Bentley Clothing was established in 1962, by businessman Gerald Bentley, with its headquarters in Wembley, West London, and registered the Bentley trademark for clothing in 1982. The firm was then bought by the Lees family in 1990 and moved to Manchester in the following years. Bentley Motors, which was founded 100 years ago, only started selling branded clothes in 1987 – some 25 years after Bentley Clothing.
The dispute began when Bentley Clothing approached Bentley Motors in 1998 about the branding clash, but the court action was launched only in 2017 after years of negotiations. The main reason was an ongoing decline of the clothing brand, which Bentley clothing attributed to the focus Bentley Motors placed on its clothing range following the negotiations turned sour in 1998, and the ‘persistent infringing’ of their trademark that followed In the early and mid-1990s, the company generated £5 million a year in sales. This has now slumped to less than £100,000 a year.
According to general trademark laws, a registered trademark is infringed when the infringer, without obtaining consent from the registered trademark holder, uses an identical logo or a name, for its goods or services despite the possibility of confusion by the average consumer.
For that reason, in November 2019, the High Court in London ruled that the car company had infringed the trademark rights of the clothing brand by means of using the word Bentley in association with their line of clothing. This decision meant Bentley Motors is no longer able to use the name, either on its own or in combination with its famous "wings" logo, on its clothing range in the UK and would have to limit the line to jackets, and silk ties, caps, and scarves.
In December 2020, Bentley Motors’ appealed this decision. This appeal, however, was later dismissed, and with the final court ruling, the car giant was ordered to destroy all of its branded apparel that included the word ‘Bentley’.
This case once again shows the power of trademarks when it comes to protecting the rights of even the smallest of companies against large multinationals. It also highlights the value of making sure that trademarks are registered in all classes of goods and services that are relevant to a given company. And although when launching a company nobody can know where their brand will end up, it is good to keep in mind potential expansion possibilities when registering trademarks. Protection of trademark rights can be a lengthy process but is certainly worth time and effort if the brand holds value to your business.