Sydney Airport’s attempt to ban hotels from using its name could be stymied by a court ruling made in 2014.
The Sydney Airport Corporation argues “Sydney Airport” is a brand name and product and has written to at least one hotel demanding it stop using the description on its website, adverts, social pages and other marketing material.
A similar case was brought by Kosciuszko Thredbo, lease holder of Thredbo Village, Thredbo Resort and Thredbo Resort Centre, against a small independent accommodation management company called Thredbonet.
The complainants alleged that “Thredbo” had taken on a meaning outside of being the name of a location. They argued the word was now synonymous with their businesses and Thredbo was “more than a place” and instead a “complete branded entity”.
The companies likened themselves to Disneyland, saying the lease arrangements in place put them in a “unique position of control over the resort”, and sought to prevent Thredbonet using the word in domain names, company and business names, and on its website.
Thredbonet, they alleged, was breaching consumer law by engaging in “misleading or deceptive conduct” in using the name to promote its business.
The companies lost both their first Federal Court case in 2013 and a subsequent appeal in 2014, the court finding Thredbo was a geographical name and no one was entitled to a monopoly over its use.
Thredbonet was cleared of any wrongdoing, its lawyer Yves Hazan declaring: “The case is a good example of a large corporation failing to bully a smaller company with massive litigation.”
While the Sydney Airport Corporation does own the trademark registration on the wordmark “Sydney Airport”, industry figures argue the description has long been used as a geographical locator, in the same way as Sydney City and Darling Harbour.
The corporation has rebuffed accusations the move is about protecting its own hotel interests, saying it is merely addressing the concerns of travellers who think they will be staying close to the airport, only to find their accommodation is not within the precinct.
Robert Williams, head of hotels & hospitality Asia Pacific for lawyers Withersworldwide, is one of those questioning the assertion, saying on LinkedIn: “Interesting challenge to the long-standing use by many hotels near Sydney Airport of a locator in their hotel’s name.
“Very much doubt many modern guests are confused by existing naming conventions here. This push is likely spurred on by new supply in the precinct starting to bite on the performance of the on-airport properties.”
Richard Munro, CEO of the Accommodation Association of Australia, told Accomnews: “The Sydney Airport Corporation are pushing a legal boundary claiming that no other business may use the Sydney Airport name to identify the location of their property.
“I would go further to say that the Sydney Airport May end up rueing this decision as customers, in particular tourists, easily identify the surrounding business district as Sydney Airport rather than Mascot and this move has potential to cause confusion for tourists.
“It would seem reasonable that businesses further than a kilometre away from the airport, without any services or connectivity to the Sydney Airport should not use the trade mark name.
“However, the immediate catchment area has significant hotels who have traded for many years that could potentially lose their identity and custom.
“One other obvious question must be asked: Why is the Airport that is located in Mascot, using Sydney in its trademark?”