One of the largest trade unions in the British Isles, Unite, is aiming to change a leading glassware manufacturer’s entire employment strategy through a test case over perceived brand meaning.
In a lawsuit filed at European-trademark registry the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM), Unite’s Ireland branch is seeking to prove that ‘Waterford Crystal’ contains an implied geographical indication – preventing the company from selling any goods that it has produced outside Waterford, Ireland. The union hopes that an outcome in its favour will automatically force the company to reposition Waterford at the centre of its activities, rolling down the shutters on a contract operation it had opened in Slovenia.
Private-equity firm KPS Capital Partners acquired Waterford Crystal in 2009, bringing it to the same stable as well-known chinaware producers Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. All three companies were subsequently grouped together in a subsidiary, WWRD Holdings Ltd. Unite argues that, since the KPS purchase, the ‘vast majority’ of Waterford’s manufacturing has been moved away from Ireland, at a cost of more than 600 skilled jobs.
Explaining its intentions for the case, Unite said: ‘The brand is still sold under the original “Waterford” trademark … [we are] now going to challenge use of the mark on glass not produced in Waterford, with a view to maintaining the skills base and making sure that the link between glass production and [the area] is not lost.’
Unite cited ‘significant legal and commercial precedent’ for successful actions against the manufacture of products in places other than those associated with the ‘skill and tradition’ of particular locations. National coordinator Walter Cullen argued: ‘Champagne and Parma have successfully protected the link between the name of the place and products made there, while Movenpick was recently prevented from making a link to Swiss chocolate when production was actually taking place in Germany.’
Cullen added: ‘We have engaged experts in the field of trademarks who believe that the people of Waterford have a strong case to make. It is our hope that the people of Waterford, the City Council, its Chamber of Commerce and state agencies will join us in this test case … We look forward to the point in the future when the economy of Waterford can enjoy the benefits of the genuine link to the brand that bears its name.’
According to Ireland’s RTÉ News, WWRD Holdings has said that it is committed to ongoing crystal manufacture in the city, and open to dialogue with Unite. Despite Unite’s misgivings about the results of the KPS buyout, WWRD Holdings announced earlier this year that it had successfully recapitalised for $167 million, on the strength of its effective stewardship of the companies and brands in its portfolio.
For previous coverage of geographical indications, click here
‘Geographical indication’ argument used as leverage in union bid to repatriate manufacturer’s workforce