Ikea dismantles fan site founded by Malaysian in trademark row

Ikea Malaysia accused Ikeahackers.net of trademark violation and wanted it to cease operations. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Ikea Malaysia accused Ikeahackers.net of trademark violation and wanted it to cease operations. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — For eight years, Ikeahackers.net has been helping fans of the Swedish furniture giant enjoy their purchases in ways not often — and perhaps never — intended.

From the unlikely — turning beds into coffee tables — to the inspired — rigging work lamps into bedside lights, the site showed what was possible when a little ingenuity was added to the furniture seller’s range of products.

But that is now coming to an end after Ikea demanded that the website’s founder, Malaysian Jules Yap, cease operations for alleged trademark violation, claiming that she was profiting off the brand’s name through the advertisements served up at Ikeahackers.net.

At first, Ikea’s agents had demanded Yap surrender the website and domain entirely to them, although they have now relented and allowed her to retain the address sans “commercial interests”, which means she is not allowed to generate any advertising income on the site.

Picture courtesy of ikeahackers.net
Picture courtesy of ikeahackers.net

Although saying that running a website the size of Ikeahackers costs “quite a bit”, the Kuala Lumpur-based Yap said she agreed to strip away all advertising for two reasons.

“I agreed to that demand. Because the name IKEAhackers is very dear to me and I am soooo reluctant to give it up. I love this site’s community and what we have accomplished in the last 8 years,” Yap wrote in a blog post announcing the decision.

“Secondly, I don’t have deep enough pockets to fight a mammoth company in court.”

On her blog, Yap said she was just “a crazy fan” who never intended to exploit Ikea’s brand, but conceded that she had been naive to have registered the website as such in 2006.

“Needless to say, I am crushed. I don’t have an issue with them protecting their trademark but I think they could have handled it better,” she added.

Ikea’s decision to go after the what is possibly its most popular fan site has since created a storm online and is drawing brickbats from a multitude of websites.

Popular technology website Gizmodo labelled the Swedish firm’s move “a giant mistake”, saying that it would sap the goodwill of fans who gathered around their common love for the firm’s products at Ikeahackers.net.

“Instead of encouraging a blogger who has spent years creating what amounts to free publicity for Ikea — and helping people find more reasons to buy products they may otherwise have overlooked — the company is bullying her over a tiny amount of advertising revenue,” the website wrote.

Online publication BoingBoing.net was less charitable in expressing its disagreement with Ikea’s move as well as the eventual outcome.

“Ikea’s C&D is, as a matter of law, steaming bullshit. There’s no trademark violation here — the use of Ikea’s name is purely factual,” Cory Doctorow, a popular author and one of the site’s editors, wrote.

“There is no chance of confusion or dilution from Ikeahackers’ use of the mark. This is pure bullying, an attempt at censorship. I’m shocked to see that Jules has a lawyer who advised her to take such a terrible deal.”

Following her agreement with Ikea, Yap is now shifting to a new web address — still undecided — where she promises fans of Ikeahackers “can still find all the useful hacks when you need to”.

For its part, Ikea said the move was prompted by its “responsibility” to its customers and the trust that they have for the brand, saying that the use of its trademark in Ikeahackers may lead people to think they are connecting with the Swedish firm directly.

“When other companies use the Ikea name for economic gain, it creates confusion and rights are lost,” an Ikea representative was quoted as saying by British news service BBC.

Ikea was founded in 1943 by Swedish magnate Ingvar Kamprad, one of the richest men in the world.

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