All change at the Assembly Rooms – but what happens to the brand?

I see that the City of Edinburgh Council has announced a new operator for the historic Assembly Rooms on George Street.

For those not familiar with the background to this story, the Assembly Rooms is one of the big venues for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and is currently undergoing major renovations. As part of the project, the Council put out to tender the right to operate a venue at the Assembly Rooms during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

From next year, the venue will be run by a company called Salt n Sauce Promotions* – better known for running The Stand comedy clubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Why is this interesting?
Well, for the past 30 odd years, the Assembly Rooms has been the home of a competitor of The Stand, Assembly Theatre Ltd – which has traded under the shortened name “Assembly”. Assembly was the first promoter to hold events at the Assembly Rooms, and has since expanded to run a number of other Fringe venues under the Assembly brand – such as Assembly George Square and Assembly Hall (a Church of Scotland building on The Mound and, coincidentally, the home of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland).

From next year it will be someone else that will be promoting comedy, theatre and other events at the Assembly Rooms.

But guess who has applied for a registered trade mark for the mark “Assembly”? That’s right, Assembly.

So what will happen?
Interestingly, the trade mark application (dated Dec 2009) is currently marked as opposed. It’s not clear what the grounds of opposition are, or who is opposing it, but if the application is successful then it could stop the new operator of the Assembly Rooms prominently using the word “Assembly”, even though the operator called “Assembly” no longer promotes shows there (are you still with me?).

Just to further confuse matters, articles celebrating the 30th anniversary of the “Assembly Rooms” show that the venue and its former operator are very much entwined in the mind of the public (this is unsurprising; there has only been one operator), which means that even if the trade mark application isn’t successful then Assembly might still argue that it has goodwill in the word, and that prominent use of “Assembly” by Salt n Sauce is passing off.

I wonder whether the Council’s contracts with Assembly reserved the IP and goodwill in the “Assembly” brand, or deal with some form of co-existence? If they didn’t, and the new operator is unable to fully exploit the goodwill in the venue’s name, then one suspects that the rental value will be much lower than it would have been had the new operator been entitled to trade under “Assembly”.

It shows the importance of ensuring the IP is considered in all commercial arrangements, even in such mundane things as property leases.

Given all this, it will be interesting to see how Salt n Sauce will brand its new venue – Stand @ The Assembly Rooms makes it sound like they forgot to order enough chairs.

*Salt n sauce is what Edinburgh people like on their chips. The “sauce” is an odd concoction of brown sauce and vinegar. I prefer just salt and vinegar.

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