I read an interesting article a couple of weeks ago in the New York Time. It is about a new company called Willa (named after the founder’s daughter) that is being sued by Proctor & Gamble, the maker of Wella hair-care products. Willa makes skin-care products aimed at tweens, and P&G claims that the names are confusingly similar and has demanded that Willa stop. Willa claims that this is another case of trademark bullying, a big company using its legal and economic might to get a small company to capitulate.
However, what is usual in this case is that rather than giving in, as most small companies do when faced with a cease and desist or any legal threat by a big name like P&G, Willa decided to fight. So far, the company has racked up approximately $750,000 in legal bills but intends to fight to the bitter end what it sees as its right to use the name Willa.
The NY Times Small Business Blog had an interesting take on the fight, claiming that although the legal fees might seem overwhelming for a new company and enough to send it under, a fight like this (especially when featured in the NY Times) can be a blessing in disguise. Americans love to root for the underdog and other companies that have been in a similar position have come out ahead as the publicity brings them more business than they ever would have had without the legal suit.
Trademark law prohibits a company from using the same or a similar name to describe goods or services in the same industry from one that is already used in commerce and/or registered with the US Patent and Trade Mark Office. The test is whether the names are confusingly similar. The author of the Small Business Blog, Tom Szaky, believes that Willa and Wella are confusingly similar. The founder of Willa alleges that the names aren’t confusingly similar, as Wella is only for hair-care products while the Willa line is for skin-care products.
What do you think? Is this trademark bullying?