The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and the Co-operative Group have backed a call for Urban Outfitters to open up about its registration of Cooperative as a trademark.
Co-operatives UK has written to the American fashion chain to ask it to donate to the International Development Co-operative and meet with British co-ops. The move comes after Co-operative News discovered that Urban Outfitters had registered the brand with the UK Intellectual Property Office almost two years ago, even though it has no co-operative credentials.
The chain had registered its Cooperative brand as a trademark in July 2012, and it will own the rights to use the name until 2022 on a variety of items from key rings and clothing to sunglasses and hair accessories.
Helen Barber, head of advice at Co-operatives UK, said: “We understand that Urban Outfitters has received our correspondence regarding use of the term ‘co-operative’ as a brand name. We do hope that they’ll take up our invitation to visit some co-operative businesses here in the UK and to make a donation to the International Development Co-operative.”
She added: “We’ve had great support around this issue from ethical fashion bloggers such as Emma Waight, Ms Wandas, Moral Fibres and Style With Heart, and would like to encourage all our members to continue using [the Twitter hashtag] #cooperationisntjustafashion to continue to raise awareness.”
Kris Mills, head of brand governance and standards at the Co-operative Group, which has also trademarked ‘co-operative’ in the UK, said the policing of organisations that called themselves co-operatives, but were not, was the responsibility of Co-operatives UK. “We’d support them, if necessary, in any action they may consider appropriate,” he said.
The ICA has also backed the Co-operatives UK campaign. “We expect a constructive dialogue,” its spokesperson said, but added that the ICA considered the Cooperative fashion brand complimentary rather than detrimental.
“Urban Outfitters isn’t presently doing something we disapprove of, or which is unlawful,” said the spokesperson. “Urban Outfitters’ claim is a not a concern for the movement globally at this point. We don’t see massive misrepresentation of the co-operative sector or its values. We expect the fashion label’s interest is due to the rising trendiness the co-operative idea enjoys.
“It could be a future concern though. What we won’t tolerate is wilful detriment to our good name. For 200 years, co-operatives have given back to community. A loved brand has naturally grown, trusted by people. We can’t see this compromised and measures are in place to effectively discourage this.”
The ICA said the case shows the co-operative movement was right to establish a co-operative marque, and set up a screening process. Since the marque’s launch last November, it has processed 300 applications to use the marque, from 56 countries.
“There can be good in interest from trend leaders with connections to youth,” the spokesperson said. “We need people to understand that there’s a specific co-operative business model that can impact their lives. Clothes don’t make the man, but it’s a start.
“People feel disconnected from the dominant economic and social models, shown perhaps most clearly in the Occupy movement. Co-operative enterprise lets people join forces for revenue, make decisions democratically instead of answering to shareholders, and localise profits. We’re a counter-balancing force against mainstream investor enterprise, and Urban Outfitters’ trend spotters grasped this.”
Sarah Webb, partner and intellectual property specialist at Anthony Collins Solicitors, said co-operatives need not be alarmed: “From a purely commercial perspective, it’s unlikely that Urban Outfitters would launch a series of trademark infringement claims against co-operatives.”
But, she added, Urban Outfitters would have to approach any organisation it believed was wrongly using the co-operative brand before leading to legal action. “In the majority of cases, parties are able to reach an out of court settlement,” she commented.
What goods have Urban Outfitters trademarked?
Keyrings, mobile phone cases, computer and sunglasses cases, jewellery, bags, purses, wallets, blouses, sweatshirts, vests, jackets, coats, skirts, jeans, trousers, dresses, underwear, swimwear, shoes, hats, gloves, belts and hair accessories.