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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK
Legal threat tarnishes Ratner comeback
Gerald Ratner
Gerald Ratner: "It's spiteful"

Once Ratners stores were the the laughing stock of the High Street.

An infamous gaffe by the chain's founder, Gerald Ratner, in 1991 - when he described one of its wares as "total crap" - rendered the brand the disgrace of the jewellery trade.

Within two years, both the name and Mr Ratner had disappeared from the business.

Yet now, in a surpise reversal, the name has been deemed worthy enough to warrant a High Court battle.

Signet, as Ratners was rebranded in 1993, has begun legal action to protect its rights to the name.

Signet has attempted to gain an injunction to prevent the brand reappearing on Ratners Online, a jewellery e-tailer Mr Ratner hopes to launch in September with second ranking UK jewellers chain Goldsmiths.

"The Ratners name is owned by the Signet Group and use of that name by a competitor is bound to cause confusion in the marketplace," Signet said on Friday.

"It would be damaging to the company's interests to allow any existing or potential competitor to use the brand to compete against the company."

Signet 'jealous'

The statement came despite the Signet's removal of the Ratners name not just from corporate notepaper, but shop signs as well.

Signet's 600 UK stores trade as H Samuel, Ernest Jones and Leslie Davis.

"It's spiteful," Mr Ratner told BBC News Online.

"They have not used the Ratners name for 10 years. They have spent that time trying to distance themselves from Ratners."

Two weeks ago Signet poured scorn on efforts to take the sector online.

"I am sceptical that any online jewellery retailer can succeed," Signet chief executive Terry Burman said.

Mr Ratner added: "They are just jealous. They know we will be selling things like watches 30% cheaper than they do."

Why bother?

Yet some legal precedents are inauspicious.

Last year William Asprey, whose father sold royal jewellers Asprey & Garrard in 1995 after 200 years in the family, lost a court battle over the right to adorn his shop with his surname.

His "William R Asprey Esq" shop has been renamed "William & Son".

So why is Mr Ratner, who has spent the last decade running a health club in Henley, bothering to fight his case?

'It's perverse'

Firstly, Mr Ratner believes that Signet has, by failing to use the Ratners name, lost the rights to own it, and he has applied to the Patent Office to recover it.

And secondly, investors in Ratners Online believe the success of the business is largely dependent on the use of the Ratners brand which has been restored, rather than tarnished, by time.

Despite its removal from the High Street, Ratners remains strong in consumers' hearts, market research has shown.

"It's perverse, isn't it," Mr Ratner said.

Indeed, it goes to show that there is truth after all in the phrase: "All publicity is good publicity."

And it hints that in the early 1990s, when Mr Ratner was battling to save his muddied name, he should have taken strength from another adage: "Where there's muck, there's brass."

See also:

27 May 02 | Business
19 Jul 01 | Business
12 Apr 01 | UK
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