Businesswomen do battle over ‘Shetland’ teddy bears

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The creator of the original Fair Isle-pattern teddy bears is reeling after a rival Shetland teddy bear-maker threatened action for allegedly infringing her trademark.

Burra Bears owner Wendy Inkster said she was shocked, sickened and worried following the letter from Gillian Ramsay of The Shetland Fudge Company, who has trademarked the name Shetland Teddybear Company and is concerned her customers are being poached.

The two women have not spoken since 2007 when Mrs Ramsay started making her own range of teddy bears, many with Fair Isle patterns. Until then she had been supplied by Burra Bears for six years, which began life in 1997 and made the knitted Shetland bears design famous.

Asking that Mrs Inkster not infringe her copyright, Mrs Ramsay demanded she remove any form of wording from her website and literature that was “close” to her trademark. She was told to do so within 28 days and to notify her when she had done so.

According to Mrs Ramsay, Shetland Teddybear Company customers had told her they were confused by similarities between the two craft producers’ websites.

Mrs Ramsay told her rival: “Obviously as a fellow craft worker you know intellectual property is closely guarded and protecting it can be costly.”

Her letter ended with a thinly veiled threat: “I have no axe to grind with you personally and have enough to keep me busy without taking on another lengthy court case but you should be in no doubt that we will take all steps necessary to protect our brand.”

Two years ago Mrs Ramsay won a legal battle brought by the supermarket Asda which tried to stop her getting a trademark for her Puffin Poo chocolates.

Mrs Inkster was so incensed by the letter she went public, contacting the press and featuring in a national paper with the headline Battle of the Bears.

Speaking to The Shetland Times, Mrs Inkster said the trouble had started in 2007 after she temporarily stopped supplying some shops, including Mrs Ramsay’s, the previous year due to heavy customer demand from elsewhere and producing fewer bears due to a family bereavement. She had never expected fellow craftworker Mrs Ramsay to “jump” on her brand in the meantime.

She said: “I was incredibly shocked. I kent some day somebody would probably come out with something similar to mine but I was just incredibly shocked that it was her.”

The bears are significantly different. Mrs Ramsay’s bears have jointed limbs and head and are tested to the standard required for children’s toys, costing between £95 and £150, whereas Mrs Inkster’s are simpler knitted “collectable” ornaments, selling for £55-£65.

As the owner of Burra Bears she had not taken any steps to protect her creations from being imitated or used as the idea for derivative products. However, after Mrs Ramsay started the Shetland Teddybear Company, Mrs Inkster went out and bought up the internet domain names Shetland Teddy Bears and Shetland Teddy Bear Company, which point surfers to Burra Bears.

After digesting the threatening letter Mrs Inkster said she had not known where she stood and whether she might even be prevented from using the words Shetland and teddy bear together.

She said she was still confused as to why Mrs Ramsay had seen fit to take such action. “I did feel very threatened. I’m still in shock. Every morning when I wake up I’m just so surprised and I think: ‘Why? What are you getting out of this? What good is it doing you?’”

But Mrs Ramsay dismissed such fears, saying that she had not asked her rival to stop calling her products Shetland teddy bears or original Shetland teddy bears. “I’ve just asked her to not use our trademark. I don’t want the words Shetland Teddybear Company appearing on any of her literature and that’s all I’m asking for. And she knows it.”

She said she had wanted the approach to be “friendly and informal” and not to appear heavy-handed. “I could have gone further than that and sent a Cease and Desist letter but I haven’t done.”

She also disputed Mrs Inkster’s version of the events when she had stopped supplying Burra Bears to The Shetland Fudge Company shop but said she was not prepared to comment on the reason. “This goes far deeper and has more politics and who’s in who’s gang about it than I’m prepared to mention at the moment.”

Mrs Inkster has since written back to Mrs Ramsay after speaking to an intellectual property lawyer in Edinburgh. Her position is that there has been no trademark infringement, placing the ball in Mrs Ramsay’s court for the possibility of further action.

