Iceland Foods
Reuters

In what is certainly a bizarre legal case, the Icelandic government is taking legal steps against Iceland Foods, a UK supermarket chain which owns the trademark for the word "Iceland".

According to CNBC, the UK chain's trademark was registered in 2014 and applies across Europe, according to the European Union Intellectual Property Office, but now Iceland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs has applied for the trademark to be declared invalid.

The ministry claims the chain has aggressively pursued Icelandic companies which use the word Iceland, even in cases where their products or services do not compete. As a result, Icelandic companies are often unable to describe their products as Icelandic.

"This untenable situation has caused harm to Icelandic businesses, especially its small and growing companies. A company or product made in Iceland or by an Icelandic company should be able to represent itself using the name of the country," the ministry said in a press release.

The British supermarket chain has been trading under the Iceland name since 1970.

"Though sometimes confused with a small country of Viking origins on the fringes of the Arctic Circle, the real Iceland is a unique British food retailer with over 860 stores throughout the UK, a further 40 owned or franchised stores across Europe and a global export business," is how it describes itself on its website.

In a response to Bloomberg on Thursday, Iceland Foods said "we very much regret that the government of Iceland has apparently decided to take legal action over the use of the name Iceland".

"Contrary to their assertion, we have received no recent approaches to achieve an amicable resolution of this issue, which would be our preferred approach," it said.

"While we will vigorously defend Iceland Foods' established rights where there is any risk of confusion between our business and Iceland the country, we have been trading successfully for 46 years under the name Iceland and do not believe that any serious confusion or conflict has ever arisen in the public mind, or is likely to do so."

The company urged the Icelandic government to "contact us directly so that we may address their concerns."

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