A SMALL Scottish furniture company has been threatened with legal action by Ikea over a sales slogan which pokes gentle fun at the Swedish retail giant.
Advertising for Olympian Furniture, which has three sites in Scotland, uses the phrase "IKANA believe how good this summer sale is" with the writing in yellow on a blue background – the colours used by Ikea.
Now the 21 billion global behemoth, which believes Olympian is trying to associate itself with the Ikea brand, has asked the company to cease using the advertisements or face court action over infringement of trademark.
Robert Begg, a former antiques dealer who founded Olympian 16 years ago at Anglepark in Edinburgh, said Ikea had failed to appreciate the joke.
"We were trying to get across, with a bit of humour, we were Scottish. It wasn't a case of being funny for the sake of being funny," he said.
"Our promotion is liked by our customers, who understand the humour.
"There's definitely no confusion between Ikea and ourselves. We operate in the high street with very small stores selling middle to high-end furniture – the polar opposite of Ikea.
"Ours is solid wood furniture, bespoke and organic whereas Ikea is homogenised, mass-produced and uniform – hence 'IKANA believe how good this summer sale is – real furniture with real personality'."
The advertising is online, in-store in its outlets in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Giffnock, and on the Glasgow Underground. Begg said the company, which has 13 employees, has been asked to admit to trademark infringement and remove all "IKANA" material or face a claim for injunction, damages, costs, interest and all other remedies available.
"It's not just the website, it's all my window posters and underground advertising," he added. "I got a legal letter from them saying they would take action if I didn't agree to remove all the media I've used to promote my summer sale."
Begg, who is taking legal advice about Ikea's demands said he was "flattered" by the attention from such a major company as Ikea. "But if we have to take down our campaign, including our advertising in Glasgow Underground, after committing our expenditure – this will impact us harshly. The campaign in total cost about 20,000, which is a lot of money. "
Ikea, with 128,000 workers in 24 countries and two major stores in Scotland, refused to comment on an individual case. However, a spokeswoman said: "We are extremely proud of the Ikea brand and take trademark issues seriously."
The legal threat follows a series of recent trademark cases in which small retailers have been forced to make changes to avoid court action. Last week, it emerged that a delicatessen owner in Aberdeen had been hit with a legal bill for thousands of pounds from descendants of the aristocrat said to have invented the sandwich.
Neil Corall was ordered to change the name of his outlet from Earl of Sandwich after legal threats from the current 11th Earl, Lord John Montagu.
The aristocrat has set up a chain of Earl of Sandwich shops in the US – registered as a trademark in 2001 – and plans to expand into the UK. Corall, whose shop is now known as EARL (Eat A Real Lunch) on The Green, agreed to the switch but has still been billed for damages and legal costs totalling 3,500. He is currently consulting lawyers.
In May, Tom Kitchin, Scotland's youngest Michelin-rated chef, forced the owner of a takeaway/bistro just a few hundred yards from his Leith eaterie to change its name after threatening legal action. Kitchin, in the Shore area, called in lawyers to force Len McCarthy to drop the name "Kitsch-In." Action was called off after McCarthy agreed to shorten the name to "Kitsch".
Legal threats do not always succeed. In 2006, takeaway pizza firm boss Karl Khan won a three-year legal battle with easyGroup founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou. The Greek millionaire, who operates everything from internet cafs to an airline using his "easy" brand, claimed trademark infringement against Khan for naming his London business EasyPizza.
But Khan stood firm, remortgaging his home and taking out loans to pay for his 135,000 defence, and, eventually, easy-Group backed down, conceding that he had named his Crouch End firm in 1997 while it did not enter the business until 2004.