Julia Irvine 21 Apr 2017 09:53am

New AA network loses its US affiliate over trademark lawsuit

Andersen Tax has won the first step in its legal battle to assert its ownership of the Arthur Andersen name against French firm Quatre Juillet Maison Blanche which laid claim to the same trademarks and last month launched itself as global network Arthur Andersen & Co (AA&Co)

The US firm has reached an “amicable settlement to a trademark infringement dispute” with MoHala Enterprises, doing business as Sundial Consulting.

Although the details of the settlement are confidential, in a statement the two businesses revealed that MoHala, which had signed up as the US member of the AA&Co global network, has agreed “never to use the terms ‘Andersen’ or ‘Arthur Andersen’ to promote its professional services consultancy”.

MoHala has withdrawn its membership as an affiliate of AA&Co and is in the process of dissolving Arthur Andersen LLP, a California limited liability partnership it previously formed for the purpose of serving as AA&Co’s US member and affiliate.

Andersen Tax was set up in 2002 by 23 former Arthur Andersen partners in the immediate aftermath of Arthur Andersen’s demise and was known as WTAS.

The firm then started to acquire the rights to the name and Arthur Andersen’s intellectual property (IP) including trademarks and copyrights, some of which it registered as far back as 2007.

In 2014, the WTAS partners decided to adopt the Arthur Andersen name because, as they explained at the time, it gave them a common identity and reflected WTAS’ own culture of client first, stewardship, transparency and best in class solutions.

Originally one of the Big Five international accountancy firms, Arthur Andersen collapsed after fraud on a massive scale was discovered at its audit client Enron which subsequently crashed.

A US district court had found Arthur Andersen guilty of shredding documents relating to the Enron audit and although the US Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction and exonerated the firm, the ruling came too late to save it. By then Andersen’s client base had melted away.

But at the beginning of March this year, the two founders of QJMB, Stéphane Laffont-Réveilhac and Véronique Martinez launched their own network as Arthur Andersen & Co, boasting 26 offices in 16 countries around the world, covering the US, Europe, the Middle East, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Nepal.

At the time, Laffont-Réveilhac, the global managing partner of the new firm told economia that the new network was “the genuine and legitimate Arthur Andersen” and that it was the only owner “at the global level of the historical ‘Arthur Andersen’ and ‘Andersen’ trademarks, logos, visuals and slogans”.

As soon as it was launched, the new network was hit by a number of law suits around the world from Andersen Tax, including one taken out in the District Court in San Francisco, US against MoHala, Laffont-Réveilhac, Martinez and AA&Co.

Although MoHala has now settled, the case against Laffont-Réveilhac, Martinez and QJMB continues.

They also face law suits in France, Switzerland, China and India (which names AA&Co’s Indian affiliates as well).

Commenting on the settlement, Andersen Tax trademark counsel Oscar Alcantara said the firm was very pleased with the result “but we are still on the enforcement path”.

The Arthur Andersen & Co website still claims that the network has offices in Monterey, Chicago, Houston and New York, but the telephone numbers and addresses have been removed and the only way to contact them is by email.

A request for comment from Laffont-Réveilhac and AA&Co remains unanswered but a statement on the website says, “Because of the misleading, defamatory, denigrating and outrageous statements recently made by Andersen Tax LLC to the media and to our clients and contacts, we have no other choice than respond publicly and in the strongest terms.

“Once again, we affirm that we are the sole owners of the worldwide rights on the Arthur Andersen and Andersen brands, slogans and logos. Public database, in the US and throughout the world, confirm our rights at a global level. Furthermore, in 2015, Andersen Tax LLC contacted us in order to buy back our rights.

“Today, we are very proud to have nothing to do with Andersen Tax LLC and their outdated practices. Such behavior is clearly contrary to the Arthur Andersen values and shows that these individuals on the rope are panicked and unscrupulous. They are blinded by their ego, arrogance, lies and greed.

“Civil and criminal courts are currently investigating against Andersen Tax LLC and all their accomplices for facts that may be considered, among others, as organised fraud.”

The statement goes on to say that the new firm is aware of the responsibility it owes to Arthur Andersen’s history and alumni and reveals that many former partners have already joined the network.

The statement, which is undated but was posted shortly after the launch in March, also offered the press the chance to ask questions at a briefing in New York on 15 March. “We are not afraid: our rights are guaranteed, our behaviour is humble and our ethics are intransigent,” the firm added.

The press briefing was cancelled at the last minute.

“Every time I go on to their site, I see that Mark Twain quote they have used – ‘They didn’t know it was impossible so they did it’,” Alcantara said.

“And every time I think, ‘They didn’t know it was illegal, so they did it.’”