Everyone knows that Iceland is a country (though we’re willing to bet you don’t know where it’s located). But mostly in England and other locations in Europe and the Mediterranean, Iceland is a supermarket chain. Taking everyone by surprise, Iceland (the country) filed for legal action on Friday, November 25, against Iceland (the supermarket) with the European Union Intellectual Property Office to invalidate the supermarket’s trademark. The country’s main reason is that the supermarket’s trademark is preventing local Icelandic firms from marketing their products using the name “Iceland” and “Icelandic.” Iceland Foods holds a Europe-wide trademark for the name “Iceland” and has been using this trademark name for the past 46 years, with no conflicts with the Iceland nation. According to the Iceland government in a statement from the nation’s capital of Reykjavik, more recently, Iceland Foods has been aggressively pursuing and winning multiple cases against Icelandic companies pushing to use “Iceland” in their representation or as part of their trademark, even in cases when the products and services are not in competition with the supermarket.
On Tuesday, November 29, the British supermarket chain sent a delegation to the “Land of Fire and Ice” in a hopeful effort to resolve and thaw out this legal feud. Iceland Foods, whose 22,000 employees is the equivalent of around 7 percent of the Iceland nation’s total population of 330,000, is urgently seeking this meeting with the European island nation to resolve this issue without going to court. Iceland Foods officials said on Tuesday that it was very much surprised with the country’s move since both have peacefully co-existed for the past 46 years even with the same name. The supermarket is best known for its frozen foods and has over 850 branches all over the United Kingdom. There is also 14 branches in Spain, 10 in Ireland, 5 in the Czech Republic, 6 in Jersey and 3 in Guernsey (British crown protectorates in Normandy), and 1 each in Malta, Portugal, and Libya. Incidentally, there are 3 branches in Iceland.
The supermarket is actually owned and controlled by Icelandic investors and banks, though based in the UK, and have even sponsored the Icelandic national team in this year’s European Football Championships that saw England eliminated by Iceland. The company also sponsors Iceland’s notorious and vicious international ice hockey team. It registered “Iceland” as the company name back in 1970 and never got as much as a peep of noise from the Reykjavik government. According to Iceland Foods’ founder and Chief Executive Malcolm Walker, “the company is hoping for a meeting this week, though it did not yet have a firm date, and that its delegation to Reykjavik would be led by company secretary and legal director Duncan Vaughan.” However, a recent statement from Iceland’s foreign ministry appeared to offer little room for negotiation. “The government of Iceland, on behalf of the country’s businesses, aims to find an acceptable solution for the use of the term ‘Iceland.’ We would welcome an agreement with Iceland Foods to withdraw its exclusive trademark.”