Woolworths faces trademark battle
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday March 21, 2011
WOOLWORTHS is being taken to court for the use of the phrase Honest to Goodness in its latest advertising campaign starring cooking doyenne Margaret Fulton.An independent organic food supplier is alleging the supermarket chain's latest marketing push launched a fortnight ago infringes its intellectual property.A hearing between Sydney organic and natural food trader Organic Marketing Australia, which trades as Honest to Goodness, and Woolworths is set down for a hearing in the Sydney Federal Court tomorrow.The family-owned Honest to Goodness was started by Matt Ward and his wife, initially in their family home, eight years ago. The retailer, wholesaler and online trader now employs about 30 staff.Mr Ward sent a letter to the Woolworths board raising his objections to the use of the Honest to Goodness phrase, alleging it infringed on his trademark. This was followed up by a letter from his solicitor, he said, adding that while Woolworths acknowledged receipt of the letter, it had not officially responded."I've been racking my brain as to why they're doing this. I can't get my head around it. They're either incompetent and didn't do an IP search, or they're arrogant and they're trying to steamroll us."Our business isn't huge but we're not insignificant. I have taken this very personally."Woolworths is "polar opposites" of his business, which is proudly independent and all organic, he said, adding that its latest campaign had been devastating to him. Mr Ward is limbering up for what is expected to be an expensive legal battle. "This is devastating to us, and the last thing we need on our plate."Woolworths strongly denies the allegations. It maintains that the use of the term Honest to Goodness is a commonly used one which can be used freely. "The phrase Honest to Goodness describes something which is essentially simple and genuine, and in the context of Margaret Fulton's family meals, also nutritious. We will continue to work with the parties involved to resolve this matter," a company spokeswoman said.However, an intellectual property lawyer, Trevor Choy, of Choy Lawyers, who is not involved in the case, said Mr Ward has a strong case against Woolworths. "I think someone within Woolworths will be getting a spanking over this right now. It doesn't look as though Honest to Goodness is simply being used in a descriptive sense. It looks a lot like they're using it as branding. They've even established a dedicated Honest to Goodness website."Mr Choy predicted it would cost Mr Ward hundreds of thousands in legal fees. "Woolworths's lawyers will be poring over it, you can be sure of that. Woolworths has spent a lot on this campaign ... They won't give up without a fight."Competitors estimate the Honest to Goodness campaign would have cost Woolworths about $2 million for a four-week run, including production and media time. One direct rival said: "If you add in the in-store execution of recipe cards and cut-outs of Margaret, then you can probably add several million more, depending on how many they've printed."Mr Ward said he is prepared for the fight. "I might be old fashioned, but I still believe you've got to do what's right. Otherwise these guys just walk all over you," he said.