Ben Hurley Reporter

Ben covers the property industry and has a keen interest in entrepreneurship and travel writing. He speaks Mandarin and previously covered housing and urban affairs for The Australian Financial Review.

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Bunnings, Masters play hardware name games

Published 11 February 2013 11:49, Updated 15 February 2013 09:12

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Bunnings, Masters play hardware name games

Wesfarmers Bunnings and Woolworths newcomer Masters have been engaged in a tit-for-tat battle as Masters attempts to end Bunnings dominance of the ‘big box’ hardware market. Photo: Woolworths

The war between big box hardware rivals Bunnings and Masters has stepped up a notch, with a group of Bunnings leaders registering the name Masters Home Improvement Limited as a trademark in New Zealand.

The New Zealand company was incorporated in May 2011, headed by Bunnings managing director John Gillam, chief operating officer Peter Davis and Bunnings’ New Zealand head Jacqueline Coombes. The incorporation date was less than a month after Woolworths announced the name of its new hardware venture.

A Bunnings spokesperson denied the move had anything to do with its Woolworths-owned competitor.

“Bunnings has a number of exclusive ranges that use the word “master” in their branding in New Zealand and it was commercially appropriate to protect them, and as such the trademark was registered in mid-2011,” the spokesperson said.

It is the latest instalment in an expensive tit-for-tat battle between Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings and Woolworths-owned Masters, and not the first-time Bunnings has attempted to pre-emptively nail its rival.

The Australian Financial Review reported in 2010 that Bunnings had gazumped Woolworths on a large commercial site in Queensland’s Hervey Bay, situated directly opposite its established big-box hardware outlet.

Bunnings paid almost $10 million for the site at 200 Boat Harbour Drive – almost double its market value.

Bunnings also joined Victorian councils in lobbying against the Masters brand roll-out across the state.

Woolworths has previously accused Bunnings of coercing its suppliers not to sell to Masters.

Last year the Federal Court found Sydney businessman Bruce Binns had “intentionally hijacked” US motorhome brand Winnebago and traded using a similar logo for decades.

Anita Cade, a partner in intellectual property at Ashurst, says there are protections in place to protect companies having their brand hijacked, even if they haven’t registered a trademark.

“If you have developed a reputation in Australia for your brand and someone else comes along and notices you haven’t registered your trademark even though you have built up a reputation, and they think they are being clever and register a trademark, there are provisions for the person who owns the brand to prevent a person from succeeding with their trademark registration.”

Overseas businesses can also sue a local copycat if they can argue they already had a reputation here, and the laws in New Zealand are similar. But without that local reputation, it would be harder.

“Using the Australian analogy, if a brand such as Masters does not have a reputation in Australia, then it would be much easier for another organisation to register a trademark and prevent the true brand owner from overseas from coming into Australia and using its same brand name in Australia,” Cade says. “You do find from time to time that businesses in certain countries have slightly different names.”

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