Ray believes their registered trade mark has played a significant part in their recent success:

Without doubt having a registered trade mark has helped us to create a brand associated with quality products. We pride ourselves on our reputation for superior work.

A right royal knees up

The royal celebrations in 2011 and 2012 provided a huge boost for Mask-arade. Their masks were stocked by major retailers such as Clintons, Sainsbury’s and Harrods. They sold 250,000 masks for the wedding of William and Kate and 750,000 for the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

Gone are the days of cutting masks by hand. They now own a large warehouse with printing and finishing machinery and employ over 15 staff at their offices. They currently sell over 450 different designs and hold over 45 copyright licenses. They plan to extend the range even further, branching out internationally. It is this success story that saw them return to the Den in 2011, dubbed as ‘the ones that got away’.

Looking back on this journey, Ray had the following advice for start-up businesses:

Protecting your IP can be the difference between success and failure. If you want longevity in your business you should invest early on, as soon as you see the need or desire for it.

If you want to learn more about intellectual property, check out our free interactive tool IP Equip tool.

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