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Friday, January 28, 2022

Farmer triumphs in ‘David v Goliath’ legal battle with Oatly

British oat milk producer Glebe Farm has won a legal case brought against it by the Swedish oat drink giant Oatly.

Almost two months after a London High Court hearing, a judge has dismissed all Oatly’s claims of trade mark infringement and passing off.

After the verdict was handed down, Phillip Rayner, owner and Managing Director of Glebe Farm, said: “We have had the threat of this court case – which has pitched our challenger brand against Oatly’s multinational business – looming over us for more than a year. We have always felt certain that we have done nothing wrong, and we were determined to fight Oatly’s claims that our brands were similar – something that is now proven to be wrong.”

He added: “You only need to look at the two products and packaging side by side to appreciate how different these brands are, and how unnecessary this legal action was.”

Founded in 1990, Oatly milk can be found in 60,000 shops and 32,000 coffee shops around the world. With a list of celebrity investors including Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z and Natalie Portman, the Malmo based company is worth more than $15bn.

In contrast, Glebe Farm is a family run farm near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, that has been established in oat milling and cereal production for over 30 years. It branched out into the oat milk market three years ago.

In June, it was slapped with a High Court injunction to stop selling its PureOaty brand. This came after Oatly had contacted the PureOaty makers in early 2020 saying its branding had infringed its own trademark.

A spokesperson for Oatly said that since that 2020 correspondence, “we unfortunately received no constructive response from them. We are therefore now involved in an ongoing court case.”

Glebe Farm, however, had interpreted the situation differently. “Oatly has claimed that it first tried to engage Glebe Farm in ‘constructive conversation’ but in our view a threat of legal action never felt ‘constructive’ and we felt there was no compromise or dialogue offered.”

When the case came before the High Court in June, lawyers for Oatly and its UK business claimed that Glebe Farm had intended “to bring Oatly’s products to mind”, benefiting from Oatly’s brand. They also claimed that the name PureOaty was similar to Oatly, as was the product’s blue packaging.

In his ruling, Judge Nicholas Caddick said the visual similarity of the names were “very modest” and that there was no actual evidence of confusion among consumers regarding the two products.

Rayner explained how, during the course of the bitter legal spat, Glebe Farm had received support from around the world and pointed to more than 130,000 signatures on a change.org petition.

“There is room in a growing category for alternatives,” he said, adding: “We’d like to think growth opportunities come from positivity in broadening sector choice, rather than from trying to shut things down and limiting consumer options.”

Oatly said in a statement that it accepted the court’s decision and would not be making an appeal.

“The verdict is now in…the court ruled in favour of Glebe Farm, the judge recognized Oatly’s strong brand and uniqueness but felt the similarities weren’t enough to rule in our favour. We’ve collected the main documents of the case for you to read as it was presented to the court. The reason is because we believe in transparency and we want you to be able to form your own opinion about the case.”

Those documents can be found here:

 

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