Kochie’s legal battle over business naming rights
A business owner has launched an intellectual property dispute against AusBiz, a flourishing $25 million video production company backed by Sunrise host David Koch, demanding the platform rebrand and adopt a new name.
Boutique publisher Michelle Hespe has launched proceedings with IP Australia against AusBiz founder Kylie Merritt, Koch's business partner, over use of the finance and technology streaming platform's name.
Hespe argues her business, Publishing ByChelle, first started using the name in September 2017, two years before Merritt and Koch, as the title of an in-flight magazine insert she produces for airlines Alliance, Rex and previously Airnorth, and for an affiliated digital platform.
In 2019 when she made a bid to trademark the name, which has been popularised within the finance sector as a social media hashtag, she discovered Merritt had also applied for the trademark and been given tacit approval provided there were no objectors. Hespe subsequently launched a vigorous objection with IP Australia.
"It's heartbreaking for me," she said last week.
"I've put four years into building up the AusBiz brand here and overseas and (spent) close to a $1 million.
"That might seem like nothing compared to a company valued at $25 million, but it's the biggest thing I have ever done and I had been working on the strategy of having a travel arm and a business arm - AusBiz and TrulyAus - for more than 10 years. When AusBiz TV applied for the trademark, we were already in print, online and on social channels Facebook and Instagram.
"There has been no choice of not fighting for this because if AusBiz TV is awarded the trademark for AusBiz, which is their goal and what I'm opposing, then they can tell me to cease and desist using the mark."
Merritt counters of Hespe: "She may have had plans (re the trademark) but she hadn't done anything. We were initially happy for her to continue using it for publishing but she was adamant there was no deal to be done."
Koch has been described in news clips as the "co-founder" of AusBiz which boasts a slick new studio facility in the glamorous Barangaroo precinct.
As well as being co-founder and chairman of the streaming service, he is also the host of a one-hour weekday analysis program called The Call which is streamed on the platform which goes out on the Seven Network's digital channel 7Plus.
The platform launched in 2020 with Merritt, as managing director, named alongside Koch as a major shareholder.
Other investors in the business include former Liberal party federal treasurer Joe Hockey and British industrialist Sanjeev Gupta, whose interests, including the Whyalla Steelworks and associated mines, have been placed under recent stress following the collapse of Gupta's chief lender, Greensill Capital.
In February 2019, Koch, the President of Port Adelaide Football Club, praised Gupta for throwing his money behind the South Australian football club as a major sponsor.
The AusBiz streaming platform grew out of the demise of Your Money, a joint venture between News Corp's Australian News Channel and Nine, that same year. Merritt, formerly a business reporter at Sky News and later the commercial director of Australian News Channel, was CEO of Your Money for the 13 months it was broadcasting.
The matter will head to court in future months with Hespe saying the double up has detrimentally impacted her business and led to confusion in the market.
Originally published as Kochie's legal battle over business naming rights