The German giant Beiersdorf, proprietor of the “Nivea” brand, won its case against the small Piedmont company Neve Cosmetics, which had been accused of violation of exclusive rights concerning the name “Neve”, which was considered to be too similar to “Nivea”. However consumer reaction to the verdict gives cause for thought with regard to the advisability of taking legal action.
The news dates back to the end of July when the Court of Milan declared in favour of the well-known German brand name, rendering the two brands “Neve” and “Neve Make Up” null and void and stated that the word “Neve” could not be used as a brand name for new companies in the cosmetic sector since it could be mistaken for “Nivea”.
Neve Cosmetics is a small Italian company with 10 employees committed to the production of natural cosmetics, which are sold exclusively on the Internet. As was also mentioned in court, its products presented as “vegetarian and vegan cosmetics”, contain no “silicones that clog up pores, no petroleum jelly that prevents the skin from breathing, no substantial preservatives and no by-products from the slaughter of milk feeding animals”. In short, Neve Cosmetics offer a range of cosmetics that are not merely a competitor but also an antagonist to mass produced beauty products.
According to the Court, despite the difference in product advertising, the name “Neve” is too similar to “Nivea” since it derives etymologically from the Latin niveus/nivea/nivum which means “as white as snow”. Therefore the Court declared the Neve brand null and void and banned its use.
The victory of the German multinational corporation stirred a wave of indignation from Neve consumers, who launched a web campaign in support of the Piedmont SME by creating protest banners and using the hashtag #StoConNeve (#I’mwithNeve) and the slogan “If I buy Neve it’s because I know it’s not Nivea!”.
Even if it is reasonable to assume that the campaign was created with the involvement of communication professionals, it effectively went viral in the space of just a few days. The hundreds of messages of severe criticism which appeared on the different Nivea social pages have attracted the attention of the traditional media which rather exaggerated the scale of the case in their reporting of the news. With an interesting avalanche effect, the Neve consumer protest has been joined by other web users, who have been struck by the economic inequality between accuser and accused, which is interpreted as an abuse of power by the strong against the weak.
The users’ messages would also seem to be partly directed at the Court of Milan as they argue it would be impossible to mix up the two brands despite the common etymology of the two names and they underline the total difference between the two cosmetic companies, whose philosophies, formulations and commercial offers are poles apart. A difference that would obviously benefit Neve and its product range which is natural, beneficial and respectful of nature, in stark contrast to the alleged harmfulness of Nivea and its artificial, chemical products.
The response of Nivea’s communication team was to choose to stay silent and they have spent weeks carefully removing the messages of criticism. As was entirely predictable, this act of censorship has caused an outrage and has provoked further cause for irritation on the part of the demonstrators, who have gone as far as starting a petition on Change.org demanding that Nivea withdraw its case.
Apart from a legal analysis of the case, these implications in the field of communication offer interesting food for thought. In the event of disputes that might expose the parties to intense media exposure, there is the necessity to provide a plan of action for post-judgment communication, which would also take into account possible negative consequences even in the case of victory. Playing a proactive role might well be a decisive factor in avoiding any damage to a company’s reputation.
Nonetheless, accurate prior analysis of possible communication scenarios on the web might make companies think twice about the expediency of taking legal action.
The widespread use of broadband connection wireless devices, from smartphones to Internet keys, has highlighted the ISPs’ need to turn to rational data traffic management techniques to solve problems of congestion on mobile networks.
In fact, the level of network congestion is constantly rising. In the first quarter of 2010, 3G data traffic reached a level of 24,743 terabytes, which was 101% more than the same period the previous year.
Clearly the quantity of network resources used by each customer varies in relation to the different services offered by each particular mobile network. Of the various applications, file sharing with p2p technology and VoIP calls, such as for example those made with Skype, have been identified as those activities which make the greatest drain on network resources.
Therefore to avoid network congestion, several mobile operators have introduced new techniques aimed at limiting access to P2P and VoIP services to their own customers who are obliged to pay for these particular services, whereas other operators still allow their customers free access to these services. These different approaches have modified the traditional ecosystem of the network, effectively creating preferential access to the resources and modifying the main economic players’ traditional ways of interacting.
The Italian Communication Regulatory Authority (AGCOM) has recently published an investigation into these aspects, which in line with what has already been produced by other national Regulatory Authorities, analyzes different aspects of traffic management from the view point of safeguarding competition and the consumer and of the principles of neutrality and freedom of the network.
In the last few days public consultation of the AGCOM investigation has started with the aim of obtaining further evaluations and information from stakeholders regarding the new technical and commercial approaches which affect the principle of net neutrality, the organizational make up of the sector, safeguards for consumer protection and, more generally, possible future regulatory actions.
Among the aspects which have already emerged as priorities in the international debate are transparency of information and the definition of instruments for safeguarding the consumer, who must be able to make his choices in full awareness when using VoIP and P2P mobile services and more in general, when using new mobile services.
However, it has also emerged from the investigation that operators also have potential problems with VoIP. In fact VoIP mobile uses Internet Protocol which makes it possible to make voice calls through terminals where software provided by the net operators has been installed (so-called VoIP managed), or which has been provided by independent content providers (so-called VoIP unmanaged), such as Skype for example.
Yet, the entry of third party content providers risks having a negative impact on operators’ turnover in that the availability of mobile VoIP services allows the end user to substitute traditional voice and text services with data networks.
AGCOM aims to identify the forms and methods that regulatory actions might take through the use of public consultation, in compliance with the principle of adequacy, necessity and the close connection between the action and the final aims.