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”.