June 18, 2014

IKEA: Self-Assembly Trademark Bully?

by Guest Blogger


Anyone that has assembled a piece of IKEA furniture has probably called the company a few names. I know I have. Now, some people are calling IKEA by another name - trademark bully.

Recently, Bill wrote about trademark bullying. As a refresher, Bill described trademark bullying as "the use of overly aggressive tactics in trademark enforcement or the use of superior resources to assert spurious trademark infringement claims against a smaller business." He noted that the term is " increasingly being used to describe any attempt by a large company to enforce trademark rights against a smaller one."

IKEA has been labeled with the moniker after sending a cease-and-desist letter to ikeahackers.net, a blog that provides tips for ways to repurpose or reinvent popular IKEA products. The letter alleged trademark infringement and requested that the rights to ikeahackers.net be transferred to IKEA.

The creator of the site, a blogger using the pseudonym Jules Yap, posted that she "was crushed" by the letter. She further stated that the parties had reached a resolution that would allow her to keep the name IKEAhackers so long as she does not make any money from advertising on the site. Yap indicated that she was not thrilled with the outcome and went on to post the common reframes in possible trademark bullying scenarios that: "I am a person, not a corporation"; and "I don't have deep enough pockets to fight a mammoth company in court."

As you might expect, this led to cries that IKEA is a trademark bully. In an email to The Washington Post, IKEA provided this statement:

We very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do. At the same time we have a great responsibility for our customers, they should always be able to trust the IKEA brand. High quality and good service are essential elements of this. Another important aspect is that the many people want to know what really is connected to IKEA â and what is not.

For that reason the IKEA name and brand must be used correctly. When other companies use the IKEA name for economic gain, it creates confusion and rights are lost.

Therefore we are happy for the agreement between Inter IKEA Systems and IKEA Hackers. IKEA Hackers may continue as a fan-based blog/webpage without commercial elements, just like it started some years ago.

This situation illustrates the difficulty (highlighted in Bill's post) in identifying whether a large company is being a "trademark bully" or simply seeking to protect its intellectual property when it asserts its trademark rights. The debate rages on.

As for me, I will try not to let my past experiences trying to assemble IKEA products influence my opinion. As the Buddhists say, "If a seed of lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly."

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