By Niamh Anderson
TWO Shetland businesswomen are waging a bitter war – over teddy bears.
Former friends turned rivals Wendy Inkster and Gillian Ramsay are fighting to the commercial death over the words “Shetland Teddy Bear Company”.
Mrs Ramsay has accused her rival of poaching online customers and demanded that she change the name of her internet site within 28 days or face possible legal action.
But Mrs Inkster, whose teddies once graced the shelves of the Scottish Parliament shop, is refusing to back down.
She has instructed her own lawyer to write back to Mrs Ramsay telling her – in terms a teddy bear maker might understand – to get stuffed.
Mrs Inkster, who hand crafts her £65 bears from Shetland wool, said of the warning letter: “I was shocked. I’ve been a physical and mental wreck ever since.
I couldn’t believe it. I poured my heart and soul into building up my business 15 years ago. I’ve given up part-time jobs to make this work and it has up until now.”
She added: “I want to protect it no matter what – I feel like a mother bear protecting her cubs in a way.”
An unrepentant Mrs Ramsay hit back: “I don’t want her to cease making Teddy Bears. I would more than happily stock her bears alongside ours, just as long as she stops using our name.
“Our customers are being directed to her website and we registered the trademark first.”
The dispute is all the more remarkable given that the two women worked profitably together to sell teddies for six years.
Mrs Inkster, trading as Burra Bears, has been making teddies since 1997, selling up to 40 a week.
In 2000, she started supplying bears to Mrs Ramsay’s Shetland Fudge Company for sale in her Lerwick shop.
But shortly after Mrs Inkster stopped supplying bears, saying she could no longer meet demand, the relationship turned sour.
Mrs Ramsay registered the company name The Shetland Teddy Bear Company in November 2006 and two months later launched her own Shetland wool teddies, selling for up to £150.
Later the same day, Mrs Inkster admits she went online and registered the internet domain name Shetland Teddy Bear Company.
The simmering dispute has now erupted into a very unladylike public spat after Mrs Ramsay heard from customers that they were being directed to her rival’s website.
Deciding that enough was enough, Mrs Ramsay has fired off a sternly-worded warning letter to her nemesis 12-miles away.
It states: “It is against copyright law to redirect customers to a site not owned by the trademark owners.
“At this stage we are simply asking you to remove any mention of the trademark from any media. We require that you do this within 28 days. Even a name close to the trademark constitutes breach of copyright. You should be in no doubt that we will take all steps necessary to protect our brand.”
Mrs Ramsay said last night: “I’ve found the whole thing very upsetting but I refuse to get emotionally involved in this. It is a business and I’m simply trying to protect my company under copyright laws which any company would.
Yorkshire-born Mrs Ramsay denied any suggestion she had opportunistically learned the art of bear making to crush her rival. “I’ve been making bears since I was 14. I inherited a sewing machine and I started to make teddy bears using patterns I got in my local library,” she said.
Mrs Ramsay, whose bears enjoy names such as Dodie, Osla, and Ertie, added: “Lots of people make Shetland jumpers and Shetland chocolate and Shetland fudge. No one can have the monopoly on these things.
And she claimed that the “prototype” for her range of bears was being developed six months before Mrs Inkster withdrew her products.
“Our [bears] are jointed and hers aren’t – they’re static. They’re a completely different product,” she said.
An unyielding Mrs Inkster said her lawyer was drawing up a robust response.
She said: “I sold my teddy bears to her for five to six years, and she started to make them just as I stopped supplying her.
“It’s bugging her that we’re using three generic words – Shetland Teddy Bears – but that is a good description of what I do and I’ve done it for a long time.”
Mrs Ramsay previously won a legal dispute in 2009 against Asda over the name of a confectionary product called “Puffin Poo”.
The supermarket chain tried unsuccessfully to stop her registering the name on the grounds it already sold Puffin chocolate bars.