Regular readers will recall that the Swatch Group – which owns the Hamilton brand – lost their trademark infringement lawsuit against Vortic, makers of “up-cycled” wristwatches. Vortic is back to selling modified Hamilton pocket watches and Swatch was back in court defending itself against F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, of all people. This time Swatch won. Talk about a no-brainer . . .
After a three year legal battle, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) threw out a cancellation application against the Hamilton Watch Company by Mercedes’ main man. Lewis Hamilton the driver sued Hamilton the watchmaker to stop Hamilton the watchmaker from trademarking the name “Hamilton” in Europe.
Given that Hamilton has been selling Hamilton watches since 1892 (albeit switching to Swiss ownership in 1972), the fact that the F1 stud’s application to the EU Court managed to survive this long is beyond imagination. But not beyond money, obviously.
Lewis Hamilton is worth some $285m. But not forever, if his handlers enable this is the kind of legal and financial stupidity. From a PR point-of-view, you’d think that his official watch sponsor, IWC, would have moved metaphorical mountains to strangle their “ambassador’s” legal action in its crib. Which they probably did. To no avail.
“The contested mark consists solely of one word ‘HAMILTON’, and not ‘LEWIS HAMILTON’,” the court ruled. “It is a rather common surname in English-speaking countries . . . There is no ‘natural right’ for a person to have his or her own name registered as a trademark, when that would infringe third parties’ rights.”
What’s more, “Even the cancellation applicant explicitly accepted that the contested mark ‘HAMILTON’ had been used since 1892, i.e. even before the date of birth of ‘Lewis Hamilton’ as a natural person.” Ninety-three years before the Hertfordshire-born driver left his mother’s birth canal.
The Court’s ruling won’t ding Mr. Hamilton’s racing career. One wonders more about the Hamilton Watch Company’s future. Under Swatch’s stewardship, Hamilton has been making its money selling retro-style mechanical timepieces for under a grand – the exact market where the smartwatch is kicking all kinds of ass. The next gen can’t even read an analogue watch.
The recently released Hamilton PSR – an LED watch harkening back to the boom-and-bust ’70’s timepiece that ended Hamilton’s American adventure – could well be a horological harbinger of doom. In other words, Hamilton may have won the battle – protecting the exclusive right to make Hamilton-branded products – but they look set to lose the war.