Sunday 11 December 2016

Iceland (the country) is suing Iceland (the supermarket)

Published 25/11/2016 | 11:04

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

The Icelandic government is escalating its cold war against British supermarket Iceland by launching legal action against the chain over the use of its name.

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The Nordic nation confirmed on Thursday that it has mounted a legal challenge against the supermarket at the European Union Intellectual Property Office with the goal of "ensuring the right of Icelandic companies to use the word 'Iceland' in relation to their goods and services".

Iceland claims that the supermarket has "aggressively pursued" and won multiple cases against Icelandic companies which use the word Iceland as part of their trademark, "even in cases when the products and services do not compete".

Supermarket Iceland, which trades under Iceland Foods, holds a Europe-wide trademark registration for the word and Iceland the nation is seeking to invalidate the registration on the basis that it is "exceptionally broad and ambiguous in definition, often rendering the country's firms unable to describe their products as Icelandic".

In a circular, the government said: "The government of Iceland is concerned that our country's businesses are unable to promote themselves across Europe in association with their place of origin - a place of which we are rightly proud and enjoys a very positive national branding.

"This untenable situation has caused harm to Icelandic businesses, especially its small and growing companies. A company or product made in Iceland or by an Icelandic company should be able to represent itself using the name of the country."

It claimed that it has made multiple efforts to negotiate with Iceland Foods but bemoaned the supermarket's "unrealistic and unacceptable" demands, leaving it with no choice but to proceed with legal action.

When news of the lawsuit first broke in September, a spokesman for Iceland said: "Iceland Foods has traded under the Iceland name in the UK since 1970, and is today one of the UK's most recognised brands. We have also traded as Iceland for many years in other EU countries, and in non-EU countries, including Iceland itself."

The relationship between the supermarket and the Nordic nation has a history of frostiness.

Icelandic retail conglomerate Baugur held a controlling stake in the grocer until its collapse in 2009. The stake then fell into the hands of Icelandic banks Landsbanki and Glitnir, which was later acquired as part of a management buyout led by founder and chief executive Malcolm Walker.

The company, whose headquarters are in Deeside, has more than 800 stores across the UK and employs more than 23,000 staff.

Iceland Foods said the Icelandic government has not directly approached the supermarket or attempted to solve the issue in an "amicable" way.

Iceland Foods said: "We very much regret that the Government of Iceland has apparently decided to take legal action over the use of the name Iceland. Contrary to their assertion we have received no recent approaches to achieve an amicable resolution of this issue, which would be our preferred approach.

"While we will vigorously defend Iceland Foods' established rights where there is any risk of confusion between our business and Iceland the country, we have been trading successfully for 46 years under the name Iceland and do not believe that any serious confusion or conflict has ever arisen in the public mind, or is likely to do so.

"We hope that the Government will contact us directly so that we may address their concerns."

Press Association

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