Economy

Aussie entrepreneur defeats multinational in IP battle

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A Perth entrepreneur has won out over global aeronautics giant Lockheed Martin and its battery of high-priced lawyers in a battle over who has the right to use a valuable trademark in Australia.

Lou Schillaci and his co-director Claire Linley have fought a running battle with the multinational over the use of their business name, Skunkworks, since the flat panel display mounting company was founded six years ago.

Lockheed Martin has a long association with the word “skunkworks”, which was used to describe a secret research unit of the company during the cold war, and holds the “skunkworks” trademark in many countries around the world.

Three years ago Schillaci and his team applied for the skunkworks trademark in Australia, but their prospects of success looked grim when the aeronautics giant lodged an objection to the application.

Rather than be intimidated by Lockheed Martin’s massive resources and top end lawyers, however, Schillaci and Linley dug in for the fight – and, last week, won.

Most impressively, Schillaci and Linley conducted their defence of their application with the national trademark authority, IP Australia, without any assistance from lawyers.

Schillaci says they had little choice but to deal with the matter themselves – like most small and medium sized businesses, Skunkworks could not afford to hire lawyers to do the work for them.

“We know it would be incredibly expensive to hire IP lawyers, so we did it ourselves,” Schillaci says. “There was a lot of work involved, but if you’re willing to lose and you don’t have the money to spend, there is no option but to do it yourself.”

And work there was. Schillaci estimates he and his team spent more than 200 work hours conducting research, preparing affidavits and performing other tasks associated with the application.

The company had some reason to believe it could win, however, because this wasn’t the first time they had battled Lockheed Martin over the Skunkworks name. Last year the company won the right to use the “skunkworks.co.uk” domain name, again over the objection of Lockheed Martin.

That lesson learnt may explain why, just when the legal battle was to move to the last stage in IP Australia’s dispute resolution process, mediation, Lockheed Martin withdrew its application.

Schillaci acknowledges all the effort put into the IP battle has been a distraction from running the other aspects of the business, but says it has been worth to protect his brand.

“We have put a lot of time into building the brand – our IP is so quirky that people remember it and that is the whole point. We look at web stats and the just 1% of people who used to come to our site by the word ‘skunkworks’ is up to 17% now, so that tells us people remember it and that is worth money to us,” he says.

 

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