Quite a clever name and slogan for a waste removal business, you might think. That’s obviously what Nick Lockwood and Dan Walker, the operators of the business in Hove, England, thought when they chose the name and phrase.
Alas, Middle-Earth Enterprises, LLC, who owns the rights in “Lord of the Rings” and “One ring to rule them all” in the UK, do not share their thinking. As recently reported and discussed,1 Middle-Earth Enterprises has demanded Messrs Lockwood and Walker change their business’s name and slogan on the grounds they infringe Middle-Earth Enterprises’ trade mark rights. Add to that the use of an almost identical font for “Lord of the Bins” to the “Lord of the Rings” font by Messrs Lockwood and Walker and you can certainly see where Middle-Earth Enterprises is coming from.
Mr Lockwood described Middle-Earth Enterprises’ letter as “bully-boy tactics”,2 while Mr Walker claimed, “We’re just trying to make people smile and make a living”. While the latter may be so, on reviewing the facts I would have to dispute Mr Lockwood’s assertion. Middle-Earth Enterprises is the owner of very valuable trade mark rights, and as the owner of those rights it will – like many other businesses – enforce those rights if it perceives they are under threat.
In this case, the threat to Middle-Earth Enterprises’ rights might not be obvious – collecting waste is, after all, a kingdom away from a quest to save the world from consummate evil – but it is present nonetheless as many a trade mark lawyer will tell you, particularly given the use of “One ring to remove it all” and the use of an almost identical font for “Lord of the Bins”.
It’s possible Messrs Lockwood and Walker might not have attracted Middle-Earth Enterprises’ wrath if they had used “Lord of the Bins” in a different font and not used the “One ring…” slogan.3 A more cautious approach however would have been not to use the name at all (as, interestingly, Hutt City Council (NZ) chose not to do in 2021 for one of its electric recycling trucks4). The unfortunate reality though is that Messrs Lockwood and Walker ‘chose…poorly’ (to quote the Grail Knight from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).
As I wrote in an article for this publication in 2019,5 when it comes to choosing a name for your business, product or service, it makes sense to choose wisely. That means conducting a trade mark search before you settle on a name and calling a specialist trade mark attorney for advice. Thus it is that one ring to a trade mark attorney by Messrs Lockwood and Walker could have avoided it all.
1. Eg. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/feb/04/refuse-firm-lord-of-the-bins-ordered-to-change-its-name-by-tolkien-franchise; https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/thepanel/audio/2018876728/the-panel-with-allan-blackman-and-julia-hartley-moore
2. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/21258015/lord-of-the-bins-change-name3. As the makers of a children’s game called “Lord of the Bins” have done: https://lumaworld.in/products/lord-of-the-bins-a-strategy-card-game-to-learn-waste-management