Clothing company, Abercrombie & Fitch have brought legal proceedings against Beyonce Knowles (often known simply by her first name), seeking to prevent her using the name "Fierce" as branding for an upcoming launch of a perfume range. Beyonce recently signed a deal with Coty, the world's largest fragrance company, for a perfume range to be launched in early 2010. Beyonce uses the alter ego "Sasha Fierce" and has been quoted as saying that that is the name of the persona she adopts when she performs onstage.

Abercrombie & Fitch (Abercrombie) claims in its complaint to have sold a fragrance called "FIERCE" since 2002 with a scent machine, or employees, spraying the FIERCE aroma throughout Abercrombie's stores so that its clothing retains the fragrance when it leaves the shop. The company filed for a trade mark for the word "FIERCE" for use in connection fragrances in June 2002 and now wishes to prevent Beyonce from using that name or the name "Sasha Fierce" on her new perfumes.

The company claims that, if the new fragrances use the name "Fierce", Beyonce and Coty would unfairly benefit from the goodwill which Abercrombie has built up in relation to its signature scent and could confuse consumers by causing them to believe there was a link between the two products and consequently the two businesses. That, they say, could cost them sales and, ultimately, the control of their own trade mark.

The legal action is a pre-emptive strike, apparently triggered by Beyonce's application for a US trade mark for "SASHA FIERCE" in relation to fragrance, which was filed at the US Patent and Trademark Office in September 2008 and published for opposition in 2009.

A spokesperson for Coty has stated, however, that "The terms Fierce and Sasha Fierce are not being used as names of a Beyonce fragrance," and that "Details related to the fragrance, including the official name, will be revealed prior to the launch in early 2010,".

This is another example of a well-known company taking robust precautions to protect its intellectual property during the economic downturn (see Pixar article).

In previous recessions, trends have been recorded showing decreased applications to register intellectual property rights but an increase in IP litigation as companies fight to protect their share of a shrinking market. The same seems to be happening this time around as practitioners report an upsurge in sending and receipt of "cease and desist letters" by companies eager to protect their branding, seemingly taking the view that it is often what distinguishes them from their competitors.

As for Beyonce and Abercrombie, the lawsuit was filed in September last year in Columbus, Ohio and so it remains to be seen how the singer, and indeed the court, will respond.