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Goliath vs David (why sometimes its okay)

I am a staunch supporter of IP rights. As an IP lawyer I spent most of my career helping companies protect their patents, trade marks and other IP  and have written many times about David vs Goliath fights  – the scourge of large businesses illegally taking advantage of a smaller company’s IP- which are all too common.

However, occasionally a story breaks that flips this sentiment on its head. The latest is a story out of Australia where a furniture maker has run into trouble with IKEA.

IKEA took offence when a start-up with the name Stylkea sought to register its name as a trade mark. Unsurprisingly, IKEA opposed the registration and requested that the business change its name.

Since then Kylie Hughes, the entrepreneur behind the business,  has garnered an awful lot of publicity claiming that she is being intimidated and bullied by IKEA and has invoked the David vs Goliath analogy. All she wants to do, she says, is co-exist with Ikea and get on with growing her business.

This is all very well but, unfortunately for Ms Hughes, IKEA has every right to take the action it has.

Firstly, it is inconceivable she had not heard of IKEA before settling on the name Stylkea and secondly, if she had, it is inconceivably that she did not think her business would benefit from having a name that was similar to the largest furniture retailer IN THE WORLD.

And this is the point.

The Ikea name has a huge amount of goodwill attached to it and the whole point of owning the IKEA trade mark is to stop 3rd parties from unjustly benefitting from this goodwill (which has been built up over many years and at considerable cost!). Whichever way you spin it appears the name StyIkea has been used to syphon off this goodwill by perhaps confusing consumers into thinking that the business is in some way connected to IKEA, and this is unacceptable.

As a result I have very little sympathy for Ms Hughes and hope IKEA continues to fairly enforce its rights. I also hope that innocent small businesses that find themselves caught up in genuine IP disputes aren’t tarnished with the brush of opportunism that this case has a whiff of.