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UK’s Glebe Farm wins court case against Oatly in infringement claims

05/08/2021 – Agriculture / Oat Milk / Oatly / PureOaty / Glebe Farm / UK / Infringement

UK’s Glebe Farm wins court case against Oatly in infringement claims

British oat milk producer Glebe Farm has today won the legal case brought against it by oat drink giant Oatly for trademark infringement and passing off following Glebe’s use of the brand PureOaty on their gluten-free oat milk.

In a complete victory, today’s judgement saw the judge dismiss all Oatly’s claims of trade mark infringement and passing off that were levelled at Glebe Farm – a business established in oat milling and cereal production for over 30 years and makers of oat milk for nearly three years.

“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,” Phillip Rayner, owner and Managing Director of Glebe Farm, explained. “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.

“David and Goliath battle”

“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,” he continued, adding that he much appreciated the huge support that PureOaty and Glebe Farm have received from around the world – including 130,000 signatures on a petition, alongside the many comments online that described the case as “a true David and Goliath battle”.

“Oatly has claimed that this legal action is just standard business practice. However, it was very clear to us that this was not the case. We decided it was time to stand up to this behaviour, and that in our view ‘corporate might does not make right’,” Mr Rayner stated.

“In response to public and industry criticism, 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,” the UK company’s MD said, going on to remark that it was “enormously gratifying” to see the judge rule in Glebe Farm’s favour, and to see that smaller independent companies can fight back and win.

“We never wanted to be an Oatly clone”

“The facts are that we have never wanted to be an Oatly clone. Pride in our own product aside, as British farmers we do not agree with any brand that comes across as anti-farming in its approach,” Mr Rayner opined.

“Our brand name is PureOaty because our oat milk is made from pure, gluten-free oats and just three other ingredients. The claimant has tried to cast our name incorrectly as ‘Oaty’ as an attempt to include that common word in their brand portfolio. However, even if it were Oaty, would you expect everyone to be prevented from using the word ‘milky’ if a large multinational had trademarked ‘Milk-ly’?” he posited.

“We are pleased to have our trademark position vindicated by the judge.”

Verdict: No likelihood of confusion found between the brands

The court hearing occurred on 9th and 10th June 2021, and examined wide-ranging aspects of alleged relevant intellectual property – including choice of language and typefaces, the use of the colour blue and the detail of a coffee cup appearing on the PureOaty pack. Glebe Farm’s counsel took time to question the originality of Oatly’s ‘wackaging’ and expressed surprise at the paucity of evidence Oatly brought of any consumer confusion between the brands before heading to court. 

Ultimately the judge found that there is no likelihood of confusion between the PUREOATY name and look of the carton, and any of the Oatly trade marks. Furthermore, the judge ruled against Oatly’s allegation that Glebe Farm intended to gain some unfair advantage, and having reviewed all the evidence and contemporaneous documents he was fully satisfied that there was no intention as attributed by Oatly.

“There’s room in a growing category for alternatives”

“There is room in a growing category for alternatives. 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,” suggested Mr Rayner. 

“All of us at Glebe Farm are excited to put this matter behind us now, so we can focus our time on serving our loyal customers and the British public with pure, sustainable oats and oat milk without corporate lawsuits distracting from our day-to-day priorities.”

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