For decades, a supermarket chain called Iceland has been selling food—much of it frozen—to the UK public. But in recent months its name has begun to annoy the island nation of Iceland, and now the country has decided to take the supermarket to task.
Iceland, the supermarket chain famed for its chilly bargains, contests that there’s little likelihood of actual confusion between the shop and the sovereign state of Iceland, the country famed for its hot springs and volcanoes. The chain has about 800 stores that employ 25,000 people—a workforce close to 10% of Iceland the country’s total population in number.
“While we will vigorously defend Iceland Foods’ established rights where there is any risk of confusion between our business and Iceland the country, we have been trading successfully for 46 years under the name Iceland and do not believe that any serious confusion or conflict has ever arisen in the public mind, or is likely to do so,” the company said in a statement.
The string of shops owns the European trademark for using the name Iceland, according to filings with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIOP). The EUIOP website shows that the trademark is “currently undergoing a challenge that may result in its removal from the registry.” Other than that, the organization said it couldn’t comment on the case.
Iceland the supermarket has had a checkered history. After seeing rising profits through the 1980s, it experienced a huge slump in the early 2000s that it refers to as “the dark ages” before returning to profit in 2005 and thriving ever since.
The chain, which is run by a maverick millionaire but caters to mainly to poorer shoppers who buy very cheap products, said it processes about 5.5 million transactions every week. It therefore seems safe to assume that more people shop in Iceland the supermarket than live in the whole of Iceland the country, which has a population of 323,000.
Should other brands consider if their name impinges on the IP of actual countries and cities? “What could this lawsuit mean for the likes of Canada Dry and Chicago Town pizzas?” one public relations company asked in an email to Quartz. What indeed.