Can third parties use military insignia, logos and badges?

Anyone can register a trade mark to protect their brand. Once a trade mark is registered in the UK you can sell/licence your brand, and take legal action against anyone who uses it without your permission in the UK. The process takes four months if no one objects and a registered trade mark lasts ten years. A trade mark must be unique and can not be offensive, descriptive, misleading or too common.

Ministry of defence (MOD) insignia is protected by Crown copyright, with the majority also protected by trade mark and/or design registration. Badges, crests, arms, logos and banners fall under the term insignia. The Defence Intellectual Property Rights (DIPR) department is responsible for managing the licensing of the majority of MOD Crown copyright material. Legal action can be taken against anyone using MOD insignia without the correct permission. So, what can and can’t be used?

Some insignia is not licensed out to third parties such as the main MOD logo. This is because it is the corporate identity of the MOD. The HM armed forces veterans badge is also not licenced out due to concerns of it being devalued through inappropriate use.

Families of former service personal are often permitted to use appropriate MOD insignia on private memorials and/or a headstone, and they may also be permitted to use insignia on public memorials as well. There is an application process for them to gain the relevant permission for this use.

The MOD will allow the use of insignia by the media in relation to news reports that relate to the MOD. They will also not interfere with the use of insignia on costumes or props in television dramas, unless the reputation of the MOD is intentionally and seriously damaged.

MOD insignia is free to use by people for illustration purposes; such as using a regimental cap badge on websites for the purpose of describing the regiment and what it does in their own words. You can obtain free low resolution graphics from the defence brand portal for this use.

People can request to use MOD insignia on and inside books. Low resolution graphics can be used for free inside books for illustration, and obtained from the defence brand portal. However, these graphics will not be approved by the MOD for book covers. High resolution graphics in or on books can only be used by MOD approved projects, with the insignia provided by the MOD as part of the merchandising licencing scheme. Personal photographs of an embroidered or metal cap badge can be used for free on or in a book

Businesses can not use MOD insignia to endorse a product through advertisement, particularly if it implies that the MOD favours a product or service. Therefore, MOD contractors cannot use MOD insignia in any of their promotional material to indicate that they are a MOD supplier. However, contractors may make factual statements about their relationship with the MOD, but cannot use MOD insignia to do so. The incidental inclusion of insignia in photos is allowed where it cannot practically be avoided. Contractors may be permitted to use insignia on a document or in a lecture when the MOD is a contributor to it. But permission will only be granted when the MOD has control over the output and the use of the insignia clearly shows what the MOD’s contribution was.

The MOD allows the sale under licence of insignia for merchandise, such as clothing with regimental cap badges on. No third party can trade products using MOD insignia until a licence has been agreed and signed by the defence intellectual property rights (DIPR) department. There is no guarantee that an application to use MOD insignia will be approved.

As you can see, care needs to be taken when using images and insignia from the internet, as it may be protected by copyright.

By Samuel Killoran, a First Year Law Student at Solent University.

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