New Zealand – It is commonly known that the Tolkien Estate and Middle-Earth Enterprises vigorously enforce their intellectual property rights concerning anything related to The Lord of the Rings. They often assert control over certain words through trademark law, beyond what is legally permissible. Their enforcement methods are notably strict and far-reaching.
An example of their international enforcement is the recent case in New Zealand, involving the Tolkien Estate’s efforts to prevent the trademarking of a food truck named “Lord of the Wings.” Jesse Holmes, the owner, attempted to register this name in June 2021. He intended to reflect a theme of royalty and lordship, unrelated to Tolkien’s works or the film adaptations. The truck was not planned to be themed after the books or movies, nor would it feature any related branding.
New Zealand’s franchise laws in a nutshell
Nevertheless, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) sided with the Tolkien franchise. Ruvini Rendle, the assistant commissioner of trademarks, ruled that the name “Lord of the Wings” could potentially confuse consumers into thinking there was a connection with the Tolkien franchise. This decision was made without a thorough analysis of potential customer confusion.
This situation might be influenced by New Zealand’s specific standards for trademark infringement. It seems unreasonable, given that the Tolkien Estate has no involvement in the food truck industry and there is an existing international food chain named “Lord of the Wings.” Holmes speculated that his location in New Zealand, known for its connection to The Lord of the Rings films, might have influenced the decision.
Trademark enforcement of this nature can be overpowering, especially when the enforcing party has significant legal resources. As a result, Holmes is planning to rename his food truck to avoid further conflict.