A not so Easy Life

Holly Cameron

A not so Easy Life

The English alternative pop group “Easy Life” have made the decision to change its name following a legal challenge in the High Court by the multinational conglomerate, easyGroup, who most notably are the owners of the well-known trade mark, easyJet.

The band, based in Leicester and formed in 2017, were the winners of the ‘Best New British Act’ at the 2020 NME awards. Despite their publicity and success, the group were not challenged by easyGroup throughout the first few years of releasing music, although the turning point for easyGroup appeared to be the group’s adoption of an aeroplane sporting a very recognisable orange and white livery for use on its tour posters.

Easy Life Tour Poster
“Life's A Beach” tour poster. Included in documents submitted to the High Court.

In a statement released by the group, it stated that: “…it seems justice is only available to those who can afford it.” and that they “…simply don’t have the funds to access a fair trial in the High Court”. Consequently, the band made the decision to drop its name (falling on a Friday the 13th), with the new name yet be confirmed.

The owner of easyGroup, Sir Stelios Haji-Looanou, released his own statement shortly after, describing the situation as: “…a deliberate strategy to maximise their profits without being subject to easyGroup Ltd’s quality controls and without paying their annual royalties.” Moreover, he also stated that: “easyGroup Ltd is not attempting to stop people from using the word easy in its ordinary meaning. Rather, we are taking action to prevent the word easy being conjoined with another in order to generate sales and profit.”

In addition, easyGroup Ltd are the owners of a retailer with the same name as the band – easyLife, a catalogue seller and distributor of products for the home and garden, which joined easyGroup Ltd around two years ago. You may be thinking, what does garden tools and home products have to do with an alt-pop indie band? However, UK legislation (Trade Mark Act 1994 s 10 (3)-(3A)) may protect against infringement of a trade mark where that trade mark has a reputation in the UK, irrespective of whether the goods and services offered by the respective parties are similar or not. It is likely that this, amongst other things, was the basis of easyGroup’s legal challenge against Easy Life.

Previous legal challenges

This is not the first time that easyGroup Ltd has been embroiled in a trade mark dispute. easyGroup are the owners of well over 100 trade marks consisting of the word “easy” followed by a descriptive element, including “easyLimousines” “easyPetfood” and “easyMobile” to name a few.

The company has been involved in several legal clashes involving third parties making use of “EASY” trade marks, although its efforts have not always been successful. Before acquiring the aforementioned easyLife business, easyGroup brought infringement proceedings against the company, known formerly as “Easylife Ltd”. easyGroup relied on four of its trade marks, including easyJet, easyGroup, easyLand, and easy4men. The judge in that case ruled that the adjective “easy” is not distinctive, or has low distinctive value, and so the average consumer would not be confused. Additionally, the judge also revoked easyGroup’s easyLand and easy4men trade marks, and partially revoked easyLife and easyGroup on the basis of non-use.

What can be learned from this trade mark dispute?

It seems that easyGroup Ltd has had mixed fortunes in its endeavours to protect its “easy-“ family of trade marks. This most recent case demonstrates the importance of clearing a trade mark for use prior to commencing trade. It should also serve as a warning to those traders who are perhaps considering adopting a tongue and cheek version of another well-known brand’s imagery or trade dress to promote their own goods or services. Whilst some companies may be happy to play along, others may be more inclined to adopt to easyGroup approach.

On the other side, for those companies whose brand has been adopted by a third party, it is worth considering whether an aggressive litigious approach is the best course of action. Where legal disputes are perceived as a “David and Goliath’ situation, it is sometimes the case that the larger companies face the brunt of negative publicity. At Easy Life’s farewell concert, impassioned fans erupted with scathing chants directed at easyGroup and easyJet.

Our advice would always be to do your research! If in doubt, please get in touch with one of our trade mark attorneys, who are always on hand to assist.

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