EasyGroup investigated over 'corporate bullying'

E-commerce minister Douglas Alexander is to look into claims of corporate "bullying" by EasyGroup, the owner of EasyJet, after a...

E-commerce minister Douglas Alexander is to look into claims of corporate "bullying" by EasyGroup, the owner of EasyJet, after a small company complained of being harassed over the branding of its Internet operations.

Tony Coleman, MP for Putney, has sent two letters to EasyGroup outlining concerns about the treatment of Easyelectrical, a UK electrical goods Web site that was set up in 1999. Alexander is now investigating the matter.

The Easyelectrical site, which was registered with both the .com and .co.uk domain names, was set up to sell discounted consumer electronic goods in the UK through partnerships with a network of independent high street retailers.

In September, lawyers for EasyGroup sent a strongly-worded letter demanding that Easyelectrical should hand over the .com and .co.uk domain names. They said Easyelectrical was attempting to pass itself off as being affiliated to EasyGroup.

Peter Teare, partner at legal firm Crowell & Mooring, which has represented more than 10 companies in dispute with EasyGroup, said the company was acting as if it had the right to use the word "easy" in relation to everything.

"EasyGroup is taking a very heavy-handed approach and asserting legal rights it does not have," he said.

"By sending threatening letters through London law firms, the effect is to get small businesses to back down because they are concerned about the costs of taking on a company like that. But for the most part, most of the letters we have seen are without any legal merit whatsoever."

James Rothnie, head of corporate affairs at EasyGroup, denied that EasyGroup was targeting anyone using the "easy" prefix, and defended its complaint against Easyelectrical by pointing out that EasyGroup was already operating in the electrical goods arena in 1999 through its comparison shopping Web site EasyValue.

"If there was a clear case of passing off in an industry which was not related to [a sector EasyGroup is currently trading in], we would take action," he said.

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