Wanted: Protector of the (easy) faith

Easy peasy IP squeezy


easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou shows few signs of abandoning his megalomaniacal campaign to own all things prefixed "easy".

In the FT last Wednesday, the hyperactive entrepreneur advertised for a managing director to run easyGroup IP (eGIP), his private company. The job is worth between £120K and £150K a year, and the candidate should have a legal qualification, 10 to 15 years work experience, preferably in licensing and franchising, and experience of managing a P&L.

The successful candidate will own and manage the easy brand through licensing and royalty agreements – there are currently 14 easy branded businesses. Plenty more, no doubt, are coming downstream.

The other main role of eGIP is to "protect the 'easy' brand by companies who aim to mislead the public by inferring [sic] that they are members of easyGroup".

This suggests that Stelios's campaign to wrest domain names with "easy" in them will continue at full pelt.

In 2000, easyGroup suffered a legal setback when the World Intellectual Property Organisation ruled that it was not entitled to domain names with the word "easy". But since then it has threatened numerous lawsuits against purported "brand thieves". Undoubtedly, many small businesses will have caved in to demands to hand over their "easy" names. This is cheaper, after all, than slugging it out in courts.

easyGroup has a mixed track record in cases that have come to court - in 2001, it won easyrealestate and, in 2003, lassoed easycarfinance, after a successful day in the English High Court. But since then it has been less backed away from or lost lawsuits against easypizza.co.uk, easyart.com and easyhotels.ch.

The problem for Stelios is that "easy" is well, so, common. And while he may claw back IP rights from so-called brand thieves, his legal blunderbuss leaves him at risk of being branded a "rich bully". Repeated enough times, and Stelios - a household name in the UK (at least his first name is) - could end up losing his personal brand as the cuddly face of British entrepreneurialism.

If you are a small business, operating under the name "Easy-", or thinking about doing this, take heed of this advice, penned by Reg colleague Kieren McCarthy in 2003.

If you copy the well-known trademark orange, cuddly font and lowercase "e" that has become so well known through EasyJet and EasyCar, you deserve to have Mr Haji-Iannou's undoubted legal might directed your way.

If, however, you register an internet domain containing the word "easy" meaning "not needing much work or effort; free from pain, care or anxiety", you have every reason to believe the law will stand by you and declare it as your legitimate property. That is, if you can afford the £50,000 it will cost to get you there. Stelios can.

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