A LEGAL bill spiralling into thousands of pounds has forced a Winnington fitness company to pull out of its battle with the easyGroup corporation.
Ladies-only gym Easy Exercise, based in Winnington Avenue, has been locked in a year-long fight over intellectual property rights with the European conglomerate, owned by billionaire Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
Pete Landon, managing director of the pink and purple-branded Easy Exercise, which helps older women keep their mobility, said ‘bully-boy tactics’ had been used by the easyGroup to claim the right to the prefix ‘easy’, as one of its 1,000 trademark registrations worldwide.
The business opened in Northwich in 2007 but lawyers for easyGroup claimed its services and those offered by easyGym were the same and that both companies’ marks were similar as they both featured the word ‘easy’ and the closely-related terms of ‘gym’ and ‘exercise’.
Pete said he was given an 80 per cent chance of success by his lawyers when threatened with the High Court action but the potential costs of losing, followed by a £100,000 bill in costs,would have been too much to handle.
“It is a risk we would like to take but one we simply cannot afford,” he said.
“We have spent thousands on arguing our case and cannot accept the easyGroup proposition that the public actually believe that any goods or services marketed under the word ‘easy’ are done so with Stelios’ consent.
“The easyGroup makes millions of profit and yet still threatens small businesses like our own in this way and while we would really like to fight on, we know that should we lose, we would not only pick up our own legal bill but also that of the easyGroup.
“We cannot afford to take that risk so we are pulling up the drawbridge.
“We already face thousands in legal costs, the loss of our domain name and £50,000 for rebranding as Friendly Gym.”
He added: “We are not the first small company to become a casualty of easyGroup and I am sure we will not be the last.
“The Intellectual Property Office should never have granted the exclusive use of ‘easy’ to Stelios who now has the monopoly on a word in daily use.”
The company now faces a ‘huge task’ to rebrand and Pete said the financial hit would halt plans to extend the business.
A spokesman for easyGroup chairman Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou said: “The easyGroup takes its rights and responsibilities for the ‘easy’ name very seriously.
“We will protect our business partners who have made a legitimate financial investment in the brand as part of their commercial strategy. It is simply unacceptable and unfair for others to use it as they please - free and for nothing.
“The easy name is synonymous with quality, value for money services and we have a duty to protect the public from its unauthorised use.”
Share your views at northwichguardian.co.uk.