The cold war officially ended in 1991, or so Wikipedia tells me. However the government of Iceland and the UK supermarket chain of the same name are doing all that they can to re-start it.
The choice of name made by the food business started in 1969, actually called Iceland Foods Ltd but trading as Iceland, has long been a thorn in the side of Iceland the country. Attempts by the Icelandic government to prevent registration of the ICELAND name as a trade mark date back nearly 15 years and have recently come to a head with an application to revoke the supermarket chain’s registration for the word mark in the EU.
The issue and annoyance is of course there for all to see, on the one hand when one heard the oft-used tagline "Mum's gone to Iceland" on a TV ad, no-one really thought she’d hopped on a plane to Reykjavík to pick up fish fingers for tea, but the play on words was intentionally used for comedic effect. However if you are a company from Reykjavík that plans to sell home-grown fish fingers to those wishing to feed their children, then because of the supermarket’s rights you have to be careful as to how you advertise those products. In many ways it is the classic clash of “descriptive” trade mark registration versus the need for descriptive use; care needs to be taken by both brand owner and third party producer to make sure no-one ends up getting confused.
Such issues are usually of course avoided due to the prohibition on allowing registration of such descriptive terms in the first place and geographical terms have long been held incapable of registration for that very reason. However a geographical term is no different to any other descriptive word in that if it is used often enough, widely enough and for long enough, then you can become the owner of that term to denote brand origin. Iceland (the supermarket) has been around a long time and there are close to 1,000 stores (mostly in the UK). Iceland (the country) has of course been around for much longer but with a population of only 332,529 how long will it be before the supermarket employs more people than there are “Icelanders”?
That’s when things could get really interesting, perhaps it could be the first country to have to re-brand due to third party rights? That may sound crazy, but look around, 2016 has already been slightly odd!
The country has launched legal action against the chain, claiming it prevents the nation's firms from describing their products as Icelandic.