The End Of The Absurdity: Iceland, The Country, Successfully Invalidates The Trademark Of Iceland Foods, The Grocer

from the for-food-and-country dept

Way back in late 2016, we asked the same question that has been on the minds of all of humanity for eons: who gets to trademark Iceland? If that seems like an odd question to you, perhaps a little context will help. See, Iceland has been a sovereign nation since the early 1900s, whereas Iceland Foods has been a grocery chain in the UK since the 1970s. And, yet, somehow the latter managed to get an EU-wide trademark for the term “Iceland” and then went around bullying companies from Iceland out of using that term in their own names, even when they weren’t competing in the grocery marketplace. How did the EU manage to think it would be okay to grant this trademark in the first place, you ask? By not putting a whole lot of thought into it, would be my guess.

Well, when Iceland, the country, applied for a trademark for “Inspired by Iceland”, only to have it blocked by Iceland Foods, it apparently represented the last straw. Iceland petitioned the EU to invalidate this absurd trademark, leading to reps from Iceland Foods trekking to meet with the nation’s officials. The outcome of that meeting was apparently Iceland Foods being totally confused as to why Iceland wasn’t just being cool, maaaaan.

Well, this story has finally reached its conclusion, and that conclusion is the EU reversing its original error and invalidating the trademark.

Now, years later, EUIPO has ruled in favour of Iceland – the country – and invalidated the supermarket’s trademark entirely, noting that “It has been adequately shown that consumers in EU countries know that Iceland is a country in Europe and also that the country has historical and economic ties to EU countries, in addition to geographic proximity.”

Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson said he welcomed the ruling, but was not surprised by it. “…[I]t defies common sense that a foreign company can stake a claim to the name of a sovereign nation as was done [in this case],” he remarked.

Well… yeah. That’s right. The idea that the EU granted a trademark for the name of a nation within the European Economic Area is the kind of thing that proves it’s impossible to write parody any longer. Sure, Iceland isn’t officially in the EU, but trademark law has always cast narrow eyes at applications for terms that represent geography. None of this is new. Or difficult. Yet, for years Iceland Foods has been able to wield its absurd trademark against other businesses from Iceland, and against Iceland’s government itself.

Now, Iceland Foods has the option to appeal the ruling over the next couple of months. I can’t imagine it will do so, though I wouldn’t have guessed one could trademark “Iceland” to begin with, so…

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Companies: iceland foods

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Comments on “The End Of The Absurdity: Iceland, The Country, Successfully Invalidates The Trademark Of Iceland Foods, The Grocer”

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28 Comments
Ben (profile) says:

Re: Iceland sovereign??

Iceland (the country) had to take it to the EUIPO because Iceland (the company) had a trademark granted by the EUIPO to be used in the region governed (for trademark purposes) by the EUIPO. Iceland (the country) does not rule the EU (nor does France, Germany, the UK, or any other EU member nation), and therefore when there are issues about trademarks in the EU, the EUIPO is the ruling body.
Within Iceland (the country) is absolutely able to block Iceland (the company) from having any trademark protection.

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re: Iceland is part of the Schengen-space

Actually, I even believe that not being part of the Schengen space helped Brexit.

Because the rest of Europe suddenly realized they could travel everywhere. Not just foreigners were coming in, but they themselves could live and work wherever in Europe. Which produced a feeling of "belonging together", at least in the younger generation.

Of course, Idiot lawmakers in the EU (and Switzerland too) are now threatening everything; because people start to see the EU as a vehicle of their own governments forcing unwanted laws down their throat. Can’t get it past the people in your own country? Make the EU do it. Oh, and Switzerland will follow, sometimes even before it’s law in the EU (https://www.parlament.ch/press-releases/Pages/mm-wbk-s-2019-02-12.aspx sorry, not in English, basically it wanted the same Article 11 as the EU, 7 days before the end of the EU deliberations. It’s now postponed, but this will rear its ugly head again).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Iceland is part of the Schengen-space

"Because the rest of Europe suddenly realized they could travel everywhere. Not just foreigners were coming in, but they themselves could live and work wherever in Europe."

Despite what the ignorant will tell you, this is perfectly possible for Brits as well. In fact the one major reasons why I, as a Brit, chose to live in Spain rather than look further afield was the fact that I could just turn up and work legally with a minimum of paperwork. There are a great many people who did the same because it was their right to do so.

The right to work and of free movement is an EU benefit, not a Schengen one. The only functional difference for most people is that you have to show your passport travelling to and from mainland EU, while travel within it usually doesn’t involve a check at the other side.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Common enough that it’s become an accepted form of the word. Like it or not, language evolves. The major dictionaries add tons of new words every year.

I agree that "grocerer" sounds dumb (and is even highlighted as I type this as a spelling error) but that doesn’t change the reality that many use it and it has become accepted. If you click that little link to really search for "grocerer" you’ll get lots of UK hits — and plenty more for people apparently named Grocerer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Simple iceland had to go to the trademark committee to cancel the trademark, since they are they only ones who can do so.

Imagine some english company had the trademark for France and
was taking legal action against companys that had the word france on the label.
Certain things should not be trademarked ,for obvious reasons
i doubt if a private company has the trademark for The Catholic church
or the US marine corps .

Dyspeptic Curmudgeon (profile) says:

Iceland

Being a sovereign nation, Iceland should have taken a more Game of Thrones attitude. It appears that some 56% of Iceland the schmuck corporation is owned by a South African investment group. Iceland the sovereign should have just made teh the South Africans an offer they could not refuse. (Not because someone would wake up with a horses head, in their bed, or even a 100 kilo haddock!) Just a wad of cash being instant profit.

At 57%, you control the Board of Directors, so some ‘Game of Thrones’ in the boardroom, including especially the in-house and out-house lawyers how had so thoroughly covered themselves in shit, would then be in order.

And the Board of DIrectors would require the managing officers to file a cancellation/ abdication of the trademark (with or without the right to renew in a limited form).

I doubt that Iceland the sovereign would actually need to exercise all of its powers. (although the image of Danaerys-style torching of the prisoners would be interesting… even if a flamethrower was a standin for a dragon!). The writing would not just be on the wall, it would be carved into the wall!

I suspect that the head mojo did not actually realize what his minions were doing . He strikes me as being a pretty impressive guy. Sir Malcolm Walker, OBE. There’s a rags to riches to rags to riches story here.
This is a chunk of its history, taken from its website:

Iceland the foodco started in 1970 by Malcolm Walker.
Went public in 1984
By 1995, Iceland the foodco had 752 stores and 25 consecutive years of profit and revenue growth. In 2000, Walker fails to recognize the flim-flam.

2000
Iceland makes a recommended offer for Booker, the UK’s largest cash-and-carry operator, with the aim of exploiting buying and other synergies between the two businesses.

2001
New Iceland chief executive Bill Grimsey issues a massive profit warning, and Malcolm Walker and other senior managers are forced to leave the company

2002
Iceland-Booker is renamed The Big Food Group and launches a grandiose recovery plan (Click here to read the saga of ‘The one, two, three, four, five year recovery plan’) but customer numbers and sales remain in steady decline while costs escalate.

2004
The Big Food Group is nearing bankruptcy as provisions made in 2001 come close to exhaustion.

2005
The Big Food Group is taken private and Iceland returned to the management of Malcolm Walker and other senior executives who had been ejected in 2001.

2007
Iceland is restored to robust financial health, generating cash and recording an operating profit of almost £100 million.

2009
Iceland opens more than 70 new stores across the UK, including 51 bought from the receivers of Woolworths, and sales exceed £2 billion for the first time.

And so on.

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