Fighting over the name game

Most litigation involves navigating turbulent waters. But those waters are seldom more turbulent than in a current 'what's-in-a-name' battle which promises to establish precedents in trademark law.

When the case recently reached court and an interlocutory judgment was given for a pending High Court battle between two leading opinion poll organisations, Mr Justice Robert Walker said that because of the "turbulence" it was "impossible to see which way the tide is flowing". And he hoped that when the case is heard in the Chancery Division in the latter half of 1996 that "turbulence" may subside.

The trademark row, in which the judge ordered a speedy trial after refusing interlocutory injunctions, centres on use of the Gallup name, which has become synonymous with opinion polls.

The protagonist is the UK-based Gallup Organisation, backed by a US-based parent organisation, which is taking on the Swiss incorporated Gallup International Association and UK-based company Taylor Nelson AGB.

The move towards hostile litigation by Gallup Organisation has already been branded as typically aggressive, US-style litigation, reflecting the company's trans-Atlantic influence.

Taylor Nelson, which mainly undertakes market research rather than opinion polls, rates about 15th in the world in its field and has a turnover of £90 million a year.

The dispute is not over a bid by Taylor Nelson directly to use the Gallup name in its title; the firm is already established in its own right. However, it seeks to publicly associate itself as a member of the Gallup International Association.

But, in what has become an increasingly bitter and complex battle, the Gallup Organisation claims Gallup International Association is no longer entitled to use the name.

In his decision refusing an interlocutory ban, Mr Justice Robert Walker said the case had "a complicated background history of schisms and shifting alliances". And in his judgment he referred to a wide number of organisations which have been involved in the Gallup web, including the Gallup Organisation Ltd, the Gallup Organisation Inc, Gallup International Association, the American Institute of Public Opinion, the British Institute of Public Opinion, Social Surveys (Gallup Polls) and the International Association of Public Opinion Institutes.

Getting to grips with the organisational structure and the "turbulence" are some of the problems which faced Jim Kinnier-Wilson of Nabarro Nathanson, which represents Taylor Nelson. And they have been problems which have had to be confronted at short notice. Writs were only issued in September this year.

Kinnier-Wilson admits the complexity of the case, which he sees as important for trademark disputes as well as the opinion poll and market analysis sectors, has at times been difficult.

He also believes it is a case which will set precedents in the growing area of 'what's-in-a-name' litigation. For example, free speech issues have already been raised at the interlocutory stage and are certain to re-emerge at the full hearing.

In the recent successful battle to ward off the interlocutory shots from the Gallup Organisation, Nabarros instructed counsel Geoffrey Hobbs QC and Andrew Waugh. Jeffrey Green Russell represented Gallup International Association. SJ Berwin & Co represented the Gallup Organisation.