Page last updated at 21:30 GMT, Sunday, 13 April 2008 22:30 UK

Fight to protect the Conran name

By Joe Lynam
BBC News business reporter

Designer Sir Terence Conran sold rights to the name of his company in the early 1990s but is now involved in a heated debate over plans to expand the brand internationally.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Sir Terence Conran
Sir Terence sold the rights to his firm's name in the 1990s

Shakespeare knew the value of a name but perhaps not its cost.

Modern-day branding means that someone's name could be worth more than the annual profits earned by the entire company.

Certainly Sir Terence Conran knows a lot about that. The perennial design guru is in the midst of a heated debate about the value of his own name.

Habitat chain

Sir Terence has been designing professionally since 1951 when he first worked on the Festival of Britain.

He has since gone on to become the by-word internationally for design quality and foresight.

He started the Habitat chain of retail shops in the 1960s and then his own Conran stores under the control of Storehouse group.

In 1987 he opened his flagship Conran Design Store in the Michelin building in Chelsea.

It's nothing to do with design or integrity it's simply that they believe that they can make money out of it
Sir Terence

For many business observers that proved to be the high water mark of Sir Terence's retail CV.

In 1990 he had a major falling out with his boardroom colleagues on the Storehouse group and left the company to form Conran Holdings.

When Storehouse, which also included Mothercare and BHS, was broken up, the rights to the name 'Conran Design Group' were sold to a firm called RSCG.

The row only erupted when that company was bought by the French advertising giant Havas, who now want to go global using the name Conran Design Group (CDG).

Even though Sir Terence Conran retains the right to veto CDG work, that has yet to happen due to the time lag in challenging any of the designs in court.

If you sell somebody the global rights to something, you can't then turn around and object if that company plans to grow the brand
Chris Pinnington, Euro RSCG

"They (CDG) have produced some pleasant but rather dull work," according to Sir Terence.

"I think if sensible people could sit down and discuss this, surely it can be seen that when they can't produce someone called Terence Conran, they're going to be made a fool of."

According to one of the bosses at Euro RSCG, Chris Pinnington, the 76-year-old designer does not have a legal leg to stand on.

"If you sell somebody the global rights to something, you can't then turn around and object if that company plans to grow the brand," said Mr Pinnington, whose firm designs advertising campaigns for the likes of Shell and Peugeot.

"I think he (Sir Terence) is a clever designer but maybe not a brilliant business brain".

Moral argument

And Mr Pinnington has precedent on his side as well.

In 1995, Margaret Thatcher's favourite advertising specialists Maurice and Charles Saatchi were thrown off their own board at Saatchi & Saatchi. The two brothers now compete against their old company under the name M&C Saatchi.

Similar examples can be found at Ogilvy and bookseller Waterstones.

But Sir Terence believes there's a moral argument here in that Havas's plans to sell its design worldwide under the CDG name "lacks integrity".

"It's nothing to do with design or integrity it's simply that they believe that they can make money out of it," said Sir Terence.

But all may not be lost. Sir Terence has recently written to the Havas boss Vincent Ballore requesting a meeting to iron out their differences.

Perhaps these two grandees of the design and marketing world might be able to cook up a solution to what for many appears to be a storm in a rather posh tea cup.


SEE ALSO
Designer Conran plans eco-hamlet
06 Mar 08 |  Norfolk
Conran to design Sainsbury range
07 May 04 |  Business

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