Protecting Brand Names - BMW Comes Down Hard on Small Businessman

Companies that spend millions on establishing their brands in the public mind have the comfort of knowing that the law will protect their investments. In a case on point, vehicle manufacturer BMW came down hard on a small businessman who set up a company which featured those three letters in its name.

After BMW issued passing off and trade mark infringement proceedings against him, the businessman pointed out that his initials are BMW and that his company has nothing to do with the automotive industry. Operating as a one-man band, he did not advertise the services he provided through the company and only used the company name when invoicing a single client.

Faced with BMW's claims, he agreed to change the company's name by deleting the capital letter 'M' from its title. BMW had no further objection to the company's name, but nevertheless continued with the proceedings on the basis that there was, arising from his past conduct, a risk that he might seek to register another company incorporating the BMW acronym.

In granting BMW summary judgment on both claims, the High Court found that the company's original name created a likelihood of confusion amongst those consulting the register of companies, a significant proportion of whom might have assumed that the company was in some way connected to BMW. The ruling opened the way for BMW to seek an injunction restraining the businessman from making further offending use of the acronym.