A modified version of this post recently appeared in “The Trademark Lawyer”:-

https://trademarklawyermagazine.com/branding-when-opting-for-an-easy-life-is-anything-but-because-sir-stelios-asserts-his-rights/

Many of you may have recently become aware of the high profile “Brand” dispute – which was reported as having arisen between EasyGroup Ltd – and – a group of popular musicians performing as “Easy Life”.

Further (quite readable) details of the nature of that dispute are available at:-

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2023/oct/10/pop-group-easy-life-forced-to-change-band-name-amid-dispute-with-easyjet-owner

Very broadly, the circumstances were: An established music group (that had for several years performed under that name), found itself being legally challenged as to its right to do so by “easyGroup” (the relevant brand owner).

The outcome is reported to be that the band has decided to change its name – sadly, recognising that when faced with a well-funded brand owner that is pro-actively protecting its claimed brand rights – Then (in colloquial terms): “Might is Right” (in a David and Goliath fight).

Various people have been questioning me, with:

Why did easyGroup “bother” doing so – which none of the earnest commentaries upon the matter by trademark professionals seemed to explain – so the writer was asked to “do some digging”.

The writer, while working as a Business Law Solicitor for longer than “easyJet” has been in existence, has had periodic involvements with the relevant brand owner (and its assertion of its claimed rights) – A position likely exacerbated by the fact that easyGroup operates from premises located reasonably close to a branch office of the writer’s firm of solicitors.

(As an aside, If you do want to see what the writer considers a glaring example of “cheapening one’s brand”, I would invite you to view (say, on Google Maps) easyGroup’s Registered Office at 168 Fulham Rd, SW10 9PR. = It’s an absolute shocker!)

Part of the numerous problems caused for businesses by Sir Stelios Haji Ioannou’s company ‘vigorously’ asserting rights in brands containing the word “EASY” and using the colour orange – arise because I rather doubt any trademark professional would recommend building a brand incorporating a widely used descriptive English word; and the fact that easyJet did – probably reflects a lack of appropriate advice having been taken at the time of brand establishment.

For starters, one can see the word “EASY” used in a wide range of businesses (unconnected) with easyGroup (where the word’s use is almost certainly more appropriate to those businesses – than to any venture operating under branding licensed from easyGroup).

A review of company names (from the public record held by the Registrar of Companies – i.e. at Companies House) appears to reveal that while a small number of companies with “EASY” in their name – may well have been dissolved (or changed their name) after brand rights may have been asserted by easyGroup – a considerable number of other companies (over 9,000) appear to have been trading for many years, likely without challenge (or even an ability to challenge) their usage by easyGroup :-

https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/search/companies?q=easy

For a “momentary chuckle”, do please take time to review the “rather orange”:- https://easybranding.co.uk

It’s a personal view of the writer, but I wouldn’t place a lot of faith that a business venture that hasn’t got the gumption to create its own branding, but rather pays a third party hard cash to use their branding (already creating additional cost for their venture = as an impediment to success) – is likely to be a venture that attracts me, especially when it has likely got the subtlety of being coloured bright orange, and thereby reminds me of historic, desperately poor air travel experiences – with the airline (colloquially) known as “SLEAZYJET”.

easyGroup seems to use “Virgin”‘s business model – which brand with “newness” and “sexual” connotations of not yet being used, exploited, or processed – is much more appropriate for many product classes.

The question arises that when easyGroup expands the brand usage to (for example) trademark “easyCoffee”: Exactly how complicated are people finding the exercise of purchasing coffee from the competition?!

To understand how the current situation came about – One might want to start by examining easyGroup’s own stated history, which is available at the web link.:- https://easyhistory.info

In addition, trademark professionals will no doubt find the explanation of easyGroup’s business activities – and – the details of their claimed legal rights interesting, which are available via:- https://easy.com

However, in the writer’s opinion – it’s fair to observe that Sir Stelios has had (only) one (material) success in his business career (i.e. “easyJet”) – which was heavily backed by his family’s wealth – and seized the opportunity to be a “first mover” in the U.K. (as the EC – as it then was – opened up the European airline market in the mid-1990s – to allow the low-cost carrier business model).

One might churlishly say that we could all have had Donald Trump’s “early” business success – if we were backed by an extremely wealthy father, and found ourselves fortuitously buying into Manhattan property at the bottom of the market (i.e. a time when the City of New York was very economically troubled).

By 2000, EasyJet had “floated” on the London Stock Exchange, and although Sir Stelios (and his siblings) maintain (to this day) a reasonably valuable (if not especially substantial) shareholding in that public company, he has not been a Director since 2010, and has for many years been in a fractious relationship with the board of easyJet (about company policy and other issues) – using his separately owned brand licensing company/business, easyGroup – as a tool to pursue his acrimony.

Part of that fractious relationship appeared to turn on a dispute between Sir Stelios’s easyGroup and easyJet over brand usage – In the far from uncommon circumstances, that as business models evolve (over time) – uncertainty arises over who holds the relevant legal rights in circumstances that were not envisaged at the time that brand licences were settled (and especially when parties are not entirely acting at arms’ length – as the writer believes was the case).

(i.e. Consider Apple -v- Apple Corp. (‘The Beatles’) – As to the endless problems that have arisen over the years as to who has legal rights to use “Apple” re: music!)

The relevant dispute appears to have been settled in 2010 – on seemingly quite advantageous terms for Sir Stelios’ easyGroup (and as a result – I’d suggest: that easyJet is easyGroup’s “cash cow” from a licensing perspective).

None of the other usage can be worth anywhere near as much):-

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/oct/11/easyjet-settles-stelios-court-case#

The result is that Sir Stelios’ easyGroup is a remarkably financially successful company, as can be seen at:-

https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/04060333/filing-history

Its last publicly filed accounts (to September 2022) reveal gross profits of GBP £14.5 million, and a balance sheet (even after a GBP £10.5 million charitable donation) of GBP £30 million (of which GBP £7.5 million was cash = Quite enough to pay lawyers to defend one’s brand rights).

Some investigative work reveals that the band “Easy Life” didn’t make their life “easy” (shall we say) by publicising a forthcoming tour – with a poster that featured a picture of an easyJet plane (please see appended image)  – thereby creating “confusion” with the business which likely provides much of easyGroup’s income.

easyGroup appears to have dealt with the perceived infringement by pursuing a previous owner of:- https://www.easylife.co.uk (which the writer comments – wouldn’t really create any obvious confusion with easyGroup’s brand).

easyGroup apparently succeeded in their brand claim, and settled it by a full transfer of the EASYLIFE trademarks etc. to it.

easyGroup then asserted their newly owned rights against the relevant band!

A few short lessons (from this sorry affair):-

  • Generally, it’s just best not to antagonise a brand owner (= Don’t shout “you and whose army?” – when they genuinely have one) – and – Don’t ever deliberately create “confusion”.
  • If you must use “EASY” in your business branding – treat it as a standalone word (= don’t combine it with a business descriptor – e.g. “Easy Law”, not “easyLaw”); and
  • Best of all – Create a more memorable brand – in tandem with a professional advisor who can advise upon the potential pitfalls of your prospective choice.

Please feel free to discuss any aspect or  issues raised with the writer

Mr. Dan.Johnson@EquitableLaw.com

Founding Principal – and – Business Law Solicitor

+44 (0) 20 8780 3319 : London D.D. Landline Tel.

www.EquitableLaw.com – Solicitors For Business