Recruitment website easypeople.co.uk has vowed to do whatever it takes to keep its brand after lawyers representing charismatic entrepreneur Stelios Haji-loannou's easygroup demanded that it hand the name over.
Easypeople was founded in October 1999 by Tony and Maria Finn, but it wasn't until 19 June 2000, days after its official launch, that they received a letter from easygroup's lawyers demanding that they sign over the domain name, refrain from setting up any site prefixed by the word 'easy', and pay easygroup £500 costs.
Tony Finn told vnunet.com today: "I cannot understand why easygroup has had its lawyers single us out when there are hundreds of 'easy' businesses. I personally wrote to Stelios Haji-Ioannou before the launch and I am devastated at their timing coming as it does after we have spent thousands on marketing easypeople. I've told our lawyers to do whatever it takes to keep our business."
Easygroup, which owns brands such as easyjet, easyeverything and easymoney, denies that it has singled out the Finns, saying the case is just one of 60 launched since it set up its intellectual property unit in March this year. The company has instructed two law firms, Harbottle and Lewis, and Norton Rose, to pursue "those companies that appear to be attempting to profiteer from our brand".
An easygroup spokesman said its lawyers had identified six categories of companies using the prefix 'easy', ranging from "blackmailers" to "legitimate businesses like [internet service provider] Easynet".
He said the Finns fall somewhere in the middle, but added that the easypeople website is a clear case of passing off because it had used easygroup's corporate colours and logo, and the Finns had faxed easygroup asking it to invest in their site.
"The use of the 'easy' corporate colours and logo on your website together with the various faxes to our client is a clear indication of your bad faith," said easygroup's lawyers in a letter to Easypeople.
Tony Finn refutes the suggestion that his sites copied easygroup's corporate colours and logo, saying the orange he has always used is a redder shade than the colour used by easygroup and that the two logos use different typefaces. The easypeople website has since been changed to green - a move unconnected with the legal action, according to Finn.
Legal experts say easygroup will find it difficult to win any court case arising from the dispute.
Dai Davis, a consultant at IT lawyers Nabarro Nathanson, said: "It is possible to have a monopoly of a prefix or a suffix if a company has a strong enough association with the word. But it is very difficult with a common adjective like 'easy', especially given the prior existence of another firm, namely Easynet."
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