Coca-Cola has dropped a substantial legal challenge against Sydney small family business Teavolution, which produces iced tea under the trademark Honest Tea, following an 18-month dispute which the family owners claim hindered their business throughout.
Annie Young trademarked the brand “Honest Tea” in Australia in 2005 to sell a range of homemade iced tea and tea leaf products online and at small markets and distributors. In 2011, Coca-Cola challenged the trademark after it bought out a US iced tea giant, also named Honest Tea, which had previously unsuccessfully challenged Young’s trademark in 2007.
Speaking to Guardian Australia on Thursday, Young described how Coca-Cola’s renewed trademark challenge had taken its toll on her business: “It’s hard to employ new people, it’s hard to talk to new distributors, new suppliers; every time you invest a cent in the business you think, did I do the right thing, are they going to come at me with something else tomorrow?”
But following the news that Coca-Cola had dropped the challenge, Young expressed her relief: “I’m very, very relieved. I’m pleased that they’ve finally realised that they didn’t have ownership of the trademark here.
“I guess I’m still a bit annoyed, because it doesn’t make up for the last 18 months of costs, time, worry and angst and all the things that fighting with a big multinational does, so I’m frustrated about that, but I can’t deny that I’m relieved it’s all over.”
Young said Coca-Cola’s decision to drop the challenge set an example for other Australian small businesses: “I think when you know you’re right, every small business should stand up to these bullies. Particularly a big multinational like Coke, who proudly flex their muscles. I think every small business should stand up to them. Don’t let them push you over.”
Guardian Australia has seen documents showing that the multinational employed a private investigator to examine Young’s business and examine whether the trademark was being actively used. This involved calling a number of Young’s distributors, which she claimed affected the small business’s relationship with customers.
Young told Guardian Australia she was planning to celebrate by drinking a cup of tea and that Coca Cola dropping the challenge meant she could return to growing the business.
She also rubbished the idea that the Australian business did not use the trademark.
“We use it all the time, we use it every day. We sell the leaf teas, we sell the teas, we make ice teas, we can do anything. We are using that brand and will continue to use and protect that brand no matter how big these boys are,” she said on Thursday.
Young had previously attempted to set up mediation discussions with Coca-Cola through the NSW state government’s Small Business Commissioner, but she told Guardian Australia the multinational had not responded to requests.
The NSW small business minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, introduced legislation that would force large companies to enter into mediation talks. The small business commissioner bill passed in May but the law is yet to commence.
In a statement the Coca-Cola company said: “Honest Tea Inc. [the subsidiary owned by Coca Cola] has now elected to withdraw its non-use cancellation actions against the “Honest Tea” trademarks owned by Teavolution. We had engaged in trademark administrative actions as a means of protecting Honest Tea Inc.’s rights in response to the several unsolicited approaches from Teavolution, attempting to sell its marks to Honest Tea Inc., and have decided not to pursue these.”
Young strongly denied this description of the trademark approaches.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk