13 November 2020Trademarks

UKIPO sides with Big Easy in TM dispute with easyGroup

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has turned down easyGroup’s application to register ‘easy’ as a trademark after an opposition from American restaurant chain Big Easy.

EasyGroup, which owns brands including British-based airline easyJet, applied to register ‘easy’ in June 2019 to cover food and drink retail services/provision, transport arrangements, and accommodation services (in classes 35, 39, and 43).

The application was opposed by Alnair Limited, which owns Big Easy’s trademarks, on the basis that the applied-for ‘easy’ mark would be confused with its five existing UK trademarks, filed between 1991 and 2018 (trademark numbers 1482481, 3150127, 3200483, 3299517, and 3299520).

Alnair’s trademarks, which all incorporate the words “Big Easy” in word or graphic form, are registered in a range of classes, including restaurant services (class 42), services for providing accommodation (class 43), and food and drink provision (class 35).

In its opposition, Alnair claimed that easyGroup’s applied-for mark is “wholly incorporated” in its ‘Big Easy’ marks and that easyGroup sought to use the ‘easy’ mark in respect of services similar to those covered by its existing marks.

There is therefore a likelihood of confusion between the ‘easy’ mark and Alnair’s existing trademarks, Alnair said.

Alnair also told the IPO that the word “easy” is non-distinctive and represents a “laudatory descriptor of the accessibility or usability” of the easyGroup’s services.

Paul Corrett, who founded the Big Easy chain of restaurants, provided the IPO with a witness statement regarding the historical use of the ‘Big Easy’ trademarks in respect of restaurant services in the UK.

In a decision dated November 6, 2020, the IPO found that the goods and services covered by the applied-for mark “coincide and cover at least some identical services” to those covered by the ‘Big Easy’ trademarks.

Despite this, the IPO said that there is no likelihood of confusion due to the “conceptual differences” between the marks which are “sufficient to overcome any visual and aural similarity created by the presence of the word ‘easy’ in both marks”.

However, after considering the ordinary meaning of the word “easy”, the IPO dismissed easyGroup’s claim that average consumers associate the word “easy” with easyGroup’s brands and determined that the word should remain available to other traders to use.

“Use of the word is ubiquitous in the English language,” the IPO said, agreeing with Alnair that the word ‘easy’ is a non-descriptive laudatory descriptor and should not be registered as a trademark.

The IPO ordered easyGroup to pay Alnair £1,650 ($2,171) in costs.

Speaking to WIPR, a spokesperson for easyGroup said: “We will obviously review this decision however easyGroup remains absolutely determined to protect the easy brand from unauthorised and/or damaging use." "We have a number of business partners who pay royalties that allow them to use easy as part of their business strategy so for others to simply steal the brand for nothing is simply unacceptable," the spokesperson added.

Earlier this year, easyGroup failed to stop a trademark featuring the words “Easy Nurse” being registered at the IPO. The IPO found that the trademark, which sought to cover breastfeeding products, would not cause confusion with easyGroup’s trademarks.

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