Cold war becomes hot - Battle is joined in Iceland v Iceland

After months of volcanic rumblings, reminiscent perhaps of Mount Eyjafjallajökull,  the Government of Iceland has announced that it has commenced proceedings in the European Union Intellectual Property Office against British retailer Iceland Foods in connection with the retailer's Community Trade Mark for the word "Iceland."

However, despite some misleading reports in the media, the dispute is not centred around whether the country or the supermarket has the greater claim to use the name, but rather it's an attempt by the government in Reykjavaik to protect the interests of Icelandic businesses who have found themselves "frozen out" of using the name Iceland (or permutations thereof) as part of their trading names across the EU because of what it says has been the British company's "aggressive" approach to enforcing its Intellectual Property rights, and actively preventing Icelandic businesses from securing registrations which include a reference to their place of origin.

The Icelandic government has no real interest in stopping the supermarket from using the name, but is seeking from the Court a ruling that will cancel what it feels are the "broad" and "ambiguous" monopoly rights presently afforded to the supermarket by its registered mark, and allow greater freedom for its domestic businesses to use trading names across Europe which indicate their country of origin.

The north-Atlantic nation is of course best known for its exports of fish and seafood, but increasingly finds itself a popular destination for tourism, and has a growing range of diverse exports, from cultural phenomena such as singer Björk and band Sigur Rós (who have cameo'd in the Simpsons and provided music for Game of Thrones) to Icelandic beers which have been finding a market with connoisseurs in the UK, and even its own take on the "Scandi-noir" style of thriller with recent TV crime show "Trapped."

The Supermarket chain, which is owned by founder and entrepreneur Malcolm Walker and South African investment company Brait denies that it has acted in any way unfairly. The company says that contrary to assertions made by the Icelandic government, they have received no recent approaches aimed at resolving the matter amicably, and that it would "vigorously defend" its rights whenever there is a risk of confusion between the business and the country, but denied that there was any real issue in this regard.

The case will now proceed in the EUIPO.  Sit down with a party platter of king prawn rings and await the result.

Posted on: 25/11/2016

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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