Hansel Henson is a leading London Intellectual Property and Media law firm of solicitors.
We are expert in dealing with branding, copyright, trade mark and domain name disputes. Our clients are varied, ranging from major global brands to fast growing start-up businesses.
We have considerable experience in dealing with cases involving easyGroup Limited ("easyGroup") and other companies founded by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
After two decades of sending hundreds of cease and desist letters but rarely suing, during the course of 2023 there has been a splurge of trade mark infringement claims issued by easyGroup in the High Court in London. People sued have been as varied as the indie band Easy Life, Volkswagen, IATA (“easypay”), Tefal/ Moulinex (“easyfry” “easycook” plus many other easy+cooking aids), Premier Inn (“Rest easy" tagline) and several more in 2023.
No easy monopoly!
Following the great success of easyJet, Sir Stelios sought to extend his easy brand to other businesses. His own businesses, mostly launched at the beginning of this century, such as easyEverything, easyDorm, easyCruise and easyCinema, are long forgotten flops. Nothing anywhere near matched the success of easyJet. In more recent years Sir Stelios has switched to a "royalty business model", where having identified a successful business already trading under a name beginning with “easy”, he will engage with them through his lawyers, offering to withdraw from litigation if the target in question agrees to a sale and licence-back arrangement. Thus, companies such as Easy Networks, King & McGaw (the former Easyart), Easy Cleaning and Easylife have been sued in the High Court before agreeing to assign their IP rights to easyGroup and license back the name. It is a novel, if expensive, way of pursuing a passion to own the word "easy".
The truth is that nobody has - nor ever can - have a monopoly in the plain word “easy” in relation to all types of goods and services. The term “Easy Chair” has been part of the English language since the 18th Century and there are many examples of “easy” goods and services that pre-date easyJet. So commonplace is such use that the form on the UK IPO's website for registering a new trade mark even gives an example company name of "Easy Ironing Limited" - and you would be hard pressed to disagree with the UK's trade mark registry! We think that Sir Stelios's efforts to get a monopoly are bound to fail. There is also the suspicion that he is not implementing his royalty business model in a particularly easy way (doing business with someone who has sued you does not seem appealing). However, until he retires, he remains a danger to anyone who trades with "easy" (or "easi", "ezee" or any other similar word) at the start of their name.
Twenty years ago our senior partner David Hansel, a recognised trade mark law expert, acted for Easyart in its successful defence of High Court proceedings brought by easyGroup. He has more recently helped EasyPizza, Easyart, Easynet and Easy Live Auction defend themselves when sued by easyGroup. That is just a small selection - David has been instructed by around 30 other "easy" companies over the last 20 years - see for instance, story here.
The most recent case easyGroup has had in court has been the Court of Appeal dismissing of its failed appeals in EasyOffices. In another recent case, our client, Easy Live Auction, was declared the "winners" and easyGroup forced to pay a proportion of Easy Live Auction’s costs. See here: https://www.11southsquare.com/notable-cases/easygroup-limited-easy-live-services-limited-2022-ewhc-3327-ch/. In April 2023, easyGroup was granted leave to appeal certain aspects of the judgment by the Court of Appeal, and this will be heard in December 2023.
Thinking of using the word easy?
If you are thinking of using the word “easy” in relation to a business or product name, then you should think twice. Firstly, easyGroup may well write to you threatening trade mark infringement! Secondly, easyJet is well known and distinctive, and no business should seek to mimic the distinctive easyJet get-up of orange and white, lower case ‘e’ and capitalised ‘J’ and Cooper Black font. Thirdly, because the word “easy” is so descriptive and very commonly used, you may find it will take a long time for it to become distinctive - consider opting for something less commonplace and descriptive for your business.
Sir Stelios has invested huge sums in his easyGroup project. If you really must use ‘easy’ but want to reduce the chances of serious problems with easyGroup, avoid the elements included in their brand manual.
Trade mark law is complicated, and we are not going to explain it all here. However, the UK IPO has some excellent resources on its website. As with any branding advice, you are best advised to see a good solicitor or trade mark attorney who will run trade mark availability searches for you so that you can shakedown your branding.
Received a letter?
You may be one of the hundreds of businesses who have received a letter alleging trade mark infringement and passing off from one of the firms of solicitors representing easyGroup and/ or easyJet. easyGroup has used a large number of law firms over the years but currently their preferred firms appear to be, in London, Stephenson Harwood, Edwin Coe, Kilburn & Strode, Potter Clarkson, and as a result of Brexit, in Dublin (covering the EU) William Fry and Simmons & Simmons.
If you receive such a letter from easyGroup's solicitors accusing you of trade mark infringement and passing off
We may be able to advise you, although we will need to run a conflict check and to charge you for our advice. We also accept instructions from other law firms who wish to maintain the relationship with their client but wish to have our expert advice.
Whilst nobody can have a total trade mark monopoly on the word easy, EasyJet and easyGroup do have rights that they are entitled to defend. There are certainly circumstances where they are entitled to stop those who misappropriate their valuable goodwill and confuse the public. If you are looking to rip off easyJet or easyGroup branding, then please do not contact us. Instead read the easyRealestate case and think again!
If you are thinking of engaging us then please contact David Hansel.