Ottawa

Haus vs. House: Plant store names cause thorny rift

The owner of an Elgin Street plant business has to change her business name because of the similarities between the name "Haus of Plants" and a fellow local florist's "House of Plants."

Intellectual property lawyers say securing trademark should be 1st step of business

Jenny Nguyen said she will choose a new name for Haus of Plants and trademark it immediately after a fellow local florist sent her a cease and desist letter. (Stu Mills/CBC)

An exotic houseplant business that flourished during the pandemic-fuelled craze for pricey, tropical greenery has been served with a cease and desist order due to its name being similar to another local florist.

Owner of "Haus of Plants" on Elgin Street, Jenny Nguyen, faces possible legal action from the owner of "House of Plants" in Ottawa's Nepean neighbourhood. She must change her business name within 90 days, the order says.

"She's not being fair with me at all and it's very stressful," said Nguyen, who sought to turn her exotic plant side-hustle into a full-time business last summer when she opened the Boho-themed plant store and licensed cafe on Elgin Street. 

Judie Tu had a similar pandemic-inspired business idea when she opened in a commercial space on Auriga Drive, about 12 kilometres south of Nguyen.

Tu trademarked "House of Plants" in January and sent Nguyen the cease and desist letter soon after.

Tu's House of Plants trademark is registered in connection with the trade of flowering plants, live flower arrangements, live flowers, live plants and other forms of natural plants, according to the letter from intellectual property lawyer Adam Tracey.

WATCH: Jenny Nguyen on battle over plant store name:

House of Plants or Haus of Plants? Two Ottawa stores tussle over names

3 months ago
Duration 1:33
Jenny Nguyen, owner of Elgin Street business Haus of Plants, says she received a cease and desist letter from the owner of another Ottawa store, the trademarked House of Plants, warning her to change the name of her shop within 90 days.

Customers confused by similar names, letter alleges

Tu declined an interview, but her lawyer's letter points to customer confusion over the two similar-sounding businesses as the reason for the action.

Some have complained to find House of Plants closed when an online search had suggested it was open, while others have found themselves directed to the wrong location, according to the letter.

One House of Plants customer who had previously ordered from the website tried to retrieve the order at Haus of Plants and sought a discount from House of Plants for what they regarded as an error, the letter said.

Nguyen says she is skeptical of these claims because she has not experienced any confusion. She has offered to change her business name, but Tu has declined suggestions such as "Haus Plant Cafe" or "Haus of Plants Cafe."

"It's kind of sad in a way. We're both women. I feel like women should always support each other," said Nguyen.

House of Plants is the trademarked name of a shop on Auriga Drive in Ottawa's Nepean neighbourhood. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'Cautionary tale' on securing trademark

Paula Clancy, an intellectual property law partner at Gowling WLG, called it a "cautionary tale" about the importance of securing a trademark.

The holder of a Canadian trademark operating in Canada has protection against other names that are visually, phonetically or "notionally" similar, especially if the two operate in a similar commercial space.

Clancy gave the example of Apple Computer and Apple Auto glass. Those are the same general business name but they were granted as two separate trademarks because consumer confusion over the very different kinds of products is unlikely.

Intellectual property lawyer Paula Clancy said courts will consider whether two names are 'notionally,' visually or phonetically similar when deciding a trademark infringement case. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Nguyen hasn't chosen a new name yet, but knows she won't be able to challenge Tu's trademark.

When she does rebrand, she will follow the same path taken by Krista Evans and Caity Marsh. The Ottawa florists used to run a shop called "The Stalk Market" but had to change it to "Flower to the People."

In 2020, the business partners were forced to change the name when they received a cease and desist letter from the holder of the Canadian trademark.

The pair estimate the costs of changing names ran to about $75,000.

"Research, research, research," advised Marsh. "And trademark your name."

Caity Marsh and Krista Evans ran a shop called The Stalk Market until a trademark challenge arrived in the mail in 2020. Then they became Flower to the People. (Stu Mills/CBC)

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