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Iceland versus Iceland: a supermarket privatised the name of a country

Imagine any of the Italian Pizzas, Turkish delights, or Greek Yogurt producers anywhere in the world privatising the brand “Italian,” “Turkish,” or “Greek.” That is what happened to Iceland.

The government of Iceland is embroiled in a legal battle with a British company that claims the exclusive use of the Iceland brand. And that is why the Icelandic government is taking the supermarket chain “Iceland” to Court.

Privatizing a country’s name

The supermarket claims the national brand.

For Foreign Ministry of Iceland, that is a matter of principle. The Icelandic government met with the management of the supermarket last week to discuss their registration of the word ‘Iceland’ with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

Iceland Foods maintains that the exclusive control of the word “Iceland” is its property and is presenting proposals that amount to the shakeup of any Icelanders wishing to advertise the products as Icelandic. According to the Icelandic government, Iceland Foods is aggressively pursuing and won multiple cases against Icelandic companies that use ‘Iceland’ on their representation.

In turn, the Icelandic government will proceed in its legal case to invalidate the exclusive registration.

The Icelandic government argues that the privatisation of a positive national brand by a private company “defies logic and is untenable” as it hinders companies and entities to register their products with their country of origin.

Iceland: the Supermarket

Iceland Foods is a British company that owns 900 shops in the U.K, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Iceland. It held the EU trademark in 2014. The company was founded in 1970 and specialises in frozen foods.

The company’s CEO told the BBC that negotiations have failed because “Icelandic authorities have no interest in reaching a compromise,” founder and chief executive Malcolm Walker told the BBC.

The company admits to trying to block attempts to register “Inspired by Iceland.”

The company is making the argument that while the company had Icelandic shareholders until 2012, Iceland did not have a problem with the supermarket’s branding.