Belfast Telegraph

Supermarket Iceland to send bosses to Reykjavik in bid to resolve trademark row

Iceland Foods is urgently seeking a meeting with Iceland's foreign ministry in order to lay out
Iceland Foods is urgently seeking a meeting with Iceland's foreign ministry in order to lay out "constructive proposals" that could help solve the dispute

Supermarket Iceland is set to send a "high-level delegation" to Reykjavik this week in hopes of thawing relations with the Icelandic government after the country launched legal action against the chain over the use of its name.

Iceland Foods says is urgently seeking a meeting with Iceland's foreign ministry in order to lay out "constructive proposals" that could help solve the dispute and resume a "peaceful coexistence" that it says prevailed for nearly half a century.

It comes after the Nordic nation confirmed last week that it has mounted a legal challenge against the supermarket at the European Union Intellectual Property Office with the goal of ''ensuring the right of Icelandic companies to use the word 'Iceland' in relation to their goods and services''.

Iceland claims that the supermarket has ''aggressively pursued'' and won multiple cases against Icelandic companies which use the word Iceland as part of their trademark, ''even in cases when the products and services do not compete''.

The supermarket's founder and chief Malcolm Walker said: "A high-level delegation from Iceland (the company) is preparing to fly to Reykjavik this week to begin negotiations, and we very much hope for a positive response and an early resolution of this issue."

While the company's legal director will be making the trip, a media spokesman for Iceland said Mr Walker will not be part of the delegation.

The chief executive added: "We registered Iceland as our company name in 1970 and we have coexisted with the country called Iceland very happily ever since. They have made no contact with us to raise any concerns about trademark issues since 2012."

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"We have no desire whatsoever to stand in the way of Iceland (the country) making use of their own name to promote their own products, so long as it does not conflict or cause confusion with our own business.

"I am sure that there is ample scope for an agreement that will allow both parties to continue to live and work amicably alongside each other."

Supermarket Iceland currently holds a Europe-wide trademark registration for the word, and Iceland the nation is seeking to invalidate the registration on the basis that it is ''exceptionally broad and ambiguous in definition, often rendering the country's firms unable to describe their products as Icelandic''.

In the circular released last week, the government said: ''The government of Iceland is concerned that our country's businesses are unable to promote themselves across Europe in association with their place of origin - a place of which we are rightly proud and enjoys a very positive national branding."

The Nordic government said the "untenable situation" has especially harmed its small and growing businesses.

It claimed that it has made multiple efforts to negotiate with Iceland Foods but bemoaned the supermarket's ''unrealistic and unacceptable'' demands, leaving it with no choice but to proceed with legal action.

The relationship between the supermarket and the Nordic nation has a long history.

Collapsed Icelandic retail conglomerate Baugur held a controlling stake in the grocer until its collapse in 2009. The stake then fell into the hands of Icelandic banks Landsbanki and Glitnir, which was later acquired as part of a management buy-out led by Mr Walker.

Iceland Foods says it has continued to have a "warm relationship" with the country following the buy-out, through export sales, the ownership of three Iceland stores across the country, and sponsorship of the country's national football team in this year's European championships.

The company, which has it headquarters on Deeside, has over 800 stores across the UK and employs more than 23,000 staff.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the government said it "aims to find an acceptable solution for the use of the term 'Iceland'.

"We would welcome an agreement with Iceland Foods to withdraw its exclusive trademark of the word mark 'Iceland'. Iceland Foods has since 2012 taken legal action against multiple companies from Iceland that use our country's name to describe themselves.

"The government of Iceland seeks to ensure that businesses and products from Iceland can be proud of our home and can reference their country of origin."