An Innocent Breach of Trademark

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Innocent Drinks, the UK market leader in smoothie products, has recently taken issue with a trademark application made by Dawn Reid and her Sussex based company Innocent Vitamins. The latter applied, in February 2011, to register the mark “innocent vitamins all goodness. no badness” for her food supplement products, a move which Innocent Drinks views as threatening to the goodwill of their Innocent brand developed over the last twelve years.

Innocent Vitamins versus Innocent Drinks

Concerned with the quality of existing food supplements aimed at children, Dawn Reid set up Innocent Vitamins to provide a “comprehensive, balanced range of vitamins and minerals” for 3-12 year olds. Subsequently, the product has been sold online and in various health stores.

When creating the company name, Mrs. Reid claims she did not foresee the possibility of any dispute with Innocent Drinks, believing that the two companies produced entirely different products. This was despite the remarkably similar branding and appearance of both businesses. Nevertheless, (and without it would seem, seeking legal advice) Mrs. Reid proceeded to roll out her product and build her own ‘Innocent’ brand.

Innocent Vitamins was thus already in a legally precarious position and, not surprisingly, Innocent Drinks have protested at their use, contacted Dawn Reid and informed her:

“It is not acceptable to have someone come along and start using our name, selling a health food-based product in supermarkets, which is so similar to our proposition”.

Likely Outcome of the Dispute

Once the trademark is advertised in the Trade Marks Journal oppositions can be formally filed with the IPO. This seems to be the likely path for this case given that Dawn Reid will likely reject Innocent Drinks’ low cost request to respectfully stop using their brand name by a set deadline. Rejecting this offer however is probably a poor decision on her part, and despite protesting that “…there are lots of companies called innocent”, it is difficult to imagine how the two brands are anything other than confusingly similar for consumers.

Indeed, as Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks contends, since both products are sold in the same supermarkets, and the fact that Innocent Drinks have already received enquiries from customers under the impression that they are the manufacturer of the vitamins, a discernable confusion clearly exists in the minds of customers.

The position of Innocent Drinks is further strengthened by possessing such a well-established brand, and also holding earlier trademark registrations in other classes. Most importantly, however, the branding of both products appears ostensibly similar (for instance the font and lower-case text) as the IP Kat also points out.

Could this dispute have been avoided?

The case demonstrates the danger of building a brand around a name without giving due consideration to intellectual property issues. In the case of registering trademarks for your business, it is certainly one of “less haste more speed”.  Mrs. Reid would have done well to consult a legal expert early on, before having any branding work carried out.  A cross-class search of the trademark registers would, for example, have shown that class 5, the category for which she applied for a trademark is in a category likely to conflict with class 3, which is the class in which Innocent Drinks trademark was held.  At that early stage she might have had less invested in the name, and been more likely to be dissuaded from continuing with her proposed name.