By Andrew George
Businesses will now be able to identify their products as originating in Iceland. (Supplied: C.Gauna)
Iceland, the Nordic country and tourism hotspot, has been successful in winning back the right to use its own name.
- The UK-based supermarket took out a trademark for the use of the word “Iceland” across the EU
- The trademark has prevented the country from identifying their products as originating in Iceland
- The supermarket at one point tried to block the country’s tourism campaign Inspired by Iceland
The European Union Intellectual Property Office has ruled that UK-based supermarket chain Iceland Food Ltd could not register a trademark for the sole use of the word “Iceland” within the European Union.
In 2014 the supermarket group secured a trademark for the word “Iceland” throughout the EU and triggered a bitter five-year dispute with Reykjavik that has just been settled.
The Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs and trade and tourism body Promote Iceland filed a declaration arguing the “country’s businesses are unable to promote themselves across Europe in association with their place of origin — a place of which we are rightly proud and enjoys a very positive national branding”.
The Government also argued “Iceland is widely received as a geographical name and should have never been approved for trademark in the first place”.
Iceland the supermarket has more than 800 stores around the world. (Supplied: Wikimedia Commons)
The intellectual property office agreed and invalidated the supermarket’s trademark entirely, noting that “it has been adequately shown that consumers in EU countries know that Iceland is a country in Europe and also that the country has historical and economic ties to EU countries, in addition to geographic proximity”.
It could be the end of what has been an icy stand-off that has lasted nearly half a century.
The supermarket once tried to block a tourism campaign from the island nation. (Reuters: Marco Nescher)
The company was established in 1970 and has built itself into a recognisable brand across the UK, employing 23,000 staff in more than 800 stores.
The supermarket chain specialises in frozen food, including seafood.
Unfortunately, Iceland the country is also partial to, amongst other things, exporting and selling frozen fish products across Europe.
The trademark was preventing the nation’s businesses from identifying their products as being Icelandic or originating in Iceland.
Supermarket ‘never intended to hurt country’s brand’
Inspired by Iceland IG: “To stand out is to be known for something outstanding! This beautiful, outstanding, lighthouse is found at Svörtuloft, a formation of dark and black lava cliffs on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Luckily, as seen on the picture, there is also a spectacular viewing panel that allows you to truly enjoy the mysterious surrounding area!”
In 2016, Malcolm Walker, the supermarket’s founder and chief executive, claimed that confusion between the two was unlikely.
“We have no desire whatsoever to stand in the way of Iceland the country making use of their own name to promote their own products, so long as it does not conflict or cause confusion with our own business,” he said at the time.
“I am sure there is ample scope for an agreement that will allow both parties to continue to live and work amicably alongside each other.”
Mr Walker and other high-level executives from Iceland (the supermarket), took an emergency delegation to Iceland (the country), where they were met with a cold shoulder.
The supermarket says it never got in the way of Iceland promoting itself, though did acknowledge that at one point it blocked, via legal means, the registering of the slogan “Inspired by Iceland”, but said it did not realise that it had come from the country’s tourism board.
Iceland Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson said he welcomed the ruling, but was not surprised by it.
“It defies common sense that a foreign company can stake a claim to the name of a sovereign nation as was done [in this case],” he remarked.
“What we’re talking about here is a milestone victory in a matter of real importance for Icelandic exporters.
“Our country is known for its purity and its sustainability, hence the value of indicating the origin of Icelandic products.”
Iceland Foods Ltd released a statement saying it regretted the decision and was planning to appeal.