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Juice maker Lassonde pays up after social media outcry

Thousands flooded the Oasis juice page on Facebook to express their outrage over the dispute with the company behind Olivia's Oasis beauty products.

Mario Beauregard/The Canadian Press/Mario Beauregard/The Canadian Press

When a company drags you through a seven-year legal battle that puts you thousands of dollars in debt, you're not likely to invite its officials to Easter brunch.

But that didn't stop executives from Lassonde Industries Inc., and their lawyer, from knocking on a door in the Montreal suburb of Saint-Lazare on Sunday. Nor did Deborah Kudzman, founder of Olivia's Oasis Inc. mind the interruption of Easter festivities at her sister's home: The makers of the Oasis line of juices were there to offer her a settlement after years of fighting her in court. And she had social media to thank for the turnaround.

Last month, Ms. Kudzman lost a court case to the Rougemont, Que.-based juice maker. Although she had been allowed to continue using the Oasis name for her line of beauty products, a Quebec Superior Court judge overturned a 2010 decision that had declared Lassonde's suit against her small company abusive, and wiped out an order for Lassonde to pay her $125,000 in damages and legal costs.

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After Ms. Kudzman spoke to La Presse in an article published Saturday, people took to Twitter and Facebook to express their outrage. Thousands flooded the Oasis Facebook page, many with negative comments. Quebec television star and media mogul Guy A. Lepage took up the cause. Saturday afternoon, he wrote a message on his Twitter account, which has more than 100,000 followers, saying that, in protest, he would no longer drink Oasis juice.

"A lot of people were calling it a David-and-Goliath story," Ms. Kudzman said in an interview Monday.

Court documents note that from 2005 until the end of September, 2009, Olivia's Oasis had total sales of $684,916. Last year, Lassonde recorded $760.3-million in sales.

On Sunday, Lassonde released a statement that it had agreed to pay Ms. Kudzman's legal expenses.

"We never intentionally wanted to harm another Quebec business," Lassonde's vice-president of communications, Stefano Bertolli, said in the statement. "As was recognized by the Court of Appeal, it is essential that we protect out trademarks to avoid the creation of any precedents."

Lassonde did not respond to requests for an interview Monday.

Ms. Kudzman declined to discuss the amount of the settlement, but said it is "similar" to what she was awarded in court in 2010, and takes care of the debt she accumulated over the years of legal action.

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"Social media and the support of the public accomplished in 30 hours what I couldn't accomplish in seven years," she said. "Five years ago, I don't think this could have happened."

The case against her company began with a cease-and-desist letter from Lassonde in 2005, after Olivia's Oasis filed for a trademark to sell its line of olive oil-based beauty products, imported from Turkey. It received preliminary approval but was opposed by Lassonde, which has held its "Oasis" trademark since 1965.

Trademark battles are common, but the outcome of this case is unusual, thanks to the social-media element. "There are well-known Fortune 500 companies that are always in the courts duking it out [over trademarks] It's almost like a sport for them … there's a lot of resources devoted to that. And for the most part it's been invisible to consumers," said Mike Mulvey, assistant professor of marketing at University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management. "Now it's different."

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