Marc Jenni and Jenny Watch – What’s in a name?
On Monochrome today we take a look at a sorry situation regarding two likeable independent watch companies, yet two who, through the accident of birth ended up with similar family names – even if the approach in which they go about their watchmaking could not be more different.
Our readers will be familiar with both of our subjects as we have previously written about Marc Jenni, the artisan and innovative independent watchmaker and AHCI member, and the Jenny Watch Company, whose Caribbean diver received favourable reviews, and who are also parent company of the cult favourite Doxa.
Despite its serene outward appearance, everything is not always peace and harmony in the oft-romanticised world of small label watchmaking. One could be forgiven for believing that, particularly among small, family-owned or independent companies who rub shoulders with each other from time to time, relationships were those of mutual respect. Alas not always so, because not far beneath the surface of those seemingly tranquil waters, trouble can await the unwary.
First things first: watchmaking like any other industry is a business, and so whilst one watchmaker reels in a potential new client at a trade show or exhibition, you can be sure that his neighbours will be monitoring the developing deal with watchful, almost envious eyes. Business, regardless of whichever sector, is business, and as well as being rewarding on occasion, business can be and usually is tough.
The case in point here surrounds the strong-arm and damaging tactics being deployed by one small watch company upon another smaller watch company. Owners of the cult favourite Doxa brand the Jenny family, who also own the eponymous but less well known Jenny Watch brand, have decided in their wisdom that another watchmaker – one Marc Jenni – has encroached on their territory and feel threatened that the existence of Marc Jenni watches might serve to confuse buyers, or detract from their own collection of 300m sports watches. As a result, the Jenny family’s legal people have instructed Marc Jenni to cease using his family name on his watches or his branding.
The Jenny Watch company was established by Paul Gustav Jenny in 1963 and his Company’s speciality was in creating pretty cool, and indeed important dive watches which bore the ‘Jenny’ name upon their dials. I also have to admit that I have always liked brands like Jenny and in particular Doxa, and admired the way they have built a loyal following among their customer base which has supported their products down the years. I saw them as underdogs who survived on their cunning and that is a good thing. However, I also like Marc Jenni and his watches, and what I have learned in recent times has brought me to (easily) choose a side in the situation. On visiting his website this week I was deeply annoyed to see that he has had to blur out his own name on all of the images of his own watches. It all seems unnecessary and damaging injustice being served on Marc Jenni.
I am not myopic, and I know it is not unreasonable for those who would to point out that ‘Jenny’ and ‘Jenni’ are very close in terms of pronunciation and spelling, and so there are no grounds to discuss it, but Marc Jenni’s watches are not badged ‘Jenni’ (in which case it would be difficult to argue against the Jenny case), instead they bear his full name: ‘Marc Jenni’, use a completely different logo and as such, any possibility of confusion is tenuous at best.
You see Marc Jenni is one of those hardy independent types, and more than that, he is an independent Master Watchmaker who creates his unique watches by hand in his own atelier. Marc Jenni also is a full member and highly active champion of independent watchmaking’s revered AHCI, the Academy of Creative Independent Horologers – increasingly independent watchmaking’s most important organisation and with fellow members such as Voutilainen, Andersen, Halter and Journe to name but a few, definitely one which puts its efforts into the preservation of traditional hands-on watchmaking, nurturing the brightest talents and providing support to its members.
Marc Jenni’s timepieces are never going to be confused with any other watch. They are instantly recognisable thanks to his crownless lateral winding and setting system, via the tactile turning ring which runs around the sides of his cases. A large push button at the 4 allows the ring to be used for winding, or to set the time or date. Available in stainless steel or 18Kt gold they are aimed at the discerning collector, the customer who connects with the watchmaker, often personally, and who appreciates the finesse of his multifarious talents.
The Jenny Carribean 300m, which is their only current collection, is a different kind of watch altogether. Priced at around the CHF 1,000 mark it’s a cool, sporty and practical watch with good looks and a sense of fun, thanks to a choice of coloured dials and rotating bezels. Yes, yes I do understand that the watches are not what the action is about, but comparing these two brands is akin to comparing apples with oranges, they’re both fruit but they’re very different, and as neither are what you’d call heavyweight brands, there are probably better things to be getting on with (like a structured, pro-active digital strategy for example) than firing off legal torpedoes to another small but groundbreaking watchmaker, whose accomplishments and personal contribution to watchmaking in the classic sense will ensure that a new generation of independent Master Watchmakers will come through.
The thing is, there is no question that there is room for both Jenny and Marc Jenni: there’s no crossover. The unfortunate action seems (to me) to be so needless and seriously damaging to one of watchmaking’s brightest stars. I just cannot see a winner here, but I will say this:
Marc Jenni’s lovingly handmade timepieces deserve the privilege to bear ‘Marc Jenni’ on his dials.
As someone who’s practiced intellectual property law for almost 20 years, this article is way off base. I have no love of the Jenny watch family, and admire what Marc Jenni is trying to accomplish with an independent watch brand. From many perspectives, you could argue that if anything, Jenny is actually benefiting from the confusing association with such an exclusive and dedicated independent watchmaker as Marc Jenni.
But that’s not the point. Trademark law is is clear — if you do not enforce your trademarks, you can your right to enforce them in the future. Period. A trademark is not like a patent or copyright; it is essentially a right to enforce the goodwill associated with the fact that people associate a name with the product’s source. If you let that goodwill slip away and people no longer associate your brand name with your products, because you sat on your rights, the name can either become generic or can fall into the public domain. There is no doubt that Jenny’s trademark lawyers are giving this exact same advice.
And in the luxury watch world, where status, prestige are marketing are often far more important to sales than actual quality, losing a trademark is death. If Jenny decided to do nothing against Marc Jenni, eventually they’d lose the right to enforce their trademarks against him or anyone else who chose to adopt a confusingly similar mark for their watches. Years down the road, Mark Jenni could decide to rapidly expand his operations and out with a line of Chinese-made divers and it would be too late for Jenny to do anything about it. I wonder how many people would buy Rolex watches if they didn’t have the name “Rolex” on them, or if lots of other companies used “Rolex” on their watches. Jenny is no Rolex, but that’s beside the point.
With all due respect to the author, he is hardly in a position to say that “any possibility of confusion is tenuous at best.” Trademark law is designed from the perspective of the ordinary consumer, not the watch blogger who purports to be an expert and the field who has (admittedly from the article) already chosen sides. Jenny is not claiming a trademark in the design of its watches, only in their brand name. Their trademarks are used all over the place where the watch images may not be shown, such as Internet metatags, audio recordings (including Internet radio ads), catalogues and lots of other places. The two are in the same field of luxury watchmaking, and that’s close enough for trademark law. (And to the author: writing that article, can you really say you didn’t almost accidentally type “Jenni” when you meant “Jenny?” I’ve experienced that phenomenon several times in writing this comment.)
Again, I’m no fan of Jenny watches; they seem totally uninspiring and lame to be, whereas Marc Jenni watches seem beautiful and ground-breaking. But Marc Jenni should cut his losses now, while his company is still young, and come up a new and unique name for his products and move forward. The law does not recognize any inherent right to use your own name where it will cause confusion.