She said Mrs Inkster had now issued a counter-threat to try to have her trademark removed. “She’s sent a far more threatening letter back.”

She also dismissed Mrs Inkster’s reaction as “an unashamed publicity stunt”.


Add Your Comment
  • Ann Llewellyn

    • October 17th, 2011 18:28

    In my opinion I believe as Mrs Inksters bears are the cheapest in price, it would lead to it being the most popular brand. After ll it was the original too and Miss Ramsay is just a copy cat.

  • Amy Leask

    • October 17th, 2011 19:20

    The traditional Burra Bears are by far the most superior!

  • Ali Inkster

    • October 17th, 2011 19:33

    I’ll not be buying puffin poo or any other product from Gillian Ramsay, and will advise every one I meet in my travels to act likewise.

  • Shona Skinner

    • October 17th, 2011 19:49

    We have sent Wendy Inkster’s wonderful Burra Bears all across the world. They have always been hugely admired and seen as totally original.
    It is shameful that someone else is trying to copy such delightful, and personal, works of art.

  • Janice Pottinger

    • October 17th, 2011 23:06

    To quote Mrs Inksters very catchy tagline …. “innovation, not imitation”

    Janice Pottinger, Burra

  • Jenny Duncan

    • October 18th, 2011 0:03

    I have seen the difference between them, in my own personal opinion Burra Bears are far more superior. They are much prettier aswell. With Christmas coming up I know what I would prefer to by for my families Christmas (Burra Bears)

  • Colin Hunter

    • October 18th, 2011 0:35

    No problem as far as I can see. Mrs Inkster of Burra is a “Real” Shetlander. Mrs Ramsay, judging by her accent , is not, and may even be from the same neck of the woods as my own dear wife, South Yorkshire. So, If Mrs Inkster simply re-names her website “REAL Shetland Teddy Bears” or whatever, then she has changed the name and honour, as they say, should be satisfied. My own, personal belief, is that far too many people with tenuous links to Shetland, are jumping on the “Shetland” bandwagon when they have little or no right to do so, other than the fact they live here. I believe that the “Shetland” name should be reserved for people born here. Other people could use a lesser form, like “Teddy bears from Shetland” for instance, rather than Shetland teddy bears. The Shetland name has been diluted and bastardised enough already. If anyone has ever typed in they will discover that it is the website of some property developer in Chicago!

  • David Spence

    • October 18th, 2011 2:09

    I concur with the previous sentiments of the people who have written their support for Wendy, and her unique and wonderful teddy bears. The opposition to Wendy, is doing nothing more than copying a local product and making out to be their own. The similarities are there to be seen, and plagiarising Wendy’s product is exceedingly obvious on the outset.

  • Laurie Goodlad

    • October 18th, 2011 10:37

    I would also like to say that i fully support Wendy in this one. Her bear is the original Shetland bear, it is much loved and recognised worldwide thanks. I think the actions against her are hostile and unnecessary. I think it is shameful.

  • Don Whittle

    • October 18th, 2011 11:48

    It is really sad to hear how a very successful idea has been subjected to this attack. Wendy has been the creator of a beautiful product, much loved and definately personalised for each and every buyer/recipient. She should put this to the back of her mind, immitation is the strongest test of a successful market and Wendy has that market sewn up ( forgive the pun). Long may she continue to provide a product that people seek out and treat with the utmost care.

  • Ron Stronach

    • October 18th, 2011 12:26

    Well if ever there was someone who wanted to alienate themseves from the community they live in; this could be that one.

    Viva Burra Bears!!!!

