Many of you may have become aware of the recent, high-profile brand dispute which arose between EasyGroup Ltd. (a brand owner) and a group of popular musicians performing as “Easy Life”.
Broadly, the established music group “Easy Life” who had been performing for several years under that name, found itself being legally challenged by EasyGroup over claims of trademark infringement.
The outcome is reported to be that the band has decided to change its name, which is yet to be announced. Sadly, it appears the band recognized that when faced with a well-funded brand owner who is proactively protecting its brand, the well-funded brand owner tends to prevail.
Having worked as a law solicitor for longer than easyJet has been in existence, I have had periodic involvements with the relevant brand owner asserting its rights — a position likely exacerbated by the fact that EasyGroup operates from premises located reasonably close to a branch office of my firm of solicitors.
Part of the problems caused for businesses by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s company vigorously asserting rights in brands containing the word “EASY” is that I rather doubt any trademark professional would recommend building a brand incorporating that widely used English word and the fact that he did probably reflects a lack of appropriate advice was taken at the time of brand establishment.
For starters, one can see the word “EASY” used in a wide range of businesses unconnected with EasyGroup. In these cases, the word’s use is almost certainly more appropriate to those businesses than to any ventures operating under branding licensed from EasyGroup.
A review of company names, from the public record held by the Registrar of Companies (at Companies House), reveals that while certain companies with “EASY” in their name may well have been dissolved (or changed their name) after brand rights may have been asserted by EasyGroup, a considerable number of other companies (over 9,000) appear to have been trading for many years, likely without challenge (or even an ability to challenge) from EasyGroup.
To understand how the current situation came about, one might start by examining EasyGroup’s own stated history. In my opinion, it’s fair to observe that Haji-Ioannou has had only one material success in his business career with easyJet (which was heavily backed by family wealth – and seized the opportunity to be a “first mover” in the UK).
By 2000, easyJet had “floated” on the London Stock Exchange and although Haji-Ioannou (and his siblings) maintains a reasonably valuable shareholding in that public company, he has not been a Director since 2010 and has for many years been in a fractious relationship with the board of easyJet (about company policy and other issues).
Part of that fractious relationship appeared to turn into a dispute between them over the brand in the far from uncommon circumstance that as business models evolve over time uncertainty arises over who holds the relevant legal rights (ask Apple v. Apple Corp or The Beatles!)
That dispute appears to have been settled in 2010 on seemingly quite advantageous terms for EasyGroup (and I’d suggest that easyJet is EasyGroup’s “cash cow” from a licensing perspective). As a result, EasyGroup is a remarkably financially successful company. Its last publicly filed accounts (to September 2022) reveal gross profits of GBP 14.5 million, and a balance sheet (even after a GBP 10.5 million charitable donation) of GBP 30 million (of which GBP 7.5 million was cash = Quite enough to pay lawyers to defend one’s brand rights).
The band “Easy Life” appears to have been quite unlucky, since EasyGroup was in a recent brand dispute with a previous owner of EasyLife Ltd. EasyGroup succeeded in their brand claim and, having gone to the time and trouble, asserting their new rights against a seeming infringer makes perfect sense.
However, the band “Easy Life” didn’t make their life “easy” by publicizing a forthcoming tour with a poster that featured a picture of an easyJet plane thereby creating confusion with the business which likely provides much of EasyGroup’s income.
Sometimes it’s just best not to antagonize — and don’t ever deliberately create confusion!
If you must use “EASY” in your business treat it as a standalone word — don’t combine it with a business descriptor.
Best of all, create a more memorable brand in tandem with a professional advisor who can advise upon the potential pitfalls.
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