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NYT Again Discusses Trademark Bullying as Parties Settle "Wella" vs. "Willa" Suit

I still don’t think it’s a good poster-boy (or girl) for trademark bullying, but the NYT published a follow-up article saying Procter & Gamble had settled its dispute with a mom-owned personal care products company. (See STL post about the NYT’s first article.)

The dispute arose over P&G’s prior use of WELLA for hair care products and the startup’s adoption of WILLA for skin care products.

Both NYT articles used the dispute to discuss trademark bullying — as if P&G had over-reached in asserting its rights.

I’m all for the mainstream media’s help in familiarizing the public with issues that trademark practitioners work with every day. In fact, I’m grateful for it. I just — again — question whether the WELLA vs. WILLA dispute is a good vehicle for introducing the issue. I don’t at all see P&G as being another Monster Cable — threatening everyone under the sun who uses MONSTER as a trademark in any context, regardless of whether confusion would be (even remotely) likely.

Again, P&G didn’t do itself any favors when it used overbearing language in contacting the startup. It wasn’t exactly graceful when it told the owner-mother that if she did not immediately drop her trademark, it would resort to “lengthy and expensive alternative measures.” Still, it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable that the owner of WELLA for personal care products would not want a new entrant to start using WILLA also for personal care products.

To me, the media’s depiction of the suit shouldn’t have been big vs. little. It would have been more accurate (though I guess less interesting) to portray the dispute simply as prior user vs. later user.

So how was the dispute resolved? The article says terms are confidential, but the startup will get to keep using WILLA.

Posted on October 16, 2011 by Registered CommenterMichael Atkins in | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

I agree, Mike. I think the downside of this kind of reporting is that people will understand the term "trademark bullying" to refer to a situation involving a large trademark owner and a small alleged infringer. But size has nothing to do with it. As you rightly point out, a trademark bully is one who over-reaches the limits of what trademark law protects, not just someone who plays Goliath to a mom & pop David.
October 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob Cumbow
I agree P&G was legally within its rights, and if I were in its place, I would not want a potential competitor's very similar mark used on overlapping goods. But it probably would have benefited from a letter with a lighter touch.

Instead it used aggressively intimidating language toward a smaller user. Such use of power by a larger entity toward a smaller makes it looks like a bully even though it has a justifiable concern. P&G may have avoided this impression with a letter providing a dispassionate explanation of the relevant trademark law and remedies and where the problem lies. Even if the letter were not ultimately persuasive, at least it would not sound like an overbearing twit when the letter got out.
October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Pierce

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