Truth first casualty in brand name battle
The recent legal battle between Woolworths and Organic Marketing Australia simmered down last week after the two parties reached a settlement, preventing the need for further proceedings. Naturally, it has been described as ‘David and Goliath’, but is it that simple?
Family-owned organic food trader Organic Marketing Australia trades under the name Honest To Goodness, and has had that trademark registered since 2003 for branding a variety of food products, as well as for the ‘retailing and wholesaling of health foods’.
The dispute with the supermarket giant started in March this year, when Woolworths began promoting ‘Margaret Fulton’s Honest To Goodness Family Meals’, kicking off print, television and Web campaigns. Organic Marketing Australia applied to the Federal Court to halt the advertisements until the trademark dispute could be settled. It lost, and that’s when things got really messy.
Woolworths filed a cross claim suit, seeking to have the original Honest To Goodness trademark struck off the register, as it had originally been registered with a logo no longer used by Organic Marketing Australia. At the same time, it applied to register ‘Honest to Goodness Family Meals’ for use in promotions, while the smaller company re-applied to register their brand name with their updated logo. They also sought to expand the trademark’s reach, applying for the registration to cover all food retailing and wholesaling.
Looking from a common sense perspective as we are here (Unsurprising disclaimer: Marketing Mag doesn’t have law degree) is an exercise made difficult by the confidential terms of the settlement the two parties reached last week, which saw a confidential settlement, without admission of guilt, and an agreement by Woolworths to end the promotion.
OMA were the only party to release their own media statement, and its emotion is palpable. “We have been fighting a nightmare legal battle that we never thought we would have too [sic],” says Matt Ward, founder and managing director of Honest To Goodness. “Registering the trademark … and trading under this brand for nine years should have been enough to protect our brand.”
Ward alleges that Woolworths’ use of the phrase in a promotion was confusing and devastating to their customers: “We’ve had loyal customers contact us feeling aggrieved we’ve sold our business to Woolworths and saying they won’t be buying our products,” he continues. “If this can happen to us, then it can happen to other well meaning good businesses trying to do the right thing.”
And of course, giving up was not an option, an ethical business could never abandon its beliefs: “What is unique about Honest to Goodness is our ethics, ideals and principles behind the products we choose to sell and the way we do business,” says Ward.
So, finally, is there a fairytale ending? Does Goliath fall to David? Well, Goliath hands over an undisclosed sum on a without admissions basis and will stop using the phrase in question… at the end of the year. Judge for yourself on the facts we have, but without a court case a ruling won’t materialise to give a neat conclusion.
The original David and Goliath could never have imagined what they were starting when they took the battlefield in biblical times, but one thing is clear: had they trademarked their names they would both now be filthy rich.