This article caught my eye this morning, “Swiss Spa Files Suit Against Ritz-Carlton for Trademark Violations.” It is one of the issues I brought up during my presentation at the Monaco Spa Conference in January when I was asked to give a list of suggestions for the spa industry going forward. My #6 suggestion was:
“Let’s respect each other’s intellectual property; patents, trademarks, and copyrights.”
Having not studied the specifics of the La Prairie and Ritz-Carlton case, I have no idea whether the lawsuit has merit. I suppose the courts will decide. However, it does strike me that as our industry grows, violations of intellectual property are likely to increase. Some of it is innocent (in fact much of it is) but I think we have an obligation to be very careful about using names, titles, and terminology which has proprietary value. And when we have done so inadvertently, make a quick change. That is the right thing to do.
I remember in the early 90’s when Deborah Szekely tried to stop the Golden Door name from being used by someone in Australia who was opening a new spa – unfortunately she was not successful. Now there is an entire chain of Golden Door spas in Australia – all resembling the original Golden Door which Deborah and her late husband, Edmond, opened in Escondido, California in 1959. The Szekely’s had invested everything they had to create what became one of the most celebrated spas in the world. They had earned millions of dollars in media exposure through decades of hard work and sacrifice. Now that was going to be leveraged (and still is) by another company which simply decided to take the name for their venture. They even used a logo and font for their Golden Door name which was very close to the one used by the Golden Door in the U.S. at the time.
I think this was unfair.
Even if using someone else’s name is “legal” because of international gaps in the system, it creates ill-will within our industry and is costly in the long run. Precious resources that could be invested in improving health and well-being are, instead, diverted to legal fees for both parties. And now the very claim that Deborah Szekely made all those years ago – that the consumer will be confused – has indeed happened. When I travel throughout Asia and mention that I worked with the Golden Door, most people assume it is the Golden Door in Australia.
It may be too late to change that situation, but it is my hope that our industry will be conscientious about this issue going forward and retain the spirit of the law – even if the letter of the law would allow otherwise.
At Spa Finder we have successfully worked with many who inadvertently used the Spa Finder name inappropriately. Thankfully, in virtually every instance we were able to reach an amicable resolution before needing to take legal action. We have even become friends with some as we worked together and found synergies.
I’m kind of a stickler about this issue (as you can probably tell) and so I have made it a point to make sure that at Spa Finder we don’t tread on other’s trademarks. One example is the term medi-spa which I learned many years ago is a registered trademark owned by Dr. Bruce Katz, a well known medical doctor here in New York. We do not use that term without crediting him.
I don’t know the specifics behind the La Prairie and Ritz Carlton dispute. For all I know it might be tied to the issue that the Swiss Clinique La Prairie and the skin care company La Prairie have been separate companies for quite a while now (something which has been confusing to me all along). However, it is my hope that they resolve the issue quickly and in good faith.