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Swedish Purity in Absolut Vodka brand battle

Swedish upstart distillery Purity Vodka has taken beverage giant Absolut to court, in an attempt to straighten out a branding and marketing dispute.

Swedish Purity in Absolut Vodka brand battle
The Absolute Ice Bar. File photo: Tom Godber/Flickr

Stockholm district court will look into a claim by small Swedish distillery Purity Vodka's complaint that Absolut used the word 'purity' in a marketing campaign that the former claims infringes on the Purity trademark. 

The Dagens Industri business daily reported on Thursday that Absolut Vodka has used the term 'purity vodka' in a series of advertisements targeted at the US market. 

"We thought they should remove the word 'purity', it is our trademark, but they refused," chairman and Purity Vodka co-founder Göran Bernhoff told the paper. 

The complaint lead to Absolut Vodka countering the act by suing Purity Vodka both in Sweden and in the US.

"I'm surprised that they want to scare us, we are a small company," Bernhoff commented. "But we won't give up." 

Absolut Vodka has a long past of fiercely guarding its trademark. 

In 2010, the Swedish distillers sued British broadcasters at the Absolute Radio station. The dispute resulted in a confidential agreement between the two companies, allowing the radio station to keep its name. 

READ ALSO:  Sweden axes new word after Google intervenes

Last year, a hairdresser in Washington state in the US had to re-brand his salon after the vodka giant objected to his use of Absolute in the business name. His British colleagues appear to have stayed clear of disputes so far. A quick yellow pages search revealed on Thursday that there are still scores of Absolute Beauty salons, from Stirlingshire to Cornwall.

In Sweden, meanwhile, there are Absolute Car Towers and Absolute Catering, among seventeen other entries on phone and address directory website Hitta.se spanning cleaners to dentists.

Absolut is owned by French drinks group Pernod Ricard, which acquired the famed Swedish brand in 2008 when it purchased the Vin & Sprit (V&S) group from the Swedish state for 55 billion kronor ($8.88 billion).

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TRADEMARK

Star Wars director loses Sweden ‘droid battle’

Lucasfilm, the production company of Star Wars director George Lucas, has lost its bid to prevent a Swedish firm from registering the trademark "Brandroid" despite concerns it is too similar to other Lucasfilm "droid" trademarks.

Star Wars director loses Sweden 'droid battle'

Back in early 2011, Stockholm-based digital branding services company Ocean Observations filed forms with Sweden’s Patent and Trademark Registration Office (PRV) to register the name “Brandroid”.

“The name is a combination of the word ‘brand’ and ‘Android’,” Ocean Observations founder Sofia Svanteson told The Local.

She explained the name stemmed from a project the company had been working on for a client based in Japan aimed at designing a more user-friendly interface for devices used on the Android operating system.

A short time later, however, the company received a letter from Lucasfilm expressing concerns about the “Brandroid” trademark.

The Star Wars director’s company, which has several trademarks registered in Sweden – including “Droid”, “Droids”, and “Idroids” referring to “intelligent robots in the six films included in the Star Wars film series”, feared that the Ocean Observations trademark could cause confusion among consumers.

Lucasfilm claimed that its trademark was “included in its entirety in BRANDROID” and that “the trademarks are visually and aurally similar” and therefore interchangeable.

According to Swedish law, a trademark can’t be registered if “it is identical with or similar to an older brand trademark for goods or services of the same or a similar type” or if there is a risk they could be confused with one another.

However, when Svanteson received word of the complaint, she and her company simply dismissed it.

“We couldn’t imagine that the objection would be taken seriously so we ignored it,” she said.

“There are tons of names out there with the word ‘droid’ in them.”

The Swedish patent office agreed with Svanteson’s view, finding in a recently filed ruling that Lucasfilm’s complaint had no merit.

While PRV admitted that there were similarities between the class of goods and services for which the Lucasfilm and Ocean Observation trademarks had been registered, the agency found there was little chance that consumers would be confused by the two because “BRANDROID” is viewed as a made up word with no connection to the meaning that the term “DROID” has by itself.

Moreover, PRV disputed that “Brandroid” would really be pronounced in a manner that would emphasize “-droid”, arguing speakers would likely pronounce it “brand-roid”.

Svanteson at Ocean Observations said she was “happy” to hear that the patent agency had rejected Lucasfilm’s complaint, but emphasized that her company had never been concerned about it in the first place.

“I’m glad the matter is over, but we were never worried. It felt like the complaint was some sort of automatic response they send out any time someone registered a trademark anywhere with the word ‘droid’ in it,” she told The Local.

David Landes

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