Trademarks – when to take on the big boys?

If you’re running a business, you’ve got a million and one things to do. Yes, protecting your rights is important, but you’re probably not going to fancy taking anyone to court at the best of times. And especially not a global giant. But we’re not all the same, are we?

Fear certainly didn’t stop Mark Constantine. In fact, quite the opposite. Constantine took a giant to court, won and then some.
Mark Constantine formed Lush, a handmade cosmetics company, back in 1995. He’s clearly doing well and knows his stuff, but Lush is just a husband and wife team, with one shop in Poole, Dorset. So, what happened?

Well initially, Amazon objected to Constantine’s use of the word ‘lush’ to sell cosmetics. Amazon use ‘Lush’ as a brand for their range of toiletries. This dispute lasted three years. It would appear to most that it’s pretty difficult for anyone to trademark an adjective – and the high courts agreed. Victory for Constantine!

But the issue didn’t end there. Constantine felt he was being bullied and didn’t like it. He tried to be reasonable. In his words, they “tried 17 times to reach an amicable resolution before going to court”. That sounds like one hell of an effort.

Now Constantine is using an unconventional branding strategy to get his own back. He’s launching a series of new bathroom products. Nothing strange about that, you might say. But he’s trademarked the name ‘Christopher North’ as a brand name for them – Christopher North is the managing director of amazon.co.uk.

Of course, this opens up a world of possibilities for Constantine. He’s started off with bringing out a shower gel that has the tagline ‘rich, thick and full of it’. The concept was initially supposed to be a bit of joke and was never intended to go on sale, but because of the nature of the argument, Constantine has since changed his mind. When the gel hits Lush’s shelves, all proceeds will go to good causes.

So, according to Constantine, the move is more of a statement about Amazon’s attitude to business (and their tax issues).

Has he gone too far? Some would say he’s fighting a losing battle. Or at the very least he’s annoying a business giant and potentially opening up a can of worms. But others would appreciate his efforts and laud how he has refused to be dictated to. Either way, in business, we must all be true to ourselves and battle for what we believe. That principle is especially true in the world of trademarks and patents.

And before you ask, yes, Constantine did buy up the trademark to his own name, in case Amazon try to get their own back…

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