A new entrant to the fiercely competitive UK mobile phone market has run into trouble after Orange SA, the mobile arm of France Telecom SA, objected to its branding.
UK-based serial entrepreneur, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, has teamed up with the Danish telecommunications operator TDC A/S, to launch EasyMobile, a low-cost mobile phone business that is expected to be operational by the end of the year.
Haji-Ioannou (affectionately known as Stelios) is the chairman of the EasyGroup that includes well-known businesses such as the EasyJet budget airline, the EasyCar car rental agency, and the cybercafe chain EasyInternetCafe. In February this year, Stelios sold 14m pounds ($25.6m) of shares in his EasyJet business to help fund the development of other Easy branded businesses.
The idea is that TDC will run the mobile startup, and will lease network capacity from other UK mobile operators. Stelios will handle the marketing and promotion.
It is understood that EasyMobile will not sell mobile handsets, only SIM cards. This will allow consumers to use their old mobile phones using an EasyMobile SIM card.
Some concerns have been expressed that the service may fuel mobile handset theft, as the EasyMobile SIM card will allow people to use stolen mobile phones. Yet EasyMobile is potentially facing a greater problem.
Heavyweight mobile operator Orange has objected to the use of Stelios’s distinctive orange branding for his mobile startup. Orange said it believed EasyMobile’s use of the color would confuse our customers and therefore we will do whatever is necessary to protect our customers’ best interests.
Stelios responded in typical defiant fashion, declaring he was prepared to go to court to defend his right to use the orange branding on his mobile business.
I am confident we have right to use the color orange, and I’m going to enforce that in court if I have to. I believe the only motivation of Orange in making these threats is because they are afraid of the competition.
Stelios has agreed to meet Orange to discuss the matter, but added that Orange had not objected when the UK supermarket J Sainbury launched a range of mobile phones using its orange branding.
The case raises an interesting question over whether it is possible to own a color. The case bears similarities to Microsoft Corp, which tried for years to trademark the word Windows. In 1995 it succeeded when the US Patent and Trademark Office approved the Windows trademark, although many still question whether windows is a generic term, and as such not entitled to trademark protection.
Companies are notoriously touchy about their trademarks. Oil giant BP recently took action against an Irish petrol company after it revamped its forecourts in a shade of green similar to its own.
Stelios himself is no stranger to protecting his trademark. Over the years he has taken legal action against a number of companies including Easyart.com, easy4car.com, easirent.com and easyrentaped.com.