Willa vs Wella: start-up wins out-of-court settlement against P&G

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Skin care products

Procter & Gamble were all set to take a Connecticut housewife to court over her use of the name Willa for a range of pre-teen skin care products, claiming it sounded too much like its brand Wella. However, the housewife is victorious following an out-of-court settlement.

Earlier this year Christy Prunier received a cease and desist letter from P&G, which claimed that the product branding, packaging and name were too similar to a range of products being marketed under its Wella hair care range.

P&G lawyers claimed that the similarities would lead to confusion amongst its established customer base for the brand because of the the two ranges could be mistaken for one another on retail shelves.

Product range named after 11-year old daughter

Prunier had spent three years developing the range, which was named after her own 11-year old daughter, and had obtained trademark approval from the US government at the beginning of the year, alowing her to put the complete range to market.

However, in a classic David and Goliath story line, the roll-out of the natural-based product line, which includes skin care products and a lip balm, was stalled as the two companies readied for battle.

The two were due to face one another in court in Manhattan, New York City last week, but as the media attention gathered, in turn drumming up a clear sympathy for the ‘little guy’, P&G chose to settle out of court.

Willa range covered different categories and retail channels

Prunier had contested that her range dipped into several different categories and will be sold in a cross-section of retail stores throughout the US, while the Wella range is only sold in salons.

Although P&G is invariably quick to stifle imitations and rightfully protect the brands it invests heavily in to develop and market, cases such as this can sometimes backfire, giving way to potentially damaging media coverage. In this instance backing down seemed to be the wisest path to take.

A costly battle for Willa

The agreement means that Prunier will be able to continue with her planned launch of the entire product range, scheduled for March 2012, however, the battle has not been an easy one, as lawyer Michael Rosenthal of Rosenthal LLC pointed out in a blog.

“The problem for Prunier and other small business owners is the imbalance of resources. P&G can spend a million dollars on litigation and it’s no more than a rounding error on a financial statement,”​ Rosenthal stated.

“Prunier has spent $750,000, which for many small businesses is unimaginable and would force the company to cease doing business,”​ Rosenthal adds.

How much of this expense will be covered in the settlement is anyone’s guess, as P&G have refused to make any comment on the case and Prunier has been forced to remain silent under the conditions of the settlement.

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