A few weeks back, we discussed IKEA’s claim of trademark infringement against the popular website, IKEAhackers.net, and the resulting online backlash.
In what’s become an increasingly common result, IKEA has reportedly backed off from its demand letter:
We want to clarify that we deeply regret the situation at hand with IKEAhackers. It has of course never been our ambition to stop their webpage. On the contrary, we very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do. We are now evaluating the situation, with the intention to try to find a solution that is good for all involved.
According to the website owner, Jules, Inter IKEA Systems BV called to discuss a new dialogue with different settlement terms. Jules rightfully thanked the fans of the website for their support:
Jules notes in the announcement that this is no guarantee that there won’t be any changes. The parties still need to agree on the terms on which Jules may continue to keep using the IKEA hackers name, domain, and logo. I guess we’ll all just have to take a ‘wait and see’ approach.
In the meantime, the development is just one more example of why attorneys and companies need to be careful with enforcing trademark rights. Contrary to a number of other bloggers and fans of the site, I believe IKEA has legitimate complaints regarding the IKEA hackers website and its use of the IKEA mark. This is another example of social shaming (as Steve has discussed before, and before), where the supposed “trademark bully” actually has legitimate legal claims.
Demand letters are a valuable tool both for the sender and the recipient. Obviously, the sender can save time and expense by obtaining voluntary compliance with some or all of its demands. And yes, the recipient benefits in some situations too, I’m certain that most people would rather receive a demand letter rather than being served with a complaint in federal district court. Shaming through social media also serves an important function by leveling the playing field. IKEA may have lots of money and great lawyers, but IKEA hackers has Facebook.
But just as companies can misuse demand letters, the social media shaming can be abused too. Even companies with legitimate complaints regarding misuse of their trademark rights can be backed into a corner by social media, as the IKEA situation demonstrates. Attorneys and companies need to recognize situations where this can occur and do their best to minimize the risk before sending a demand letter, and then have a plan in place to respond quickly in the event the ‘social media shaming wagon’ begins.