Outcome of CAFFUK trademark attempt to suppress BAFF

The 4-year bid by Combined Armed Forces Federation UK (CAFFUK) veterans to suppress BAFF has finally been seen off, after a series of rulings in BAFF's favour.

This saga is now at an end, but if any member would like more information, please click any of the headings below. This page is now archived.

One-sided dispute

"Combined Arms Federation UK" (CAFFUK, CAFF UK) began their one-sided dispute in 2007 after being offered BAFF's cordial cooperation, and BAFF support (if they wanted) for their core campaign about a pre-1975 pensions grievance. BAFF had also offered to meet CAFFUK representatives to discuss cooperation.

BAFF is only now going public about the trademark dispute, in view of the CAFFUK approach to the awarded costs.

Also the CAFFUK website, which initiated the dispute with public demands and threats, still contains a fictional "clarification" about the role of BAFF, and mentions even now "a lot of legal activity, challenging a group whom we believe have 'trespassed' on our organisational name. This has been seen as an important challenge..."

Combined Armed Forces Federation UK continued that "important challenge" for four years, apparently against professional legal advice.

Their representative made it clear throughout that the purpose of the CAFFUK trademark application was to prevent BAFF completely and permanently from operating. His actions even after exhausting all avenues of appeal, along with the CAFFUK committee's refusal to take responsibility for the costs of the application after it had failed, unfortunately did succeed in causing real damage by demanding time and attention at a critical stage.

Other obstructive efforts

Along with other obstructive efforts, CAFFUK had asked their veteran members to campaign against a Private Member's Bill - the Armed Forces (Federation) BillArmed Forces (Federation) Bill - introduced by MPs, independently of BAFF, to promote the principle of representation for today's serving personnel. CAFFUK wrongly informed their members that it was the British Armed Forces Federation Bill.

Like most such Bills, it never passed into legislation, and had already expired at the end of the parliamentary session. But the CAFFUK website then announced "NO MORE BAFF" and that

"We have ... had to deal with some challenges "on the left flank" from the British Armed Forces Federation (BAFF) who have been trying to establish a parallel organisation through parliamentary pressure. When it was pointed out that CAFF UK was already in existence and that they were breaching our Copyright - they withdrew their Member's Bill very rapidly."

That was very far from accurate, and appeared after the facts had already been explained to CAFFUK.

Ironically, CAFFUK's lobbying efforts against the expired Bill did at least help to put BAFF in touch for the first time with the Bill's sponsor Kevan Jones MPKevan Jones MP.

Mr Jones proved to be an outstanding supporter in Parliament, and later as a Defence Minister and Shadow Defence Minister, of the principle of responsible representation for armed forces personnel.

Unwarranted demands and threats

BAFF's opposition to the CAFFUK trademark application was in response to public demands and threats of legal action addressed to BAFF, which were published on the CAFFUK website at Christmas, 2007:

"The Title, Letterhead, Logo and Trade Mark of The Combined Armed Forces Federation UK (CAFF UK) is registered for copyright protection with the UK Intellectual Property Office.

"You are required by The Combined Armed Forces Federation UK to immediately remove the title, letterhead, logo and trade mark of BAFF (2006) Ltd from the entire public domain including its website and Company House registration.

"Any failure to comply with the above requirement and inform those to whom it may concern immediately, will be regarded as a continued act of piracy and an injunction will be applied for to prevent any further breach of copyright..."

On investigation, it became clear that CAFFUK had not really registered anything with the UK Intellectual Property Office.

The truth was that CAFF UK had applied for trademark registration of its "Union Jack and crown" logo, and the design had been published by the Intellectual Property Office for possible objection.

The references to "copyright" were similarly unfounded. If CAFF UK believed their own demands, they must have been persuaded that trademark registration of their logo would attach copyright to the words "armed forces federation", but trademark registration is obviously not the same thing as copyright protection. The descriptive term "armed forces federation" was never capable of copyright protection anyway, and already existed in the English language, and had not been created by CAFFUK: see 'Armed Forces Federation' - Half a century 1966-2006.

