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Aussie Sheepskin Retailers Fight For Their Right To The Ugg Name
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SYDNEY, AAP - Almost two years after American company Deckers stopped Australian companies using the term "ugg", sheepskin boot retailers are still fighting to call their product by the old Aussie name.
The name "ugg" or "ugh" for the popular sheepskin boots, which have been sold and worn in Australia for decades, was registered as a trademark in 1986 and bought by Deckers in 1995.
As the fleecy boot became a fashion must-have in recent years, and internet sales boomed, Deckers successfully took legal action in late 2003 to prevent local companies using the name ugg.
Angry small Australian ugg boot makers have banded together under the banner "Save Our Aussie Icon", and are trying to legally snatch back the ugg name.
Perth retailers Bronwyn and Bruce McDougall have lodged applications with the government trademark regulator, IP Australia, disputing Deckers' right to ugg and ugh.
"In nearly 30 years of selling ugg boots, I can't recall a customer saying they want to buy sheepskin boots - it's always Uggs, uggies, huggies or ugg boots," said Mrs McDougall, who with her husband has been selling the footwear at Uggs-n-Rugs since 1978.
"It's a descriptive word, it was put into the Macquarie Dictionary in 1982, where it is referred to as a fleecy-lined boot'."
The McDougalls lodged a non-use application with IP Australia in December 2003, attempting to claim the term "ugh-boots" back from Deckers.
They are also trying to register their store name, Uggs-n-Rugs, but are being opposed by the American company.
Both cases are ongoing and look set to be the subjects of IP inquiries.
The Perth couple has the support of sheepskin retailers across the country, many of whom have lodged applications fighting for their own store names.
In the central western NSW town of Dubbo, retailer Gordon Tindall says although Deckers may have the legal rights to ugg, the US footwear corporation essentially stole a generic Aussie term.
"What Australian manufacturers have been doing for years has been working on the premise that the word ugg is a generic term, like thong or t-shirt, and therefore they didn't need to register it," Mr Tindall said.
"Basically they are an Australian product that I believe has been stolen, even though it was paid for and legally obtained, it has been stolen by an overseas corporation."
Mr Tindall had to rename his Westhaven Ugg boots Shop to Westhaven Sheepskin Warehouse after 30 years in the ugg boot business.
He said his primary concern was about losing an Australian icon.
"The issue is that the word ugg is an Australian icon, it's a generic Australian term, and irrespective of what the legal people decide in that regard, all Australians will refer to them as ugg boots," Mr Tindall said.
But the Australian company which has been producing Ugg brand boots for Deckers since the mid-1980s has defended the US corporation's right to use the name.
Pacific Sheepskin Products chief executive Wade O'Brien said while he felt for the small Australian retailers, Deckers' registration of ugg's various spellings must be respected.
"Deckers have paid many many millions of dollars for this name, and the same again in promoting it with celebrities around the world, so I believe they are entitled to it."
Mr O'Brien said that, when trademark registration was granted in 1986, the use of the word ugg passed the generic test.
Legal issues aside, Gordon Tindall says the name game has been fantastic publicity for Australian sheepskin products.
"I'm not too worried about competition from Deckers in Australia, it was expected, and customers will determine whether they want to pay for an expensive label, or are they willing to pay a smaller price for an equally good quality boot," he said.
"But we've had tremendous publicity as a result - I couldn't have bought the publicity, and it has resulted in excellent sales for us.
"People will always know them as ugg boots, no matter what you sell them as - you can't call them anything else."
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