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Too Similar Trade Mark Proves Costly

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

To regular renters of cars, the stylised ‘e’ in the logo of Europcar will be readily recognisable. With its brand reinforced by an extensive recent television advertising campaign, the Enterprise Rent-a-Car ‘e’ logo will also be familiar to many.

The similarities between the two, once Europcar started in 2012 to make much increased use of the ‘e’ in its logo, led to Enterprise taking legal proceedings alleging that the use of the stylised ‘e’ was an infringement of its own trade marks registered in both the UK and Europe.

The judge was clearly unimpressed by the receipt of 34 bundles of documents although the complexity and importance of such issues for the companies involved made an argument over every detail almost inevitable.

Enterprise also claimed that Europcar had ‘passed itself off’ as Enterprise (effectively a claim that it had profited by making use of Enterprise’s goodwill, because of the confusion that the similarity of the two trade marks caused) and that Europcar’s actions had ‘diluted’ Enterprise’s brand.

In the event, the judgment ran to 227 paragraphs, with the result that Enterprise won the argument overall, losing only on the ‘dilution’ issue.

The lessons to be learned from cases such as this are simple. Before undertaking a ‘re-branding’ exercise, it is important to examine carefully the trade marks etc. of other brands in the market, or those with which your branding could be confused.

Failing to do so can lead to the expense (and the loss of a considerable chunk of management time – preparing evidence in such cases can be very time-consuming) of a legal dispute which should be avoidable if appropriate research is done and legal advice taken.

Although this case may well go to appeal, the costs are clearly very substantial already.

Contact Clare Towers for advice on all issues relating to trade marks and intellectual property protection.

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