Everton FC v Everton Farm Shop – Small Business bullied by Big Business?

Everton FC in Liverpool have opened legal proceedings against the owners of a farm shop for alleged trademark infringement – despite them living in a village of the same name as the Premier League side.

The owner, Daniela Troop received a letter from the Toffees who had taken exception to the style of font used in her shop in Everton, a village in Nottinghamshire.

The reaction from the press and football fans everywhere was ranged from one of disbelief to raucous humour on social media! Most of the comments are best left where they are and remain ‘un-quoted’ but the respondents did seem agree on one thing – the legal team advising Everton FC should be ashamed of themselves and resign forthwith (or was that “go forth and multiply”).

Everton FC do not play in the Everton district of Liverpool

Firstly, Everton do not actually play in Everton, nor have they ever played in Everton, according to a recent article in the Liverpool Echo. Oops, will Everton have to change their name back to St Domingo’s FC (or Anfield FC) in the event of them losing this legal case against Everton Farm Shop?

  • It was in Village Street in 1879 that the St Domingo’s church team took the momentous decision to change, not only its name, but its entire future direction by becoming Everton FC.
  • This ‘church team’ played in the south east corner of Stanley Park, opposite what is now the Arkles Pub on Arkles Lane, definitely Anfield territory

Furthermore, did Everton FC purchase the right to use their nickname (The Toffees) from Molly Bushell? Do they have a receipt for this purchase? If not, are they legally entitled to use it? Do the surviving members of the Bushell family have a legal right to claim it back, or issue an order for Everton FC to cease and desist using that nickname?

  • “Every Blue also understands that the club’s nickname – the Toffees – relates to Molly Bushell’s renowned Toffee Shop that once stood alongside the Tower on Netherfield Road South.

One Everton supporter – obviously a bit of a legal expert went on to say

The law states that trademark infringement occurs when there is a reasonable chance that consumers could get confused; this can happen in name (words only), but it can also happen in design, which is the club’s argument here. They don’t object to the name, rather the branding, which emphasizes the “Everton” and downplays the “farm shop”. Lame, but legally speaking, it is a legit argument.

Well, they can argue all they want but having the name of where one runs a business from is a well established practice so far as most of us are concerned. I will illustrate this as follows :-

Everton Hyundai, Everton, Hampshire

Everton Parish Council, Everton Cemetery, Everton School and Everton Bus Timetable … looks like there’s a lot more litigation to come, folks !

Everton Village Hall, Bedfordshire

Everton Village Players, Everton, Nottinghamshire – who do not wish to be confused with the Everton FC players that have been booked for “simulation” (who are also actors, when they dive in the opposition’s penalty area).

To the best of my knowledge, the Everton Village Players have never performed in “the theatre of dreams” – another venue well known for “simulation in the former county of Lancashire.

Meanwhile, another Evertonian wannabe lawyer has offered his opinion on the matter :-

Trademark, not copyright. And the chances of losing a trademark over not enforcing it are massively overstated by internet lawyers. You have to protect trademarks, but only against things which are actually a threat to the trademark. This is a family-run shop selling farm produce (an area of business which Everton F.C. does not operate in and is highly unlikely to ever operate in), the name corresponds to the geographical location of the store and its branding makes no attempt to imply any link to the football club and poses no serious risk of unintentional confusion. There’s no reason to consider it a threat to the trademark, and so nothing to defend against. In terms of defending the trademark, at most we need to send a letter stating that we acknowledge its existence and don’t consider it a threat for the above reasons. If there were genuinely anything for us to defend, we wouldn’t be offering them a settlement that allows them to keep using the name.

WOW … that’s that settled then !

Well, not quite … 

Mrs Troop (the owner of Everton Farm Shop) said that her family have owned land in the Everton area “for generations” and said that she was upset that she had been told to cease and desist from using the name of her birthplace by the Premier League giants.

  • This ‘residential’ status of the Troop family in Everton, Notts going back “several generations” contrasts sharply with the owners of Everton FC – not one of the three major shareholders actually live in Liverpool
  • Bill Kenwright, Chairman – lives in London
  • Jon Woods, Deputy Chairman – lives in Altrincham, Greater Manchester
  • Robert Earl, Director – lives in Orlando, Florida, USA

She went on to say that the Merseyside outfit “had backed down somewhat when a counter-action was launched, and Everton have since said that the shop can continue to use its name, if a change to the font on the sign is made.”

The Everton FC legal team really know how to make an offer nobody can accept!

Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about from Everton FC’s viewpoint, since Mrs Troop’s business is clearly not competing with Everton FC … unless she has a concession to sell her pork pies at Goodison Park.

It could be said that there is now a certain ‘organic’ link to the two brands but that is purely conjecture on my part, as there has been enough of a stink raised already by the amount of PR fertilizer Everton FC have spread over the past week or so.

At this stage, Everton FC (formerly trading as St Domingo’s FC, and playing in the Anfield district of Liverpool) would probably ‘save a lot of time, money and face’ if they were to offer Mrs Troop some money to compensate her for her legal costs, the stress this has caused and the time she has had to spend away from her ‘usual’ business activities to deal with Everton FC (formerly trading as St Domingo’s FC, and playing in the Anfield district of Liverpool).

  • A really savvy commercial lawyer might even suggest that Everton FC “buy” Mrs Troop’s business, employ her to continue to produce her excellent pork pies and to market them as an Everton FC ‘merchandised’ product

Whatever about the litigation, Everton have well and truly lost the PR battle and one tabloid has even run an online poll – asking if Everton FC should drop their case, or not.

The answer from football fans is very clear. Presumably Everton fans have voted too, since a 100% majority is pretty unusual in a football-related poll.

Meanwhile, Mrs Troop’s excellent Everton Farm Shop has gotten immeasurable free publicity from this case – albeit while incurring considerable legal costs and losing time normally spent running their business.

  • Everton Farm Shop is now a brand that is known both nationally and internationally
  • Everton Farm Shop’s value as a brand has now risen – as a result of Everton FC’s ill-judged actions
  • As a result, should Everton FC wish to buy the rights to Everton Farm Shop, this brand is now going to cost them a lot more than if they had quietly offered to purchase it last month

Meanwhile, I am sure football fans and pork pie ‘epicurians’ everywhere wish Mrs Troop the best of luck with her startup and her future legal dealings with Everton FC (formerly trading as St Domingo’s FC, and playing in the Anfield district of Liverpool).

George Orwell fans may be asking “are the pigs now also running the trademark and intellectual property team?”

For fee-hungry lawyers, other Everton placenames exist outside of the UK, so there is ample scope for Everton FC and their legal team to make this a global issue … and rake in even more fees + make them look as if they might be earning their retainer.

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