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Image: Bentley

You could call it a David v. Goliath fight. A small, family-owned company is taking the nearly 100-year old Bentley Motors to court over its right to exclusively manufacture and sell apparel using the Bentley name. Manchester-based Brandlogic – which has held rights in the Bentley name for use on apparel in the United Kingdom for over 30 years – is escalating the parties’ longstanding legal battle by filing suit in before an English court.

In the new trademark proceedings, which were initiated this week before the English High Court, Brandlogic has asked the court to provide it with injunctive relief and, bar Bentley Motors from continuing to sell its Motorsport collection of pricey polo shirts and gilets.

Brandlogic argued that by creating, marketing, and selling its own line of apparel, Bentley Motors is running afoul of its registered trademark, which granted Brandlogic the exclusive rights to use the “Bentley” name in connection with two classes of goods and services: class 25, which applies to clothing and accessories, and class 35, which covers “retail and wholesale services connected with the sale of vehicles and parts and accessories therefor; retail and wholesale services connected with the sale of perfumes and cosmetics, optical apparatus, glasses, sunglasses, and accessories.”

As the holder of the Bentley mark in these classes, Brandlogic has the right – and in fact, the duty – to police others’ unauthorized uses of the same or similar marks on the same types of goods. As such, Brandlogic not only wants the court to immediately and permanently force Bentley Motors to stop selling the garments, it has asked the court to order Bentley to take all of its existing garments and destroy them, and pay up monetary damages of a sum to be determined at trial.

The suit follows from a recent back-and-forth before the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (“UKIPO”), in which the famed automotive company attempted to have Brandlogic’s registered “Bentley” trademark cancelled, to no avail.

Christopher Lees, a director for Brandlogic, said that the company has “no choice but to [take the matter] to court,” in part because Bentley Motors has allegedly “frightened off” other companies from working with Bentley clothing, thereby causing damage to the much smaller company.

Volkswagen-owned Bentley Motors – which argued before the UKIPO that while it does not have a specific registration for garments, it has used the “Bentley” mark in connection with garments and accessories since 1920 – “appears to think they are untouchable,” says Lees.

“They’ve damaged our business; now, sadly, they may damage their own [if the court grants] an injunction precluding them from a potentially lucrative business line: clothing.”

The spat, itself, comes as high end car manufacturers, as a whole, have turned their attention to apparel and accessories to supplement their main revenue streams and cater to their customers between car purchases.

As the New York Times wrote in 2015, “Several luxury automakers, including Bentley, have been expanding the lines of goods they sell that have little to do with cars. [In February 2015], Bentley, a British brand, announced its fifth men’s fragrance in the last two years.” Similarly, the paper’s Rebecca Ruiz noted, “Ferrari stamps its prancing horse logo on chess sets, Tod’s loafers and Oakley sunglasses, while Lamborghini, Maserati and Tesla offer leather goods, from briefcases to bracelets.”

“The brand extensions by luxury automakers,” Ruiz wrote, even if they only represent a small portion of the company’s overall revenues, “help retain customer loyalty between car purchases, and may capture aspirational buyers years before they can afford the cars themselves.” And she is right.

At least some automakers, though, are looking to boost their side hustles, so to speak. Porsche stages a runway show for its wares, whereas Ferrari maintains 68 licenses — in which third party manufacturers produce products with the Ferrari name and logo on them; they range from Lego toys to Puma sneakers. The Italian luxury car company – one of the first bona fide modern luxury brands – maintains some 30 stores in 14 countries. As of 2015, it was bringing in a reported $2.6 billion in annual sales from licensed merchandise, ranking in the number 23 position on the list of top global licensers of all companies – not just car manufacturers.

Still yet, Aston Martin’s CEO Andy Palmer has not been shy about his plans to turn the James Bond-favored car company into a luxe lifestyle brand, saying last year that categories “such as clothing, are big business for luxury car makers with enviable brands.” He further revealed that “in time,” branded lifestyle goods “could account for half [Aston Martin’s] revenue.”

It is not a completely outlandish idea. While the average clothing consumer is becoming less and less loyal to any specific brand, luxury car buyers tend to be both loyal and enthusiastic – with money to spend.

With that in mind, it is not all that surprising that Bentley is putting up a fight. What issurprising is that the Bentley has not tried – that we know of – to buy out its small apparel rival yet in order to legally manufacture and sell its apparel goods. That very well might be in the cards given the pending court battle.