An English spa has won a stormy legal battle against a company led by a Northern Ireland property developer over the naming of Liverpool’s Titanic Hotel.
In a complex judgment running to more than 15,000 words, Mr Justice Carr ruled on the bitter trademark dispute between two major hotel and property companies.
Property Renaissance Ltd set up Huddersfield’s Titanic Spa, while Stanley Dock Hotel Ltd and Stanley Dock Properties Ltd – who trade as, and run, Titanic Hotel Liverpool – hit troubled waters over the use of the doomed Belfast-built liner’s name.
The driving force behind the Liverpool ventures is Northern Ireland property developer Patrick Doherty.
The judge said the “battle” was over trademarks, which include the name Titanic. He said Property Renaissance set up the Titanic Spa in the Edwardian former textile mill in Huddersfield, which was known as Titanic Mills because of its size.
The spa opened in 2006, has 33 serviced apartments and it’s turnover last year was £4.8m. It registered the name Titanic Spa as a trademark in 2011.
However, the Stanley Dock companies opened the Titanic Hotel Liverpool in 2014, and included references to the hotel having a spa, referred to as ‘T-Spa’.
Titanic Huddersfield subsequently launched a complaint about use of the name T-Spa. In December 2014, however, the Liverpool venture was renamed ‘The Spa’, and in April this year there was further rebranding, and it became ‘Maya Blue Spa’.
However, the judge said the Huddersfield Titanic company still took action – claiming that use of the word Titanic in the hotel name was a breach of its trademark.
Use of the Titanic name for the Liverpool hotel stemmed from the fact that the driving force for the venture was Mr Doherty.
He is the man behind redevelopment of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter – one of Europe’s largest regeneration schemes.
The judge said the Titanic Hotel in Liverpool was given the name because Mr Doherty wanted to expand the “Titanic brand” to areas where there was a connection with the Titanic.
After detailed analysis, the judge ruled that there had been infringement of the Titanic Spa trademark as a result of the Liverpool hotel operation. However, he said that steps already taken to change the name and further steps proposed would avoid the likelihood of future confusion.
In these circumstances, he upheld the Huddersfield operation’s claim that there had been ‘passing off’ of its name Titanic Spa in the past. But he said that in view of the changes already made, and proposed, there would be no further ‘passing off’ of it in the future.
But he did not ban the Belfast company from using the word Titanic.
He said it was “legitimately entitled to use the signs ‘Titanic Quarter’ and ‘Titanic Quarter Hotel Liverpool’ in relation to hotels in the UK.
But he rejected a claim by those behind the Liverpool operation that the Huddersfield operation’s use of the name Titanic Spa, had in fact, breached its trademarks.
In summing up, the judge resorted to the words of one of the Titanic rescue heroes, Captain Arthur H Rostron, to describe the legal fight.
Capt Rostron wrote: “Icebergs loomed up and fell astern and we never slackened. It was an anxious time with the Titanic’s fateful experience very close to our minds.”
Mr Justice Carr said: “This seems a reasonable description of the commencement, continuance and possible outcome of this dispute.”
He said both sides had valuable businesses and the “very high-risk litigation” put in jeopardy the goodwill both had built up.