  • Sarah Thompson

    • October 18th, 2011 13:13

    I fully support Wendy Inkster in this disappointing story. Also, I agree that there are questionable examples of the use of the “Shetland”, but surely anyone living in Shetland who creates or sells a product with sound verifiable links & sources in Shetland should be allowed to do so if it promotes the islands and its diversity? especially if that business benefits the local community, local economy through jobs and income. That statement does not support those imitating others either …

  • Yvonne Nicolson

    • October 18th, 2011 16:46

    Another vote for the original Burra Bears!!

  • Colin Hunter

    • October 18th, 2011 19:19

    The reason I have reservations about the use of “Shetland” in a trade mark has a lot to do with Blackwood Distillers who I consider to have done a real number on Shetland. I know people who invested in the project and were left high and dry when it failed to go ahead. They did produce Gin, Vodka and a liqueur called “Jago” which won awards, and I admit that the Gin was excellent. However, their claims that they were made with Shetland ingredients was unsubstantiated at best. Also somewhat unlikely. The firm went into administration in 2008 and the rights to market the drinks passed to a firm called Blavod extreme spirits in a 7 year deal. Is it a coincidence that there is more than a slight resemblance between “Blavod” and “BLAckwoods VODka!???
    Perhaps I was a little harsh on insisting people should be born here to take advantage of the Shetland name. Perhaps being a resident is enough as long as the company dissolves all references to Shetland if the person subsequently leaves the islands.
    There is a completely ridiculous situation existing with the “Edinburgh Woolen Mill” actually producing garments in a factory in Mongolia which is manned by North Koreans! See We should do our utmost to prevent any such thing happening with so called “Shetland” products if we can.

  • Justin Mann

    • October 18th, 2011 20:59

    As an arctophile for many years neither bear appeals to me but I can clearly see the original brand is far better and has been copied.
    I feel that this is a petty squabble that should have been settled without this much exposure but alas it would appear this will not be the case.
    I do resent the comments regarding Mrs. Ramseys birthplace and feel that Shetlander or not this has no relevance whatsoever to the argument at hand, you shouldn’t have to be born and bred Shetlander to be a part of the community.
    Personally I am not a Shetlander and would never pretend to be but I do my bit for Shetland, be it work or helping the economy here so please accept that us Soothmoothers will stand by you “Real” Shetlanders if we feel an injustice is being done! but it really shouldn’t be relevant.

  • Thea Lawson

    • October 18th, 2011 21:31

    There is only one bear, and that is the BURRA Bear !

    Long may they multiply.

  • Ann Thomson

    • October 18th, 2011 22:38

    As a person not born in Shetland but have lived here for the past 31 years I support Wendy Inkster and Burra Bears. Wendy has an unique and delightful product and in addition uses local resources and a local workforce so deserves our full support.

  • Janice Manson

    • October 19th, 2011 8:56

    Wendy & her wonderfully original Burra Bears get my vote!!!!

  • Amy Anderson

    • October 21st, 2011 23:50

    I totally support Burra Bears, First Puffin Poo now this! Why does it all have to be a problem! By doing this Gillian is just going to lose business and in such a small community it’s not a wise move. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Shetland Fudge Company rather quiet after this. I used to go into the art shop and buy wool and canvases, from now on I will go online.

    As has been said before… VIVA Burra Bears!

  • Sue Snelling

    • October 20th, 2012 15:49

    Having just visited Shetland during the October wool week festival I can honestly say that the Burra Bears are far and away of superior design, finish and basically just a whole lot cuter too. Wendy has done the almost impossible and made each one look as though t has its own personality. That they are slightly cheaper is an added bonus. Why would anyone choose differently???

  • Rupert Weir

    • December 8th, 2012 1:23

    Burra Bears are truly amazing. Both my daughters had them made to commemorate the sudden and tragic loss of their mother. I’m so disappointed in the lady who is causing unnecessary ructions about Burra Bears, for purely avaricious reasons. Burra Bears are in many ways priceless, regardless of their cost and are of a quality which is unsurpassed. If I have the pleasure of visiting Shetland again, I know which shop I will not be visiting. Thank you so much Burra Bears!


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