The CAFFUK representative stated during the dispute that the trademark application had been "scrutinised for approval" by legal Counsel at a cost of £500. If so, CAFFUK would surely have been advised that even if it succeeded, the trademark application could never have the intended effect, i.e. to form the basis of an injunction to prevent BAFF from operating.

There was never any question of BAFF attempting to use its own genuinely registered trademark in a similar manner, even if it wanted to. In fact BAFF informed CAFFUK during the dispute that it need have no concerns on that score.

BAFF defensive course of action

The published threats were removed from the CAFFUK public website following a letter from our lawyers, but the threats themselves were not withdrawn. The concern remained that if the trademark application was allowed to proceed unchallenged, CAFFUK veterans were likely to resume in public the threats and/or claims which continued in their correspondence.

Amongst other things, BAFF appeared potentially vulnerable to the dispute being seized upon by opponents of the principle of independent representation for current armed forces personnel.

BAFF therefore decided to lodge a notice of "opposition" to the application, on specified "absolute grounds" under Trade Marks legislation. In other words, the "opposition" was based on what we argued were inherent problems with the trademark design in terms of the legislation, rather than on any conflict with BAFF's own intellectual property rights.

The "opposition" option was lower-key than other defensive courses of action which were considered at the time, and was intended by BAFF to be less confrontational, less troublesome and less costly for all concerned...

More of the same from CAFFUK

However, CAFFUK's representative responded that BAFF had submitted its opposition "on the total basis of false pretences which, as you will be aware, is an indictable offence amounting to deception..." He told BAFF's lawyers to withdraw the opposition forthwith: "Any failure to do so by February 7th 2008 would lead to proceedings against BAFF (2006) Ltd for 'Deception by false pretences'..."

The CAFFUK representative also unsuccessfully demanded that the Intellectual Property Office ("IPO") reject our submission out of hand, as "nothing less than a 'last ditch' 'eleventh hour' attempt by BAFF (2006) Ltd to avoid an Injunction as detailed above based ... upon a false pretence." He told the IPO that any mediation possibilities had been exhausted. 

The CAFFUK representative continued in much the same vein throughout the dispute. These quotes may give some idea of why BAFF found it necessary to defend its position at the time.

Failure of CAFFUK trademark application and appeal

The IPO carried out its normal trademark opposition procedures. After the submission of written evidence and an eventual hearing at which each side presented their case, BAFF's "opposition" was upheld and the CAFFUK trademark application was refused, with costs awarded to BAFF.

An unsuccessful attempt by the applicant to postpone the whole procedure indefinitely was eventually followed by his appeal against refusal. The appeal also failed on all counts after a second hearing the following year. BAFF was awarded the costs of the appeal in addition to the original costs.

As an unincorporated association CAFFUK couldn't apply in its own right for trademark registration, but the trademark applicant had declared throughout that he was acting on behalf of Combined Armed Forces Federation UK, and with its full authority.

But once the appeal had failed the CAFFUK committee, having instructed and funded the trademark application and having used their website to launch their "important challenge", declined to take any responsibility for either the awarded costs of the appeal, or those of the original application.

This added greatly to the waste of time on both sides, as well as to their own side's debt.

Eventual recovery of costs from trademark applicant

Having been left to face the music, the "Combined Armed Forces Federation UK" trademark applicant also refused to pay the awarded costs, and finally made two attempts through the courts to prevent normal recovery of the debt.

The last attempt has now failed, and the awarded costs have been recovered from the individual by lawful enforcement action through authorised High Court Enforcement Officersauthorised High Court Enforcement Officers, along with the additional court and enforcement costs.

Any prospective party to any future legal proceedings promoted by CAFFUK, over their pre-1975 pensions grievance, may want to be aware.

Due to the generosity of our (then) lawyers, BAFF's limited funds incurred no legal outlays which were not recovered. We were represented at the hearings by our Chairman. Two other members of our Executive Council also attended the final court hearing.

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British Armed Forces Federation (BAFF) is an independent organisation controlled "by" and provided "for" its own members, who are serving members (the majority) and former members of HM United Kingdom Armed Forces. BAFF is owned by its members and is legally constituted as BAFF (2006) Ltd, a not-for-profit membership-based Company Limited by Guarantee. Click here for full company details.


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