A number of news outlets are reporting on Waterstones’ decision not to use its name, branding and trade marks in three new stores opened on local high streets.
Ownership of a trademark does not compel a owner to use that trademark on all their goods and services. The trader is free to choose whether they wish to use the mark or not, but they need to keep in mind that if they don’t use the mark over a five year period then the trademark could be revoked for non-use.
The public concern is more directed at the misrepresentation to the public that occurs from not explicitly making the connection with the chain retailer clear. Some members of the public feel cheated when it turns out that money they were spending in what they thought was a local business wasn’t remaining in the local community.
However, the tactic is nothing new and has been used in other circumstances. People may well remember the Student Loans Company became embroiled in a dispute after sending letters out in the name of Smith Lawson & Company, purporting to be a debt recovery company acting on their behalf.
In that instance the Office of Fair Trading intervened but only asked the Student Loans Company to change some of the wording in the letters which it felt were deliberately misleading (such as “We are instructed by our client”). In the case of the Waterstones shops, the first store was launched as “a quintessentially local bookshop”, but it seems unlikely that there is any legal misrepresentation which needs to be addressed.
Waterstones, the UK’s leading bookshop chain, is on the defensive after going incognito at some of its newer stores.
The firm has opened three shops that do not feature its distinctive branding, prompting accusations of deception.
But Waterstones’ chief executive, James Daunt, told the BBC the move was justified, saying he wanted the shops to have a more independent feel.