A bizarre row has been picked up in the press after it emerged that a tiny Scottish outdoor clothing firm has been threatened with legal action by the National Trust for Scotland over use of the name 'Glencoe', for which the Trust are claiming copyright.
Is it possible to copyright a place name? The National Trust for Scotland, landowners of Glen Coe and apparently holders of a trademark registration for the name, seem to think so. In a letter from their law firm to Aboyne-based Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing, a manufacturer employing a handful of people, the organisation demand that the firm stops selling goods branded Glencoe.
Hilltrek have been making a 'Glencoe DV Jacket' for 30 years, the firm say. And the name itself, which technically refers to the village of Glencoe rather than the glen Glen Coe, has of course been around for centuries.
Business owner Dave Shand took to social media to make their case:
"Is this how small Scottish businesses should be treated?" he wrote on Facebook.
"... Will our Kintail shirt be next? Come on NTS play fair".
In the legal letter, which we've reproduced here, Hilltrek are instructed to stop selling the jacket within one week. Since the row went public the firm has received offers of help with crowd funding to meet any legal fees.
"I was shocked that they could trademark the name of a place and shocked at their attitude," Mr Shand told BBC Scotland online.
"A polite letter should have been their first step I think, explaining the situation and asking for a dialogue," he said.
"They irking thing is I am a NTS supporter - I was a member until about two years ago,"
We contacted him today for more:
"My concern is that NTS and others could trade mark our other product names such as Kintail and Cuillin" he told us.
"We name our products after places in Scotland which inspire us in the outdoors. How is this going to impact our business, and that of others?"
In light of the negative publicity surrounding the row, today a spokesman for the National Trust for Scotland said:
"In retrospect, although the letter sent to Hilltrek was a standard one, it may have been in the circumstances of this particular company too harsh in tone."
"Many people have been surprised that it is both possible and necessary to trademark a placename like Glencoe. This was a surprise to us too, when an attempt was made to trademark 'St Kilda' by a third party without our knowledge or consent, despite us owning and caring for the property. Although we eventually came to an agreement over this, the Intellectual Property Office confirmed that the bid had been both legal and permissible."
"Therefore, as defensive measure, we ourselves have registered trademarks for some of the properties we own. We recognise that these are iconic Scottish locations and names worthy of protection."
"From the outset we have never had any intention of undermining established and new businesses trading locally to our registered properties, and we have gone out of our way to ensure they can continue trading without interruption or cost. What we have done, after taking legal advice, is to contact a number of companies using trademarked names which are not local."
"In the case of Glencoe, we have, for example, contacted businesses based in England and France over the use of the name."
"Our only desire is to protect the properties in our care and stop them being exploited in ways which do not accord with our charitable purposes."
"Our letter to Hilltrek was intended to open up negotiation to establish if the company had legal prior trading rights and clearly the wording and tone did not convey this. We would be happy to enter into a dialogue with them with the aim of finding a mutually agreeable solution."
The trust will be contacting Hilltrek today, they tell us, to discuss how things can be taken from here.
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