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Sunday Business: Donovan takes Smart case against Shell to court

Sunday Business

6 June 1999

Sunday Business: Donovan takes Smart case against Shell to court

by Slmon Rines 
and Sylvia PfeIfer

SMALL businessman John Donovan will take on oil giant Shell UK this week in a high court hearing over charges of alleged breach of contract and misuse of confidential information.

Donovan, managing director of sales promotion agency Don Marketing, claims that Shell’s Smart Card loyalty scheme, launched in 1997, is based on proposals he first put to Shell in 1989.

Shell denies the allegations and its defence team has claimed in the past that an internal project called Onyx – which began in OctoberlNovember 1991 – created the loyalty programme now known as Smart. The company insists it will strongly defend the proceedings.

The case, which starts on Thursday and is expected to last three weeks, is the final chapter in a long-running legal dispute between Donovan and Shell. It follows three previous claims by Donovan concerning forecourt promotions which he alleges Shell used between 1993 and 1994 without his consent, including one promotion called Now Showing.

In this time Donovan also became a Shell shareholder and, with his father Alfred, set up the Shell Corporate Conscience Pressure Group. Apart from Donovan’s dispute, the group also claimed to highlight concerns being expressed by franchisees in their dealings with the company.

These disputes were eventually settled out of court, with Shell paying Donovan as part of a confidential agreement.

To highlight his current grievances, Donovan has mounted a high-profile campaign including the creation of an anti-Shell web-site, picketing of Shell HQ and annual meetings. He has also placed ads in the trade press warning Shell Smart partners that they, too, could face legal action.

In addition, Donovan has issued a libel writ alleging that a Shell press statement on the matter implied his previous claims were without merit and the Smart claim without substance. Shell sought to have the libel writ struck off, but in a preliminary hearing in July last year this was rejected and the oil company ordered to pay costs.

If Donovan succeeds in his Smart Card claim some industry observers argue he could make millions because Smart has an unlimited lifespan and is already running in nine countries.

Donovan takes Smart case against Shell to court and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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