Easygroup Ltd (EasyGroup) has long been known for fiercely protecting and asserting its trade mark rights. Indeed, it boasts ownership of more than 1000 registered trade marks on its website, with CEO Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou recently stating EasyGroup has a legal budget of £4 million per year to “take action against brand thieves, big and small”.

Its registered trade marks commonly comprise “easy” as a prefix followed by a noun relating to the relevant product or service. This ranges from the well-known “easyJet” to the less well-known “easyDogwalker” and “easyStorage”. As well as using the “easy” brand in relation to a range of different sectors, a key part of its strategy is to expand by licensing out the “easy” brand. So, how have the English courts viewed its attempts to secure a broad monopoly on use of the sign “easy”?

Litigation proceedings: taking off?

It is clear from recent English court filings that EasyGroup, if anything, has ramped up brand enforcement in 2023. So far, EasyGroup has filed fourteen trade mark lawsuits in England, in comparison to the two actions it filed in 2022.

Recent claims have been filed against a broad a range of ventures, both large and small, including, the hotel chain Premier Inn, indie band Easy Life, online auction website easyliveAuction, and office space broker Nuceli.

Easy wins?

EasyGroup has seen success in some cases; however, has not fared as well in others, with the High Court carefully considering the merits of each claim, including the validity of the trade marks relied upon by Easy Group. A couple of decisions illustrate situations where EasyGroup has not done so well, where defendants have robustly defended their position.

In the case involving easyliveAuction (and others), EasyGroup brought a claim against easyliveAuction relying on eight of its “easy” trade mark registrations. Whilst EasyGroup did prove registered trade mark infringement (on the basis that the defendants’ use took unfair advantage), it failed to prove other aspects of its registered trade mark infringement claim (that there was a likelihood of confusion) and did not prove passing off. The winning party is entitled to request recovery of its costs. Tellingly, when it came to costs recovery, the judge favoured easyliveAuction, noting “This is litigation in which the defendant[s] can, in some real sense, be regarded as the winner” and noting that litigation could have been avoided if EasyGroup had properly engaged with the settlement process.

In a second case, EasyGroup took issue with office space broker Nuclei (and others). The defendants had been using the sign EASYOFFICES for some time. EasyGroup issued High Court proceedings which Nuclei resisted, seeking to revoke the relevant EasyGroup trade marks on the basis of non-use and bad faith. The trade mark infringement claim was defeated, with several of the EasyGroup trade marks being invalidated. Further, EasyGroup’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was rejected.

EasyGroup has had greater success in other cases, particularly when pursuing smaller businesses who in a number of cases have taken the decision to rebrand prior to proceedings being issued.

Where next?

The English High Court has not always agreed with Sir Stelios as to what constitutes a “brand thief”, which is important to keep in mind lest one is swayed by EasyGroup’s public proclamations both in the media and on its website page entitled “brand thieves”, dedicated to listing its success in trade mark litigation (but, unsurprisingly, doesn’t mention its losses). Still, Sir Stelios seems undeterred by the losses, recently saying in the case regarding Easy Life, “Even if they were a small business, which they are not, easyGroup Ltd has to take legal action now to stop them from growing their deceit. Small brand thieves left unchallenged become big brand thieves and a major source of confusion for the consumer. It therefore seems highly unlikely that EasyGroup will be changing its litigation strategy any time soon.

If you have concerns about a trade marks dispute or trade marks protection, please contact Will Sander.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.