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The Times: Oil giants take Power struggle to High Court

November 13, 2006
By Miranda McLachlan
A dispute over the “Power” trademark has dragged the oil giants BP, Shell and Total into a High Court battle.

BP, in conjunction with Total, has launched legal action against Shell over Shell’s decision to name its premium oil brand V-Power.
BP alleges that it has ownership of the Power logo, which it licenses to Total, for use in signage at its 126 service stations.

BP initiated the action after Shell replaced its Optimax premium oil with V-Power. The two parties have been negotiating for 15 months over the trademark without success.

Both BP and Total have confirmed that they recently launched the action but they refused to provide further details. A spokesman for Shell said that the company would “vigorously defend the action on the basis that there is no infringement of any of BP’s registered trademarks”.

Chris McLeod, a spokesman for the Institute of Trademark Attorneys and a director at Hammonds, the law firm, said that it is not unusual for companies to have rights over commonly used words. “Often, words which at first seem nondescript, banal or basic become distinctive by virtue of a company’s extensive use of that word,” Mr McLeod said. He added that such a case was likely to be worth thousands of pounds in compensation, but on occasions could run into millions.

BP and Shell ran a joint marketing operation from the 1920s until 1976 and they both used the Power logo when the two bought the Petroleum Power brand. However, the Power brand went to BP when the joint venture ended. The first Power trademark was registered in 1949, although the most recent version was registered in 1993.

BP has a history of defending its trademarks vigorously. It has just failed in a bid to register a particular shade of green as a trademark in Australia. The full bench of Australia’s Federal Court ruled that the shade of green that it had sought to trademark had not become distinctive enough as a colour associated with BP.

The dispute in the High Court comes just days after TNK-BP, BP’s Russian joint venture, paid $1.4 billion (£732 million) to the Kremlin in settlement of a dispute over back-taxes.

The payment settles claims for taxes owed during the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years, but the deal sets the stage for another payout relating to disputed Kremlin tax demands for 2004 and 2005.

The tax settlement has been made as pressure from Russian regulators increases on TNK-BP’s operations. The Russian General Prosecutor’s office said last week that it was starting criminal proceedings against Rospan, a Siberian oil production company that is controlled by TNK-BP, for producing oil without licences. According to TNK-BP, Rospan was awaiting renewal of the licences, which are required to conduct drilling activities but had not received any response from the regulator.

TNK-BP’s billion-dollar tax settlement, which includes both the tax owed and the penalties and fine, is the biggest settlement since the multibillion-dollar series of tax claims that brought Yukos, the ill-fated oil giant once controlled by the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now serving nine years in jail for tax evasion, to insolvency.,,9072-2451118,00.html and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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