Can you tell the difference between an aeroplane and a TV series? What if both were called ‘Easy’? Is there a good chance that you would assume that a TV show called Easy had some connection to EasyJet? Not sure? What if the TV series was set in Chicago and each episode featured a different and somewhat flawed character navigating their way through the modern tangle of love, sex and culture. Still unsure? Well that is the question a UK court will be deciding on if Stelios Haji-Ioannou goes ahead with his threat to sue Netflix for piggybacking off his EasyGroup business. EasyGroup which floated on the stock exchange in 2014 has more than 1,000 registered trade marks including EasyBus, EasyCar, EasyVan, EasyProperty, EasyOffice, EasyFoodstore, EasyCoffee, EasyHotel and EasyGym. The Group receives significant income from its licensing operations in connection with ‘Easy’ and is serious about protecting its brand and cracking down on what it sees as a growing number of brand thieves. Haji-Ioannou sees naming of the Netflix series ‘Easy’ as typical arrogant behaviour of a US tech giant.
Netflix may be perplexed. They launched their ‘Easy’ series in the UK in September 2016. They are a large organisation with the resource to check the intellectual property landscape in any territory in which they operate. We have to assume that Netflix were aware of the EasyGroup but decided that there was no conflict between their TV series and the EasyGroup operation. Also since this dispute kicked off, Netflix have been clear that the third and final series of ‘Easy’ will air in 2019 and after that there will be no more. Despite all this EasyGroup is determined to prevent Netflix marketing its series here using the name ‘Easy’.
What is to be made of all this? Brand protection policies are a must for any business but in order for them not to backfire they need to be judged reasonable by the consumer. With the attack by EasyGroup on Netflix it is hard to see what use of the word ‘easy’, which after all is an ordinary English word, would be acceptable to EasyGroup. Should we all be prevented from using the words Sky or Monster on a product or service because one company. Successful initially in one area of business but seeks to monopolise the word in all areas of business. There are of course legitimate interests to be protected in every case. If Netflix had started a service called EasyFlix there may be more reason to complain. As this stands EasyGroup risk looking like the bully. Considering its opponent is Netflix, that is really something.