Oatly has lost its trademark infringement case against Glebe Farm’s PureOaty oat milk, and the Swedish giant says it won’t appeal the decision.
Cambridgeshire-based Glebe Farm has secured a complete victory in the trademark infringement battle against Oatly, after a judge ruled in the PureOaty maker’s favour.
Oatly claimed the term “Oaty” in PureOaty resembled its branding too much, but Judge Nicholas Caddick QC said there was no “risk of injury to the distinctive character” of Oatly’s brand.
The hearing took place on June 9 and 10, and the judge said while there were a few similarities between the initial PureOaty and Oatly packaging — like the colour blue and the irregular font for the logo — they were very general. “It is hard to see how any relevant confusion would arise from the defendant’s use of the sign ‘PureOaty’,” he said. “On the facts of this case, I do not see that there is any risk of injury to the distinctive character of Oatly’s marks.”
Speaking to The Vegan Review in June, Oatly’s communications director Linda Nordgren said: “This is the first time a product in the UK is called ‘Oaty’, which is too close to Oatly. Trademark protection works like this: we have to take every fight. We can’t pick and choose. If we don’t, that would be like us saying it’s okay for others, including Big Milk, to also use similar branding and the name ‘Oaty’.”
Glebe Farm, a family-run business by siblings Philip and Rebecca Rayner, received 130,000 signatures on a Change.org petition calling for Oatly to back out. “You only need to look at the two products and packaging side by side to appreciate how different these brands are, and how unnecessary this legal action was,” said Philip Rayner.
“Oatly has claimed that this legal action is just standard business practice. However, it was very clear to us that this was not the case. We decided it was time to stand up to this behaviour, and that in our view ‘corporate might does not make right’.”
He added that it is gratifying to see smaller independent companies fight back and win in “a true David and Goliath battle”. “The facts are that we have never wanted to be an Oatly clone. Pride in our own product aside, as British farmers we do not agree with any brand that comes across as anti-farming in its approach.”
In a statement, Oatly said it fully accepts the decision and would not be appealing it. “While to some, this might be seen as vindication for small oat drink companies over big oat drink companies, we actually never saw it that way,” the statement read. “For us, this case has always been about protecting our trademark and how the single letter ‘Y’ creates too much of a similarity between ‘Oaty’ and ‘Oatly’.”
Rayner, however, disregarded Oatly’s claim to engage in “constructive conversation” after facing backlash. “In our view, a threat of legal action never felt ‘constructive’ and we felt there was no compromise or dialogue offered.”
Oatly’s statement explained: “If we were to let one company pass because they, like Glebe Farm, seem to be one of the good guys, that might leave the door open for the bad ones. Truth is, we love all oat drink companies and never brought this case to damage Glebe Farm. In fact, we want them to thrive and help bring products into the world that are good for the planet. We just think they should do so in their own unique voice, just like we do.”
Rayner added: “The claimant has tried to cast our name incorrectly as ‘Oaty’ as an attempt to include that common word in their brand portfolio. However, even if it were ‘Oaty’, would you expect everyone to be prevented from using the word ‘milky’ if a large multinational had trademarked ‘Milk-ly’?”
The Glebe Farm owner said there is room in a growing category for dairy alternatives. “We’d like to think growth opportunities come from positivity in broadening sector choice, rather than from trying to shut things down and limiting consumer options.
“All of us at Glebe Farm are excited to put this matter behind us now so we can focus our time on serving our loyal customers and the British public with pure, sustainable oats and oat milk without corporate lawsuits distracting from our day-to-day priorities.”