In August last year, clothing giant Hugo Boss demanded that small Welsh Brewery Boss Brewing “cease and desist” using the names “Boss Black” and “Boss Boss” for two of its beers. A costly trademark action followed, leaving Boss Brewing with a legal bill of almost £10,000. According to Hugo Boss, the action was initiated “… to avoid conflict and potential misunderstanding regarding the brands BOSS and BOSS Black, which had been used by the brewery but are (longstanding) trademarks of our company”. Ultimately, the brewery, which employees just 25 people, renamed its beers and agreed to stop selling its “Boss” clothing – an issue of particular contention for the German brand. Brewery owner Sarah John said at the time that “This has been a horrible experience, and so stressful”.
This action, the latest in a number of trademark assertions made by Hugo Boss against smaller companies, angered many, including, it seems, British comedian Joe Lycett, who, in a protest against the fashion giant, has now legally changed his name, by UK Deed Poll, to “Hugo Boss”, saying, “So Hugo Boss (who turn over approx $2.7 billion a year) have sent cease & desist letters to a number of small businesses and charities who use the word ‘BOSS’ or similar, including a small brewery in Swansea costing them thousands in legal fees and rebranding. It’s clear that Hugo Boss HATES people using their name. Unfortunately for them this week I legally changed my name by deed poll and I am now officially known as Hugo Boss. All future statements from me are not from Joe Lycett but from Hugo Boss.”
The comedian formerly known as Joe Lycett has said he intends to use his new name in a yet-to-be-revealed “brand new product”.
In response, Hugo Boss (the company, rather than the comedian) issued a statement welcoming the comedian into the “Hugo Boss family”, saying that, “we would like to clarify that we do not oppose the free use of language in any way and we accept the generic term ‘boss’ and its various and frequent uses in different languages”. Nonetheless, this story, now widely reported across the world, highlights the potential for PR disaster when global brands act aggressively against small, local companies. Whatever the ultimate outcome, this case will no doubt be long held up as a classic example of How Not To Manage A Global Brand.