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Trademark Survival: Bear Grylls v Bear Knifes

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A dispute over naming rights recently arose between a company representing the popular TV adventurer Bear Grylls and Bear Blades, a small knife manufacturer in Devon.

It appears that lawyers for Bear Grylls Ventures were concerned about the potential for Bear Blades to piggy-back off the goodwill currently generated by Mr Grylls in the adventure goods market.

In particular, the firm was worried about the application to register the logo, ‘Bear. Blades.Steel.Strength.Utility’.

Lawyers for Bear Grylls Ventures sought to have the newly formed company’s website changed so as to avoid customer confusion.

Trademark Twitter Exchange

This case attracted widespread public attention after Bear Blades contacted Bear Grylls via Twitter, expressing its anger at the fact that it was being forced to rebrand. It transpired that the adventurer was unaware of the on-going legal issue between the parties and responded directly to the manufacturer stating that he would ‘look into’ the issue.

Prior to this, the founder of the Bear Blades, Owen Senior, had stated that he did not intend to contest the charge, saying that he had neither the ‘inclination or energy’ to fight faceless lawyers. In fact, given the low revenue generated by Bear Blades and the fact that it mainly operates as a hobby business, it is unlikely that the company would have had the financial resources to contest the charge if they were minded to do so.

This illustrates the importance of bargaining power in cases of this nature, as it clearly showed the potential for Bear Grylls Ventures to remove Bear Blades from the relevant market before it had a chance to establish a recognisable brand name. However, it also shows how social media campaigns can shift the balance slightly in favour of smaller businesses.

Implications for protecting IP rights

While Bear Grylls has achieved international recognition it is questionable whether such a generic word like ‘Bear’ could be sufficiently distinctive in order to warrant a trademark. In the adventure goods business the word is likely to be relatively common and therefore it is probable that Bear Blades would have a strong defence if they had decided to contest the matter legally.

Nevertheless this case once again highlights the importance of protecting brand names in modern day business and the extent to which companies will go to protect their brand recognition.

The advent of social media and advanced search engines make it easier to detect any potential breaches of trademark laws. However, the existence of social media is a double edged blade for large brand owners as this case aptly demonstrates - particularly where businesses are keen to protect their public image and avoid being seen as throwing their weight around.

For specialist advice regarding the protection of trademarks or other intellectual property rights contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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