Amber Cottery, a designer and boutique owner in Darlington, England, grabbed media attention last month when she won a trademark dispute with global fashion company Zara.
Now he hopes to inspire other small businesses to fight the group. BBC Spoke to him and other small business owners about their experiences.
When he faced Trademark Court, Kotri represented himself instead using lawyers.
With only her file notes and a conviction that she was right, the boutique owner Zana’s house had to face Jaras and won.
The Trademark Registry supervisor agreed that any resemblance between his fashion brand and the fashion retail giant was “very few and short-lived”.
Since then, she has received a flood of messages from other small business owners, who have also received letters from Zara’s lawyers.
“The letter states that the company’s ‘strong priority is to resolve this matter amicably,’ but there is no middle ground, no chance to discuss anything,” Kotri says.
“You only have a couple of weeks to sign saying you’ll withdraw your trademark application and then another three months to ‘phase out’ your brand name, that’s the only option.”
Rebranding a company isn’t cheap: You have to change packaging, merchandise, websites and social networks, it all adds up.
Juhi Jain from Jaipur, India names her handmade shoe company ZarsaAn amalgamation of the Urdu word zaar and the Hindi suffix “sa,” which means “like gold,” referring to the thread he used in his seams.
Zayn spent “nearly $32,000” and was locked in a two-year legal battle, when Zara initially sent him an opposition notice in 2017, and again when it was renamed Zarsalife.
He eventually settled on the name of Sojan Jaipur.
“The mental and emotional trauma and depression I went through during this process is worth nothing,” Jain pointed.
He added: “I never received any compensation for the legal costs or the goods I had to dispose of.”
Trademarks are extremely important to businesses, they can be bought and sold like other assets, or licensed to third parties, which can make them a significant revenue generator.
In the UK, large brands employ teams to oversee the use of similar names through the Intellectual Property and Company Office.
Mark Cadel, a partner at the European intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, said trademarks prevent the unauthorized use of counterfeit or competing brands, which can mislead consumers.
It warns that any small business that ignores these Zara rebrands will ask for letters of demand. They may face further legal action.
“If the letter goes unanswered, it is likely that a trademark conflict will be filed with the UK Intellectual Property Office, as was the case in the Zana case,” it says.
“Depending on what happens to it, the brand owner may decide to file a trademark infringement action in court, with the goal of enforcing a rebrand.”
Zara is owned by Inditex, one of the largest fashion distribution groups in the world. With over 6400 stores across various brands, Bershka, including Pull & Bear and Massimo Dutei, and employs more than 160,000 people.
“It is the responsibility of the Group to protect its brand and trademark where there is a risk that the customer, or any other interested party, will be confused”, said a spokesperson for Inditex,
“We always try to avoid legal proceedings related to trademark registration,” he said.
Leeds graffiti artist Steve Powell or Ste Rex sold streetwear under the STRX brand.
But they received a legal letter last July from Stradivarius, a clothing brand owned by Inditex, saying it was too similar to their STR Teen line.
“I hadn’t heard of Stradivarius,” Powell says. “I thought it was a violin company, and I said, ‘How dare you contact me about the similarity of names?'”
He said he didn’t want to “lose money” so he “sent a few emailsBefore renaming your clothing line to REXNTRIC.
Another businessman approached by Zara was Moin Tayari from London, who ran a dried fruit and spice company named Zarwand, named after his wife’s birthplace in Iran.
Tayari says trade experts advised him to “forget fighting a big company” because it would cost a lot.
He spent about $4,300 on “some legal papers” trying to preserve the name, but with costs rising, he eventually opted to change the name of his company to Zoetic Ltd.
He says he doesn’t think it’s OK that big companies can “scare off small businesses” because of minor differences in trademarks, stressing that he found the process emotional and tedious.
“It makes you tired,” says Tayari, noting: “What you’ve already achieved is another obstacle. For us, this meant throwing away the labels he had just ordered costing $650. It was almost like restarting business,
In the UK, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) calls for a government-backed resolution service for such cases.
An FSB spokesman says small businesses need more support when it comes to protecting intellectual property and that when a dispute does arise, settlement should be “simple, quick and easy to obtain.”
He noted that a commercial dispute resolution service could “assess potential disputes at an early stage,” potentially avoiding costly legal battles.
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which has jurisdiction to register trademarks, said it was aware of the problems for small businesses and welcomed suggestions that would make disputes “easier and faster”.
Even then, Not all trademark disputes lead to heartache and frustration.
In May, the owner of the Star Inn pub in Vogue, England, was surprised when he received a letter from the fashion magazine Vogue, saying he had been alerted to the pub’s name by the company office.
The publisher, Condé Nast, later apologized and provided the pub with a ready-made version of the apology “from one Vogue to another”, explaining that further investigation by his team revealed that “we have on occasion sent that letter to There was no need to send . . . “.
For Kotari, her fight against Zara was born out of a determination that she didn’t have to explain to her children that she gave in because “somebody older told me.”
And his advice to others in the same situation is: “You know your business best, you know the meaning behind the name, so fight for it and don’t give up.”
Your House of Zana brand will now be registered.
Zara declined to comment on Kotri’s case, but said she wished him and his business “future success”.
The company can still appeal against the decision, but for now Coterie is calmly designing its next collection.
*by Angela Johnson