No doubt J. Rigby did not for a moment think that hundreds of years into the future a battle would be brewing for control of his name, reputation and proud legacy.
This story begins in the late ’90s when John Rigby & Company, who presumably were having financial problems, closed down. Geoff Miller, a Californian, purchased the trademarks and intellectual property of the now defunct John Rigby & Company. He subsequently started the firm John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers), Inc. operating it out of the same premises as his Rogue River Rifle Company business. I am not sure if the latter firm still exists.
Double Rifle enthusiasts were not altogether keen on having a Californian firm take over the name of a famous London double rifle manufacturer. California is often associated with the glamour of Hollywood, the technology of Silicon valley and sun bleached surfers of Long Beach. What it is not associated with is the the romance of the olden age of dangerous game hunting during the heights of the British Empire.
Much to the continued chagrin of enthusiasts, Miller imported shotgun actions make by Merkel of Germany to build their Rigby branded double rifles. According to Dangerous Game Rifles (Terry Wieland, 2006), Miller did this because wages in the former East Germany, where Merkel was located, had still not caught with the rest of the West since reunification and so the actions could be produced very cheaply.
Fast forward to 2009. A group of investors start up a company based in London and name it John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd. (henceforth referred to as Rigby-London, and the Californian company as Rigby-Cali). Rigby-London plan on offering the same types of guns as Rigby-Cali (double rifles, shotguns and Mauser-style bolt action rifles) in a similar price range (approx. US$10,000 – US$100,000). Notably their “A” and “Best” grade double rifles will use the Rigby Bissel Rising Third Bite action – a very strong but expensive to manufacture action designed by the original Rigby & Co. back in the early 1900’s.
As you can imagine, Rigby-Cali was not at all happy to learn about this new Rigby. To add insult to injury, Rigby-London posted a message online offering to replace any Rigby-Cali double rifle for just the net-cost of a replacement.
We are cognisant of the fact that the few of you who have over the past years purchased a “Rigby” double rifle, made in California, may now feel that your investment has been devalued.
We here, are not desirous of a situation where the shooting and collecting public are harmed by our insistence on a quality hand built product. Quite the opposite.
We would like to extend the following offer to the few owners of these guns.
We will by private treaty, on an individual basis, supply you with a replacement equivalent John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd., gun for a sum representing the net cost of production of the replacement gun.
If you have had bespoke engraving, we will arrange for the duplication of that engraving, again at net cost.
You may retain your John Rigby&Co. Inc. gun and dispose of it in any manner you feel appropriate.
All such transactions will be strictly confidential agreements between such parties and ourselves.
The Board of Directors,
John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd., Jno.Rigby & Co.
Rigby-Cali responded with a strongly worded press release that leaves no doubt as to their intentions in perusing legal action against Rigby-London.
John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers), Inc. is the only company that has legal right to use the JOHN RIGBY trademarks and logo worldwide. We are advised by our legal counsel in both the UK and in the U.S. that the London based company’s unauthorized use of our JOHN RIGBY name is a clear infringement of our registered trademark rights and is clear grounds for a passing off claim as well. We intend to initiate legal action forthwith seeking an injunction, damages and attorney’s fee for this wilful and egregious violation of our intellectual property rights. We are absolutely confident in our legal position and we have the legal right, the ability, the economic strength and the will to support this position.
On the other hand, Rigby-London told me that they also feel that they occupy the legal and moral high ground.
John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd. is a correctly constituted and legally registered UK company. It has no connection what so ever to any company bearing the same or similar name that may be registered in the US. We do not have the rights to nor have we used any trade marks that may be registered to any US company. You will note that our guns are engraved Jno.Rigby & Co. as they were in the past. This company, is also owned by this board of directors.
A search of the Intellectual Property office in London, will reveal that John Rigby&Co.(Gunmakers) is not a trade mark owned by anybody, although Rigby Inc of California have made a belated attempt on 11.June.09 (06.11.09 US) to register that name following the publication of our website, it has yet to be gazetted and we have 6 months to lodge an objection..
It should be noted that “Jno.Rigby & Co.” is not a spelling mistake. The original Rigby company did indeed use this odd abbreviation to mark their weapons.
I looked up the term “Rigby” in the UK Intellectual Property Office trademark database and found that Rigby-Cali did indeed attempt to trademark the name “JOHN RIGBY & CO. (GUNMAKERS)”, although they did previously own the trademark “RIGBY’S” as well as the original Rigby logo.
Rigby-Cali’s registered trademark logo.
The logo being used by Rigby-London.
I did not look up to see what trademarks are registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) because it has no bearing on this case. A common mis-conception is that there are international treaties regarding trademarks. Unlike copyrights or patents, no such agreements exist and a trademark needs to be individually registered in any country where a corporation wishes it to be protected.
So do Rigby-Cali have a legitimate case against Rigby-London? I think only a judge will be able to authoritively say one way or the other. My understanding of trademark law does not extend past my research for this article. Saying this, I understand there to be two issues at stake. The first issue is whether or not rifles branded “Jno.Rigby & Co.” are an infringement on the Rigby-Cali “RIGBY’s” trademark.
The second issue is if Rigby-London, operating under the same name as Rigby-Cali, is guilty of what is known as Passing Off (using an unregistered trademark in order to pass yourself off as the original user of the trademark). If Rigby-Cali were based in the UK, Rigby-London would likely lose the case.
What I do know is that there is sure to be more drama to follow in the coming months and years before a winner emerges. I also know both sides will be more than a few Pounds and Dollars lighter by the time the dust settles.