In early August, Swedish oat milk brand Oatly lost out in a high profile trademark battle against U.K. based Glebe Farm Foods. Now, Oatly has taken to challenging yet another small business over a pending trademark review.
The king of oat milk brands Oatly has recently received a slew of unfavourable criticism over the gatekeeping of its trademarks, including words associated with their line of products, such as ‘Oatly’ and ‘BARISTA’. It has been reported that Oatly received increasingly negative press since its lawsuit against Glebe Farm Foods. Many have taken to social media to voice their displeasure over the Swedish brand’s monopolisation of certain words, particularly those commonly used to represent plant based products. Bullying concerns were also raised by the public as Oatly challenged yet another small business over its use of Oatly’s pending trademark, not long after losing a trademark dispute against Glebe Farm Foods.
How far has Oatly gone to defend its trademarks and more crucially, how far will Oatly go to do so as public criticism continues to mount on the company?
What is Oatly?
Oatly is a plant based oat drink that has gained immense popularity since its humble beginnings in the 90s as the alternative choice to cow’s milk. With roots in Malmö, Sweden, Oatly is widely recognised as the leading oat milk brand. Oatly established its presence in over 60,000 retail stores and 32,200 coffee shops around the world as of late 2020. The company most recently went public on Nasdaq and managed to raise a grand total of $1.4 billion with its shares priced at $17 each. At the time, the company was valued at approximately $10 billion.
Terms trademarked by Oatly include ‘THE ORIGINAL OAT-LY!’, ‘OATLY’, ‘THE OATLY WAY’ and ‘POWERED BY OATLY’ amongst others.
Oatly’s Trademark Battle with Glebe Farm Foods
Oatly took Cambridgeshire based Glebe Farm Foods to court over alleged trademark infringement as the multinational accused the family run farm of misrepresenting their own oat milk product line as Oatly’s own. Named ‘PureOaty’ and packaged in a vibrant blue colour, Oatly claims Glebe Farm Foods’ product as too similarly branded to its own, thus benefiting from Oatly’s brand recognition and selling power.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Oatly’s representatives claim:
‘Glebe Farm’s intention was to bring Oatly’s products to mind and thereby to benefit from the huge power of attraction and reputation of Oatly’s branding.’
Two months later, Oatly was proclaimed to have lost the trademark infringement battle with Glebe Farm Foods. The high courts of London disagreed with Oatly’s concerns, as they judged both products to be similar on a ‘general level’ and not substantial enough to prove Oatly’s claims. The court stated:
‘There is a relatively low or, at best, very modest level of similarity between the sign and the marks and that similarity is due to the presence in both the sign and the mark of the letters ‘’oat’’ that are descriptive of the relevant products.’
Justice for Independent Small Businesses
Many felt the family owned business was vindicated by the judge’s decision, including the owners of Glebe Farm Foods themselves. Founder of Glebe Farm Foods Philip Rayner states:
‘We have always felt certain that we have done nothing wrong, and we were determined to fight Oatly’s claims that our brands were similar — something that is now proven to be wrong.’
‘You only need to look at the two products and packaging side by side to appreciate how different these brands are, and how unnecessary this legal action was. It is enormously gratifying that the judge has ruled in our favour, and to see that smaller independent companies can fight back and win.’
How Far Will Oatly Go?
Oatly has shown no signs of slowing down in the matters of protecting their trademarks. Whilst Oatly has the term ‘BARISTA’ under review by the European Intellectual Property Office, the company has no qualms in preventing competitors from using ‘BARISTA’ to describe their plant based products.
Skinny Food Co is the latest U.K. company to face the plight of Oatly’s trademark challenges as the multinational has called on the Nottingham based business to stop describing its line of products ‘Skinny Barista’. The extent of Skinny Food Co’s response is yet to be reported beyond showing resistance to Oatly’s demands.
Oatly has clarified their stance on its official Twitter account:
‘Whilst waiting for the decision, Oatly has opposed to others trying to register BARISTA as a trademark for plant based milk alternative products in the same way other brands have vigorously opposed to Oatly’s registration.’(source, @Oatly)
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