Trademark lawsuits are abundant in the fashion world as brands and retailers alike scramble to protect their intellectual property anyway they can. However, one of the latest cases to spring up in the UK is different from the most run of the mill counterfeit or trademark lawsuits. UK clothing brand Bentley, known for its sporting inspired lifestyle range, has become the unwilling target of Bentley Motors, who is seeking to cancel the former brand's registered trademark in the UK.
According to Christopher Lees, who acquired Bentley from its founder Gerald Bentley together with his father Bob in 1991, their clothing brand holds the registered 'Bentley' trademarks for clothing in the UK and has ever since the brand was founded in 1962. Bentley Motors, owned by Volkswagen, launched its own clothing collection in 2005, which has led to an ongoing dispute as to over the name and trademark for 'Bentley.' Now Bentley Motors has applied to have the sportswear inspired clothing brand's registered trademarks cancelled, as it seeks to expanded its clothing arm.
Bentley Motors infringes on Bentley Clothing's UK trademark
"Despite knowing that, and that my brand was active, Bentley Motors began to market clothing in a way that clearly infringed my trademarks," explained Lees to FashionUnited. He stressed that the motoring company went as far to attach ticketing to their apparel in the UK which seemed to claim ownership of the registered trademark, which has led to much confusion and doubt among companies as to who had ownership of the trademark. Although Lees has repeatedly tried to resolve Bentley Motors infringements, he admits that taking legal action would be too costly for a small company like Bentley Clothing.
Although the apparel brand used to be available in several hundred stockists across the country and was sold in Fenwicks, the brand has dwindled since its heydays of the 1990s and currently works with two stockists and operates two concession stands. "In 2005, as a means to sort their infringements amicably, we offered to license all our registered trademarks for their use exclusively for 75,000 pounds a year," added Lees. "[Bentley Motors] declined the proposal, continued to infringe our registered trademark on clothing, and said 'The proposal was unacceptable...as an unproven and unknown company, it was unrealistic for Mr Lees to consider that [Bentley Motors] would accept the proposal'."
According to Lees, Bentley Motors has strung him and Bentley Clothing alone for years, requesting proposals and then rejecting them, stating they "do not wish to encroach on any valid rights." At the same time, Bentley Motors has reportedly continued to infringe on Bentley Clothing trademark in the UK by channelling their clothing sales through eBay UK. In order to help differentiate the two brands, Lees applied to register the trademark 'Bentley 1962' for clothing in the UK. However, Bentley Motors opposed the application, arguing that trademark would led the public into believing 1962 was a special year in their history.
Bentley Motors attempts to cancel Bentley Clothing trademarks
"During the ongoing and contentious legal dispute against them, Bentley Motors approached and employed my long-standing lawyers (Marks & Clerk, the same Manchester office)," noted Lees, high lighting one of Bentley Motors tactics against them. "This led to, potentially, a serious conflict of interest and to my lawyers dropping me. Now, despite knowing that my clothing brand is trading, they are attempting to cancel my trademarks. My lawyers are very confident that will will win the case, but think Bentley Motors may simply be attempting to exhaust our finances. They are, gradually, killing-off my brand. Perhaps that is their intention."
The Lees family filed a defence to the Intellectual Property Office last month, stressing it owns the registered trademarks and continues to operate the brand. The official hearing was held on November 6, leaving both Bentley Clothing and Bentley Motors waiting to hear the courts decision, which is expected in March 2016.