Voodoo Lounge’s owners couldn’t believe it when an apparently innocuous bar menu led to two threats of legal proceedings alleging infringement of intellectual property rights.
Who: Voodoo Lounge, Burberrys and Pete Tong
Where: Leicester Square, London
When: April 2001
To "tart an" up its happy hour menus, Leicester Square bar the Voodoo Lounge used a tartan design. It also coined a new phrase to describe its food selection: "Voodoo Lounge Essential Mix." Within days it received legal threats from not one, but two quarters. Trade mark attorneys wrote on behalf of DJ Pete Tong. They said "Essential Mix" was Pete’s trade mark and the Lounge’s use of the words was detrimental to its character. Separately a long missive was received from solicitors instructed by English clothing brand Burberrys. They said the tartan design was Burberrys' copyright and the bar’s use of it was an infringement. Without admitting they were doing anything contrary to law, Voodoo Lounge decided it was not worth the aggravation to fight the claims and discontinued the promotion.
Why this matters:
One cannot help sympathise with Voodoo Lounge, but the story underlines the need for caution when devising any name or phrase for what is effectively use as a brand. We do not know if Voodoo Lounge did it here, but it is quick and easy to check on-line as to whether an identical brand is already on the UK Trade Mark Register (DJ Pete's 'Essential Mix' is a pending application). Searching for phonetically similar registrations is more challenging but expert help can get a quick answer. With designs, even sub-conscious copying can cause problems, and remember that copyright lasts a long time: the life of the creator plus 70 years, so don’t assume that because it’s been around a while it’s public domain!