Let’s take a look at the now infamous Extra Virgin Olive Oil case. Yes, they really did! Well, kind of, anyway.
Virgin Enterprises Limited, part of the Virgin Group, seem to be making a habit of using bully-boy tactics in a bid to stop anybody, anywhere, from using anything in any way that they, and sometimes they alone, can relate to some kind of perceived trademark infringement. Why is this story constantly repeating itself and what is the reality of these actions from the perspective of the recipient in such a case?
Vasse Oils, as a producer of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Virgin Olive Oil, applied for the trademark for their company logo in 2009, only for VEL to immediately lodge an objection to the application, claiming that not only did they view this as a trademark violation that may confuse customers due to the similarities in their products (do Virgin make oil now? Ed – No, they don’t) but also that they claim the exclusive rights to the use of the word “virgin”.
Now, if a business calls itself “Madanamanabanana”, a word that is not commonly part of any language or everyday lexicon and, therefore, not likely to be used to relate to already existing people, places, situations or even products, then claiming the rights to the exclusive use of that word is, of course, altogether reasonable.
However, if a business names itself “Blue”, trying to claim that they should be able to exercise some sort of extreme right to the use of that word may, one would expect, be tricky, to say the least.
Applying the same logic to Virgin appears to be somewhat less straightforward, however. Looking through the thin end of the telescope, it is easy to see where this idea falls rather flat on its face and rather quickly at that. For example, does this now mean that the Virgin Mary needs to curtail her use of the name? Are Christians and places of worship the world over now supposed to mutter her name under their breath for fear of the trademark police knocking on the door and demanding its pound of flesh? One assumes not, but surely nobody really thought that VEL would start sueing olive oil producers either!
Due to the immense fun to be had from looking at what is, realistically, nothing short of a scandalous waste of the court’s time and a huge amount of money, it is easy to forget that companies just like the Vasse Oils of this world are not getting the publicity, the public support or even the court’s support when this is happening to the smaller business.
Take Virginic LLC, a small startup, mission-based cosmetics company. They sell organic, pure essential oils and handmade cosmetics for people with allergies , having no direct or even indirect product link with anything currently on sale or even planned by the VEL group, and using the term in an adjective sense rather than as a full blown “nouny” company name! Virginic describes the entire ethos of the company and, more importantly, the products themselves. They are as they were, well as much as possible, when they were pulled from the ground, picked from the tree or collected from the bush…They are as close to their natural or virgin state as possible, thus the products are “Virginic” in nature.
Of course, you heard all about the case when VEL chose to sue the company long after the UK IPO had approved the trademark application, didn’t you?
No? Oh, well, then you must have heard all about it when the UK court ruled in favour of Virginic LLC and, awarded the continued ownership of the trademark and £300 in costs to the little guy, right?
No? Really? Ok then, you MUST have heard about the case when VEL took it to an appeals court and, somewhat incredibly, were again rebuffed, no? No?
Well, how about when VEL appealed yet again, this time to the High Court of Appeals where, not only were Virginic ordered to pay £30,000 in costs (not £300 as the original judge had awarded Virginic – a disparity that should simply never occur if any interest in justice truly exists) and told to cease and desist any and all use of the name? You did? How odd!
Although this is not “odd” at all. It is perfectly standard practice. A small firm will be, inevitably, swallowed up by the largest shark in the pond, whether it is fair or not. They are unable to appeal the case currently, as the £30,000 in damages and the proof of their actual cessation of the use of the name must take place PRIOR to any appeal being accepted by the High Court.
Amazingly, to this day, the multi-billion Virgin Group have NEVER settled their paltry £300 bill but were still allowed to lodge two appeals and now started suing the company in USA on top of individually suing management personnel of the company, hungry to destroy. Without the financial resources, the public support or a long overdue overhaul of trademark law and the way that it is interpreted and applied, how is a company like Virginic, clearly doing nothing but trying to just get on with the business of running a mission-driven company, with high moral standards and top quality products, able to defend itself against a system and a foe so biased in favour of the big guy, that they never really stood a chance?