26/05/2008 - 10:02

Skunkworks trademark win over US giant

26/05/2008 - 10:02


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Perth flat screen mounting manufacturer Skunkworks has claimed victory in a struggle with US military and aviation giant Lockheed Martin over efforts to trademark the company's name in Australia.

Skunkworks trademark win over US giant

Perth flat screen mounting manufacturer Skunkworks has claimed victory in a struggle with US military and aviation giant Lockheed Martin over efforts to trademark the company's name in Australia.

Federal government body IP Australia last week dismissed opposition to Skunkworks' move to trademark its name, a process started three years ago.

Lockheed Martin coined the phrase Skunk Works during the second world war and it has become the official alias for its Advanced Development Programs. It has trademarked the name in the US.

In February 2006, it registered its opposition to the Australian application, by Skunkworks' owner The Novita Group Pty Ltd of Salter Point.

The win by Skunkworks is the latest for a Perth company over US giants.

In 2006, WA company Uggs-N-Rugs won a two-year, legal battle over the right to use the name 'ugh-boot,' with the North American giant Deckers Outdoor Corporation which owns the trade mark in the US. Australian producers are now free to use ugh or ugg to describe sheepskin boots.

In 2002, Malaga-based Galvin Engineering beat off a long legal challenge to the use of its initials in a logo by another US giant - General Electrics.


Below is the full release from Skunkworks:

Skunkworks, one of Australia's leading small businesses and manufacturer of flat screen mounting products, has been locked in a battle for the past three years over its trademark application for the "Skunkworks" name. On 22 May IP Australia, the government division that manages trademark applications, pronounced "Opposition Dismissed" to Lockheed Martin's contention and awarded the trademark to Skunkworks. In doing so it set a worldwide precedent.

Lockheed Martin, the world's number one military contractor and maker of the Stealth Bomber, is well known for its aggressive action against a multitude of companies worldwide that use the Skunkworks name in their brands or URLs. To date only three companies (including Skunkworks' sister operation in the UK) have successfully won the right to use "Skunkworks" in their URLs. As far as can be determined the Perth company is the first in history to have been successfully awarded a trademark.

Lockheed Martin launched its action against Skunkworks three years ago, via a series of legal threats, which resulted in a full scale, mediated legal battle through IP Australia. It cited various claims of 'abusive use of the "Skunk Works" name' which it originally used in the 1950s in relation to its under-cover cold war technology division. Skunkworks did not involve lawyers and defended itself during the lengthy proceedings whilst Lockheed Martin was represented by some of the top legal firms in the US and Australia.

At the centre of the argument was Lockheed Martin's concern that there would be "confusion" over the use of the "Skunk Works" name, suggesting that somehow customers purchasing from Skunkworks' Australian operation would connect its flat screen mounting products with Lockheed Martin's core business of aeronautical and military products.

In reality, despite its long association with the "Skunk Works" mark, that it lays claim to in several trademark classes in various countries, it appears Lockheed Martin does not use it in association with any of its actual products or services.

It is generally considered that the "Skunkworks" name has long since lost its association with any one entity. These days it is known for being a common dictionary term referring to: "a group of individuals who get

together to think outside the square to come up with innovative solutions" and is used by a variety of corporations to describe their "think-tank" divisions and centres of innovation.

"This is clearly a 'David and Goliath' type victory," commented Skunkworks spokesman, Lou Schillaci. "It means we can now take positive steps forward and action our plans for expansion that will take us into new markets, particularly the US. It was nerve-wracking being up against such a formidable company considering we're a small Australian business. Having said that though, we couldn't see any reason why we didn't have a right to use the Skunkworks mark so we feel completely vindicated."

A delegate of the Registrar at IP Australia, has directed that this trademark application be registered on or before 13 June 2008.


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