MoD not covering itself in glory

The MoD has clearly got plenty of time on its hands - it's suing Next over a children's duvet cover...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Fresh from its narrow victory in yesterday’s Commons vote over the 42-day detention period for terror suspects, the triumphant Government is turning its attention to the other big defence issue of the moment: homewear retailers using RAF logos. The Ministry of Defence has launched a legal battle against Next for putting the red, white and blue RAF roundel on a range of bedroom paraphernalia aimed at seven-year-old boys.

The main object of the MoD’s wrath is a patriotic navy duvet cover, which features the roundel along with union flags and other pop culture icons like cars and guitars. According to Defence Secretary Des Browne, whose name is on the writ, Next is in breach of copyright by using the famous insignia. However, the retailer argues that the roundel is also the emblem of the 1960s Mod movement – not to mention being used by various clothing brands (notably Ben Sherman and Paul Smith) and bands like the Jam and Oasis.

The case hinges on a ruling by the Patent Office five years ago, when the MoD took Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia group to court over its use of the roundel on clothing. The Government was keen to defend its exclusive right to the logo, which it started using on planes during the First World War (because the Union Jack looked too much like the German Iron Cross at altitude, apparently). It lost that case, but it was given sole rights to use the roundel on all non-clothing items – from military equipment to memorabilia (it even sells a clothing line, which includes a bikini with a diamante roundel - let's hope Des doesn't wear that in court to make a point).

So unless it’s planning to claim that its customers will be wearing the duvet cover down to the shops, it doesn’t sound like Next has much of a leg to stand on. Perhaps it saw ‘Copyright MoD’ and misread it as ‘Copyright Mod’?

But although we’re generally very supportive of institutions fighting hard to protect their intellectual property, surely the MoD must have something better to do? Like protecting the realm, or buying useless but highly expensive helicopters, or teaching its civil servants not to leave top secret documents on trains? And given how commonly the roundel is used these days, this does seem a bit like trying to shut the gate after the horse has bolted.

Then again, if the MoD’s court action ends up preventing armies of seven-year-old Mods descending on Britain’s seaside towns to take on groups of rival hardcore Hannah Montana fans, perhaps it’ll prove to be a far-sighted move...

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