27 Mar 2006 - posted by Posted by Jack Yan: The Persuader Blog
I watched Campbell Live tonight, with John Campbell interviewing Arrowtown-based designer Tamsin Cooper. The crux of the matter is this: as blogged last year, Trelise Cooper Ltd. took Tamsin Cooper to the New Zealand Intellectual Property Ofﬁce, preventing Tamsin from registering her own name as a trade mark. Just shy of the IPO hearing the case, Trelise Cooper’s people escalated the matter to the High Court, adding other causes of action.
In addition, A. J. Park, the law ﬁrm representing Trelise Cooper, offered an interesting statement to the programme tonight:
Trelise Cooper had hoped that the matter would be resolved without the need to institute proceedings. Unfortunately that has not happened. Her concerns about ongoing confusion left her with no option but to ﬁle proceedings to protect her intellectual property rights.
Trelise is out of the country, so I do not think anyone can criticize her for this statement. But here are some facts as I understand them, and they make the above look like a lie:
• as admitted by Trelise Cooper and Tamsin Cooper themselves on National Radio, Trelise Cooper Ltd. never contacted Tamsin Cooper before taking her to the IPO, so these ‘proceedings’ have been started by Trelise Cooper Ltd. itself;
• neither party managed to have their day at the IPO because Trelise Cooper Ltd. never allowed this to happen—so it was effectively Trelise Cooper Ltd. and A. J. Park blocking any chance of a speedy resolution;
• allowing the IPO to make its judgement would have been the obvious option, as opposed to ‘no option’.
John Campbell conducted a fair and balanced interview, but there is an important point to be made for the respective brands.
The case has propelled Tamsin Cooper’s small brand into the national limelight. It has managed to portray Trelise Cooper as an ogre, bullying a small label.
By escalating the case to the High Court before the IPO could even make its determination furthers the damage to Trelise’s brand. Regardless of Trelise’s personal motives, escalating a case cements the bullying image. It also goes further and further away from the way Trelise would like her brand to be seen—making it lack authenticity.
Now it looks like the plaintiff, Trelise Cooper Ltd., cares less about justice than about making sure it can outspend the defendant, Tamsin Cooper.
This is dangerous territory as I have known Trelise’s family for years. (I also happen to have known Tamsin Cooper for the same amount of time. I never made the connection between the common surname until last year.)
Jack and Trelise Cooper have used the power of branding to create not just the core Trelise Cooper line but numerous brand extensions, but all those are inherently tied to the public image of Trelise herself. But equally, the conduct of the company—Trelise Cooper Ltd.—impacts back on Trelise. I think this will hurt Trelise, as she has spent a heap of time promoting herself and her image on travel shows, in the New Zealand Listener, and other media. This is before the case even begins in the High Court.
As to Tamsin Cooper, she potentially faces ruin because she cannot spend the same amounts as Trelise Cooper Ltd. to defend herself in the High Court.
As with a lot of things that involve lawyers, this is a lose–lose situation on many fronts, regardless of who actually prevails in court.
But law ﬁrms tend to see dollar signs. And to be fair to A. J. Park, and Kim McLeod and many of the folks I know there, even if they do not see dollar signs, their views are restricted to the case only. And that means they do not, and perhaps should not, consider the impact of their advice on the client’s brand.
It’s perhaps guys like me who have branding and legal experience that see the bigger picture. And if I were advising Trelise, I would say, take it back to the IPO ﬁrst and let the case be heard on its merits. Repair your reputation before Tamsin takes advantage of it. Whatever you lose in brownie points in the New Zealand public, she gains.
If I were advising Tamsin, I would say: defend it with all your might—and let the case be heard on its merits. Whatever she loses in brownie points in the New Zealand public, you gain.
Disclaimers: I know both parties (since 2001). I have consulted for both A. J. Park and for A. J. Pietras & Associates, which represents Tamsin Cooper. One of the matters at issue is a photograph on the Tamsin Cooper home page: on the radio, Trelise Cooper has claimed that Tamsin Cooper, who is a brunette, is acting in bad faith by using a model with blonde curly hair—which Trelise has. As I may have to testify or swear, the fact the model has the same hairstyle as Trelise Cooper is coincidental. It was taken by Amanda Dorcil for Lucire (the December 2004 issue, at left) and Tamsin Cooper had no part in the choice of model. And we never thought the model looked like Trelise Cooper.
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