16 December 2019TrademarksRory O'Neill

Vera Lynn blocks TM for her name at UKIPO

British singer Vera Lynn has won an opposition at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which held that an application to register her name as a trademark was filed in bad faith.

Last year, Liverpool-based Halewood International Brands filed to register the ‘Vera Lynn’ mark in class 33 for alcoholic beverages except beer, including spirits.

The 102 year old singer opposed the application, claiming that she had been using her name as an unregistered trademark in the UK since 1939.

Lynn is best known for songs such as “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, and “There’ll Always be an England”.

Her music enjoyed great popularity during the second world war, and she was known for performing to British troops abroad throughout her career.

Fiona McBride, partner at European IP firm  Withers & Rogers, said the case highlighted the importance of brands taking “extra care” when registering trademarks for celebrity names in connection to new products.

“Before doing so, they should check for any pre-existing rights (registered or not) and make sure they have evidence to show that consumers would not confuse use of the individual’s name with a product endorsement,” McBride said.

According to Halewood, there was no likelihood that consumers would confuse the ‘Vera Lynn’ mark as an endorsement from the singer herself.

The distilling company said that ‘Vera Lynn’ had become commonplace cockney rhyming slang for gin, and the mark would be perceived as nothing more than a play on words.

Halewood also argued that the typical gin drinker is young, while the demographic likely to know who Lynn is was “much older”.

These arguments failed to convince the IPO. According to the ruling, Halewood did not provide any evidence demonstrating wider public awareness of cockney rhyming slang, or Vera Lynn’s association with gin.

Halewood also cited a National Office of Statistics article which said that while gin was formerly a “favourite of the middle-aged suburban couple”, it was now considered a “staple of the younger drinker”.

According to the IPO, this did not demonstrate that older people had stopped drinking gin, merely that young people had begun drinking it also.

At most, “the conclusion should be that gin is now drunk by people of all ages,” the IPO said.

In the absence of any evidence that ‘Vera Lynn’ was widely known as slang for gin, the IPO said it could only conclude that the public were likely to perceive the mark as an endorsement from the singer.

Regarding Lynn’s allegation of bad faith, the IPO said that Halewood had not provided any explanation behind its reasons for filing the mark.

“What matters is whether the applicant’s actions are such as would be judged by other honest people in business to be in bad faith. Having considered all of the material before me, I find that on the balance of probabilities, they would be,” the decision read.

In a statement sent to WIPR, Halewood said that it noted the decision and would “not be pursuing the matter any further”.

The IPO awarded costs of £2000 ($2673) to Lynn.

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