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Trouble in “Motherland” – Mothercare and Poundland in Trade Mark Dispute

March 2024

The UK baby care market was valued at an estimated £1.3 billion in 2020, so it is little wonder that Mothercare found itself ‘rattled’ at the prospect of Poundland allegedly encroaching on its IP rights.

Mothercare, a British retailer specialising in products for expectant mothers, babies, and young children, has long been a household name. With its origins dating back to the 1950s, the brand has built a reputation for quality and reliability in the realm of childcare products. Poundland, no less of a household name, is the well-known discount retailer famous for offering a broad variety of goods at a price point of around £1.

The conflict arose when Poundland began using the mark “Motherland” as the name to promote one of its stores selling a range of baby and childcare products. This move sparked a strong reaction from Mothercare, who promptly issued the retailer with a cease and desist letter demanding that Poundland stop using the mark “Motherland” in relation to its storefront and to not use it in relation to the sale of children’s clothing and childcare products.

At the heart of this dispute lies the concept of trade mark infringement and the likelihood of consumer confusion. Trade mark law in the UK, and around the world, aims to protect consumers from being misled or confused about the source of goods or services.

In this case, the matter was wrapped up before formal legal proceedings were initiated, because Mothercare issued a cease and desist letter to Poundland. Cease and desist letters typically contend that the use of an existing trade mark would create a likelihood of confusion and false association between two brands, leading consumers to believe that the products sold under that mark originate from, or are in some way endorsed or affiliated with, the original brand. This, in turn, could harm the original brand’s reputation they had built with their customers over the years.

It would have been interesting to see how the courts would dealt with the assessment of consumer confusion between Mothercare and Motherland. It could potentially be argued that the marks produce a different overall impression because the coinciding element “Mother” is descriptive of some of the goods offered. Having said that, Mothercare could have potentially produced evidence to show that it has acquired enhanced distinctive character through its longstanding use, which could have been used to argue that consumers are more likely to confuse the two brands.

Poundland, took action to mitigate the potential legal wrangling by re-branding their store to “Parentland”, but not before somewhat cheekily covering the letter “M” of their original signage to display “otherland” and issuing a statement that Mothercare “threw their toys out of the pram”. The pun, we are sure, was entirely intended.

Another aspect to be considered in this matter is the fact that Mothercare closed its UK brick and mortar stores in 2020 and now operates through a franchise business partnered with the high street chemist Boots.

We cannot know for sure the motivations behind Poundland using “Motherland” to promote its childcare business, and whether it intended to create a link with the Mothercare brand. However, a lesson that can be taken from this dispute is that if a brand has seemingly decreased its market visibility by closing its stores, it certainly does not mean the owner of that brand will be any less inclined to enforce its IP rights.

It is generally recommended to conduct trade mark clearance searches before using or seeking to register a new brand as a trade mark. Clearance searches are a useful way to highlight third party trade mark registrations that could potentially be used as a basis to bring infringement proceedings against the use of, or opposition proceedings against an application to register, a new brand as a trade mark. It can often be a lot more cost effective to identify, and seek to mitigate, potential risks before a new brand is launched then having to rebrand and abandon plans in response to a conflict with a third party.

 

 


This article was prepared by Trade Mark Attorney James Appleyard

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