by Goeun Son
What pops to your mind when you see “HQ”? Do you notice right away that it stands for “Headquarter” in the business world or did you not have any clue of the meaning? That is the issue arising between two workplace providers.
In September 2018, IWG, a global workplace claimed that WeWork’s new business line, HQ by WeWork, infringed on a trademark registered to HQ Network Systems, which Regus (currently it changed its name as IWG) acquired in 2004. IWG claims the HQ by WeWork brand could confuse customers because IWG still has a brand called HQ Global Workplaces. It also said that brand operates from the website hq.com, and the HQ brand has existed since the 1970s.
But I doubt that the word HQ reminds consumers of the word with a specific company. Most of consumers who look for workspaces might be businesspeople and be used to the general meaning of HQ in the business sector, which is headquarter. If you have seen lots of the news about Amazon’s second headquarter, HQ is not a term used only among business people anymore. And that is what WeWork argues: “No entity … should be allowed to monopolize the commonly used generic term ‘HQ’ in the real estate or office space industry.”
To recap, the last post touched upon how a trademark protects your logo. Out of five categories, generic term basically doesn’t function as a trademark even if secondary meaning can be proven in the mind of consumers. The HQ trademark may arguably fall under suggestive logo from the fact that IWG is involved in the office space industry and the company may have wanted to suggest that the company provides a great qualify of “headquarter” or office space for consumers. Alternatively, IWG can say it was descriptive term and obtained a secondary meaning thanks to doing business with the name for more than 20 years. But I think consumers would be more used to seeing “HQ Network Systems” and thinking of the company, rather than noticing “HQ” only and connecting to IWG.
Because “HQ” is a generic term used as the meaning of “headquarter”, I am with Wework’s argument that HQ is generally used in the office space industry and therefore, IWG doesn’t have a valid trademark. Also, The HQ trademark, applied for as a service mark (which identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods), didn’t claim a specific font style, size, or color. Then I think Wework may also claim it can use the word in any other design or style which is different from the design IWG adopted.