If you want a brand you can protect, don't use a geographic place name. That's the simple message reinforced by the Full Federal Court in knocking back an attempt to claim a monopoly over the word "Thredbo".
Thredbo is a town in Kosciusko National Park, NSW. It's famous as one of our national excuses for a ski resort (Aspen or St Moritz, it ain't). Kosciuszko Thredbo Pty Ltd is the company which leases Thredbo Village and runs the resort and various ski-related businesses there. Its subsidiary, Thredbo Resort Centre Pty Ltd, runs the central accommodation booking service. Basically, they own the town. We'll call them KT.
Their enemy is ThredboNet, a company which runs a competing booking service and has various websites with Thredbo-related domain names.
KT claimed that ThredboNet was infringing the Australian Consumer Law, misleading consumers by its use of the Thredbo name into confusing its services with KT's.
The big question was whether "Thredbo" had acquired a secondary meaning, so that it wasn't just identified in the mind of consumers as a place name, but also effectively as KT's business. KT had to prove that it had developed such a reputation in the Thredbo name that it was identified with KT and anyone else's use of "Thredbo" as a business name would necessarily be misleading.
Apfelschnapps to that suggestion, said the Court. Thredbo was a place long before it was a business, and KT didn't have a monopoly on its use. ThredboNet wasn't doing anything misleading; it was just selling its services by reference to the name of the place where they could be used.
This is entirely in line with older cases. The courts have always said that it's almost impossible to attach a place name so closely to your business that nobody else can use it. And fair enough, too. Serves them right for having no imagination in the first place. They could have called the resort "Expensivetown" and they'd have the monopoly they always desired.
The moral of this story is clear: the best brand names don’t describe what you do or sell, and place names are especially no good.