Thursday, 17 August 2017

Life’s not a beach in Bondi Beach trade mark dispute

The news broke this month that multinational retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch has trade marked the name ‘Bondi Beach’ in the US.  It was discovered by the Sydney-based toiletries company Bondi Wash who filed a trade mark to protect its name in the US, but was initially blocked because it was too similar to Abercrombie and Fitch’s trade mark.  The US retailer has no presence in, or connection with, the iconic beach or Australia generally, but allegedly had a beauty range which it named “Bondi Beach”.

Bondi Wash challenged the trade mark on the basis that it was no longer in-use, but the cancellation action has since been withdrawn after Abercrombie and Fitch refused to back down.

Why is this an issue?
This has sparked concern in Australia, as many people were previously unaware that foreign companies could obtain exclusive rights to use Australian words and the names of iconic Australian places in overseas jurisdictions. This is not the only iconic Australian place name that has been trade marked by foreign companies in the US. Uluru is registered to a carpet company and Kakadu is registered to a cosmetics company.

In Australia common place names, such as iconic beaches or cities, will be rejected as trade marks because they should be available for all traders to use to describe their goods and services. Companies may however, in some circumstances, successfully register trade marks including common place names if the names are combined with something more distinctive such as another word or a logo, or the trade marks have been extensively used.  As a result, there are a broad range of Australian companies that incorporate ‘Bondi’ into their brand names and trade marks.

While under US law geographical names can be refused registration if the location is known and understood by the relevant segment of US consumers, the United States Patent and Trademark Office examiner presumably took the view that ‘Bondi Beach’ was not of sufficient significance to US consumers, or that the mark had acquired a secondary meaning.  Australian businesses such as Bondi Wash or Bondi Sands may therefore find difficultly operating under their brand names without infringement claims, and incur significant legal costs when they look to expand overseas.         
Waverly Mayer Sally Betts has said that “it’s an Australian beach so I don’t believe anyone in another country should be able to trade mark it.” The Waverly Council has since brought this to the attention of the Federal Trade Minister’s office, and while they have no legal standing, a letter is reportedly being drafted to Abercrombie and Fitch asking them to voluntarily relinquish its trade mark on Bondi Beach. At this stage however, their only chance is to appeal to the retailer’s good will. 

Belinda Breakspear
Alex Hutchens
John Kettle
Paul McLachlan

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