Proctor & Gamble Settles Trademark Dispute with Mom and Pop Company

By Joseph Mandour on October 17, 2011

California Trademark LawLos Angeles – A Connecticut mother and businesswoman has succeeded in a trademark battle with the nation’s largest consumer products company and will retain the right to name her company after her daughter, Willa.

Christy Prunier had spent the last three years developing a line of skin care products targeted to adolescent females like her daughter, who gave her the inspiration to create the products. However, when the Willa product line which includes lip balms, cleansers, facial masks, and lotions was ready to hit the market, Prunier was met with objections from a rather well-known company. Proctor and Gamble was none too pleased that Prunier’s Willa brand was a bit too similar in name to its hair care line called Wella, and hit Prunier with a cease and desist letter.

The P&G cease and desist letter demanded that Prunier drop the Willa name and gave her two weeks to confirm that she was taking the necessary steps to comply with its demands or it would have to resort to “lengthy and expensive alternative measures.” After seeking the advice from a lawyer/family friend, Prunier decided not to back down to what she saw as trademark bullying and fought back by filing her own trademark infringement lawsuit, asking the court to rule that “Willa” does not infringe on the trademark for “Wella.”

As the world of intellectual property law has become more and more litigious, trademark bullying is quite common. The term is used to describe a scenario of a trademark owner, usually a large corporation with deep pockets, threatening expensive legal action to prevent others from using trademarks that might potentially take market share away from the trademark owner. A trademark bully resorts to making threats of legal action against another person when it is rather clear that the alleged infringer is operating within the bounds of trademark law. Trademark bullies do this because they know that the other person has little money and will back down or eventually go out of business.

The two parties were scheduled to go to trial last week but instead reached a settlement out of court. Prunier, who compared her struggle to that of David versus Goliath, will be able to continue using the Willa name for her products, however her attorney declined to provide additional details about her settlement. Because the trademarks appear to be very similar, it is very possible that some sort of license agreement was worked out in which P&G would own the trademark but Ms. Prunier is allowed favorable terms of use.

The Willa products are scheduled to be released in the coming months at U.S. retailers Target and J. Crew.

 

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