Iceland vs Iceland: Start-ups must protect brands

By Matt Atherton contact

- Last updated on GMT

Iceland Foods's row with the Iceland government showed firms must do more to protect their brands (Danrak)
Iceland Foods's row with the Iceland government showed firms must do more to protect their brands (Danrak)
Food and drink start-up businesses must use distinctive names and logos to protect their branding more effectively, urged Roythornes solicitor Lizzie Walters, after Iceland Foods’s row with the Icelandic government threatened to reach boiling point.

Protecting the brand is as much a legal issue as it is marketing, Walters told The “cold war”​ over the ‘Iceland’ trademark highlighted the legal problems that can arise without effective branding protection, she said.

“This case highlights the need for food businesses to take the issue of branding seriously,” ​Walters said. “This is particularly the case with start-ups. Products that are produced by a designated method or have a unique recipe, can patent their process or recipe.

‘Name, typeface or pack format’

“But other brands must fall back on trademarking assets such as their name, typeface or pack format. New brands should seek names that are as singular as possible and logos and pack formats that are distinctive.”

The Icelandic government launched legal action​ against Iceland Foods last month (November 24). It claimed Icelandic businesses were “caused harm”​ as they couldn’t promote themselves with their place of origin.

But, nobody believed that everything sold by Iceland Foods came from the country Iceland, claimed Walters.

Nobody knew that Iceland (Foods) would become a multi-million pound business when its first store opened, which is where the problem lay, Walters said. She added that branding became a business’s most valuable asset as it grew.

Iceland vs Iceland

Start-up food and drink firms must ensure their legal teams were as switched on as their marketing teams, urged Walters, to avoid a similar ‘Iceland vs Iceland’ row down the line.

“Consult a trademark lawyer, and then protect as many of your brand’s assets as possible,”​ she advised. “Whilst this may be an upfront expense, it will pay for itself in the long-term.”

Meanwhile, Iceland Foods claimed the Icelandic government had “no interest”​ in reaching a compromise over use of the word ‘Iceland’. The retailer held failed talks​ with the government last week (December 2).

Food and drink previous branding rows

  • 2016: Nestlé failed to trademark the shape of KitKat chocolate bar after Cadbury challenge
  • 2014: Aldi banned from selling ‘Saucy Salmon Fillets’ after injunction bid from The Saucy Fish Co.
  • 2013: Cadbury failed to trademark its colour purple, after Nestlé challenge
  • 2013: Tesco failed to trademark the word ‘Clubcard’
  • 2009: Diageo sued Sainsbury after it ‘copied’ its Pimm’s brand

Related topics: Regulation, Food Labelling

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