The North Agency, an independent real estate firm operating in Sydney’s northern beaches, has fended off a legal challenge from ASX-listed The Agency Group (ASX: AU1) over a copyright infringement claim following a court decision that hobbles the national franchise group’s claim on the word ‘agency’.
The Federal Court decision, handed down by Justice Ian Jackman this week, found that The North Agency had no case to answer as it was unlikely to be confused with The Agency’s brand or its logo.
The Agency, a Perth-based real estate group with more than 400 agents across Australia, brought the action against H.A.S. Real Estate, trading as The North Agency, and its directors Chris Aldren and Tulo Sila.
The North Agency, which has a staff of six, was established in March this year by Aldren and Sila, both of whom are real estate agents who grew up in Sydney’s Northern Beaches region.
Real estate administrative and marketing platform UrbanX, which came up with the branding concepts for the new business, helped fund The North Agency’s defence of the claim.
In his decision, Justice Jackman says he accepts evidence from an UrbanX graphic designer that ‘while she was aware of The Agency Group, she did not consider The Agency Group, their branding or their website at any time before or during the design process for The North Agency, and The Agency Group did not come up in any discussions’.
In reaching his decision, Justice Jackman notes that there is a ‘fundamental difference’ between the name The North Agency and The Agency and that there are ‘very striking differences’ between the respective logos of the businesses.
The justice further says that the word ‘agency’ is ‘commonly used in the brand names of businesses offering real estate agency services'.
UrbanX CEO and co-founder Dan Argent has welcomed the Federal Court decision, saying it provides certainty for all real estate agents.
“In this instance we have two young family men trying to start a new business in an area where they have established themselves as high-performing agents,” Argent says.
“I believe The Agency’s moves appeared designed to intimidate them into capitulating.
“If The Agency’s action had been upheld, any business using the word ‘agency’ in their company name would have been at risk of legal action from this franchise. All those businesses should breathe a sigh of relief after the ruling.
“I personally regard what’s occurred as a win for all. The future of the real estate agency sector is independent, local agents offering personalised service to their community of sellers and buyers. This result brings us another step closer to that future.”
The parties have until 24 May 2023 to make submissions relating to costs.
Business News Australia has sought comment from The Agency following the Federal Court ruling.
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