Julia Irvine 3 Mar 2017 05:50pm

Legal fight over iconic Andersen name

US firm Andersen Tax is taking out a number of law suits against the newly launched global firm of Arthur Andersen & Co over who has the right to use the iconic name

It has already issued proceedings in France, where the new firm is headquartered, and in China and it is expecting more to be filed in various jurisdictions around the world in the coming weeks.

The US firm, which changed its name to Andersen Tax in 2014, was originally set up as WTAS in 2002 by 23 former Arthur Andersen partners in the immediate aftermath of Arthur Andersen’s demise.

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 the firm. By then Andersen’s client base had melted away.

Over the years, Andersen Tax says, it deliberately set about acquiring the rights to the name and Arthur Andersen’s intellectual property (IP) including trademarks and copyrights, some of which were registered as far back as 2007.

According to Oscar Alcantara, Andersen Tax’s trademark counsel, the firm’s registrations are spread across 90 countries around the world. “Some of them we have obtained through our own filings, some of them we obtained from Arthur Andersen LLP (which is the original US firm) and some of them we obtained from an acquisition from the IP holding company associated with Andersen Worldwide,” he said.

“More importantly than the trade mark filings, though, what we have is really an organisation built by former partners of Arthur Andersen who grew up and developed their professional careers within that culture, within the true organisation of Arthur Andersen, and they bring that legacy with them.”

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

He has been global managing partner of Arthur Andersen since 2013 when he and co-founder Véronique Martinez renamed an organisation called Quatre Juillet Maison Blanche (which translates as the 4th of July White House) after the firm. Martinez worked at Arthur Andersen for seven years as an assistant general counsel.

The new Arthur Andersen & Co, which was relaunched this week as a global offering, is a network of affiliated and legally independent member firms. It boasts 26 offices in 16 countries around the world, covering the US, Europe, the Middle East, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Nepal.

According to Laffont-Réveilhac, it is currently in discussions with firms in China, Canada, Australia, Israel, Russia and the European Union. Laffont-Réveilhac says the firm is in touch with several UK firms. “We are confident to be able to announce at least one English firm joining us before the end of the year.

“In each country, we are setting up an inter-professional member firm with high-quality players who are fully up to meeting the current needs of clients with a focus on a vision of the future, while maintaining the spirit and historical values of our historic firm founded in 1913 in Chicago,” he said.

Martinez thinks the firm has “a moral responsibility of success and loyalty towards the values and alumni, both partners and employees, of the firm that disappeared from the business world in 2002”.

“Arthur Andersen needs to become once again a synonym for world excellence in professional service.”

Andersen Tax would argue that it has already achieved that. It is not only highly successful but, as an Andersen Tax spokesperson said, has operations in 58 locations.

“We have added Toronto and Cologne so far this year (our Cologne office will likely open in June) and we expect to add five more locations (Spain, Portugal and Israel) within the next 60 days,” he said.

“We currently have 19 locations in the US and we are working with four in Canada which will be formally integrated on 1 January next year.

“We also have 10 locations in Latin America and 22 in the EU and we are planning to add another 10 to 12 locations each year.”

Its current success is also the reason why it is bringing the law suits against the French firm because it is deeply concerned that its carefully nurtured reputation will be damaged.

It says that it has investigated some of the offices that the new network lays claims to and suggests that you can rent some of the addresses for $30 a month while others don’t even have telephones working yet.

Alcantara is worried about the risk of confusion for Andersen Tax clients. “I am not aware of any client conflicts yet. It is the potential for irreparable harm that is truly concerning. If we find ourselves in a situation where clients are torn between these two organisations, then the harm has already been done.

“We are trying to be proactive and get out in front of that.”