Car rental company brands crash in passing off case

21st April 2015

After working so hard to build your business brand it is important that you protect it effectively. This has been confirmed in a recent case when in the field of car rental services, the high court found Europcar’s “E” logo infringed Enterprise’s “E” trademark in the field of car rental services.

The two well-known car rental companies both use a letter “e” in their logos. Although both are styled differently and would not appear to be similar, the court held that there was a likelihood of confusion among the relevant public, including foreign nationals visiting the UK.

The court would likely have reached a different conclusion if the trademark and the alleged infringing mark were not in the same field of business activity. It is also noteworthy that a claim for passing off against Europcar was upheld, in that they did not need a trademark to prevent Europcar from using the E logo.

The protection of a business brand is not just relevant to multinational car hire companies but also to small and medium businesses.  Martin de Ridder, solicitor in the dispute resolution team at Ansons Solicitors in Staffordshire, explains what business’ need to be aware of in relation to branding, passing off and trademark law.

What is a brand?

A strong brand helps distinguish a business’ products from its competitors’, adds value to the business by improving consumer awareness and loyalty. It can be made up of many elements, including:

  • a logo. For example, Nike swish;
  • a word, such as Kodak;
  • a colour. For example, Virgin red;
  • a shape, like the Coca-Cola bottle;
  • a strap line or jingle. For instance, “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange”;
  • a domain name, such as; and
  • a person’s name. For example, David Beckham.

A strong brand can be a very valuable commercial asset. According to the Interbrand survey Best Global Brands 2014, the top three global brands by value were:

  • Apple, worth $118,863 million;
  • Google, worth $107,439 million; and
  • Coca-Cola, worth $81,563 million.

Brands can also be lost or devalued if they are not adequately protected, or even destroyed by a single remark. Gerald Ratner, CEO of the jewellery group Ratners, famously described some of his own products as “total crap”. An estimated £500 million was wiped off the value of the group and it had to be rebranded as the Signet Group.

These cases show just how important it is to ensure your business brand is protected. If you need further legal advice, contact Martin de Ridder on 01543 431 186 or email Ansons Solicitors has offices in Cannock and Lichfield, Staffordshire.