UK digital outdoor company Ocean Outdoor has seen off some high-powered Hollywood lawyers in a bizarre dispute over two of its big London sites – Two Towers West on the busy A4 road (which takes traffic to and from Heathrow Airport, left) and Two Towers East in the Canary Wharf financial district.
Hollywood rights company Saul Zaentz Company claimed it owned the name ‘Two Towers’ because of its ownership to the rights of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (The Two Towers is the second volume in the Lord of the Rings trilogy).
However the UK’s Trademarks Registry has ruled against SZC.
Ocean marketing director Richard Malton (a self-confessed Tolkien fan) says: “We took on Hollywood and we won. We have never tried to pass off our two towers as either Orthanc or Minus Morgul – I’m not sure it would have helped us attract the type of brands that we look to engage with.
“We vigorously defended our right to use the Two Towers as a name for our iconic locations and luckily, common sense has prevailed. The irony wasn’t lost on us – the small being pushed around by the big. But as we all know, Frodo wins in the end!”
Following a hearing in October and further challenge from SZC the Intellectual Property Office has rejected claims that Ocean was guilty of trademark infringement. The IPO also dismissed claims that Ocean was guilty of passing off and using the name detrimentally to the “distinctive character” of the film company’s marks.
“Two Towers West and Two Towers East are appropriate names for the digital structures and have become well established in the advertising world, so we were astonished to receive a letter telling us to remove all reference to The Two Towers from our website and marketing materials,” says Malton.
Ocean now owns the trade mark to the Two Towers in the digital out of home advertising sector (but not in the fantasy fictional world of Middle Earth), and is claiming costs against SZC for the time and effort spent defending its action.
An earlier Tolkien dispute broke out in 2012 when the Southampton pub The Hobbit was ordered by SZC to stop using its name. A campaign to defend the pub’s name was launched on Facebook, supporting by Lord of the Rings star Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry. The pub was later told it could use the name under license, and staged a fundraiser to help pay for legal advice.
Ironically December’s release of the second Hobbit movie in the UK was supported by a digital outdoor campaign – which ran on Ocean’s Two Towers.