The Tomatin Trading Company is ready to press on with a major hotel, retail and restaurant development by the A9 after winning three-year legal battle
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A developer is ready to reboot ambitious plans to build a major hotel and retail complex by the A9 at Tomatin after winning a “nightmare” three-year legal battle with a whisky giant.
The Tomatin Trading Company finally triumphed in the bitter ‘David and Goliath’ trade name dispute with Japanese-owned Tomatin Distillery after a protracted civil court action over use of the village’s name in branding.
Despite full planning approval being granted for the £12 million-plus project, construction was delayed when the distillery issued an intellectual property challenge at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
That challenge was successfully repelled by developer William Frame, but the distillery’s unsuccessful appeal brought a further delay of eight months.
The Tomatin Distillery owners did not oppose the development in principle, but argued that use of the village name might confuse tourists and deter them from visiting its own visitor centre, with the name Tomatin “inherently associated” with its brand.
A second element of the distillery's appeal was supported by Lord Woolman, who found that the court action had not been pursued in "bad faith" as a means of blocking the hotel and retail development.
After the appeal against Lady Woolfe’s original verdict was dismissed, The Tomatin Trading Company expressed relief that “justice and common sense” had finally prevailed.
Delivering the ruling, Lord Woolman stated: “There is no warrant for the distillery to have a monopoly on the use of ‘Tomatin’.”
Mr Frame said: “I’m mightily relieved that the nightmare seems to be over.
“It’s been a tough time for my colleagues and my family. All we’re trying to do is honest business and get our development started.
“When you’re trying to raise finance in the property sector, legal cases at Scotland’s highest business court don’t make for good reading for those who are keen and wanting to invest.
“We did try to find a resolution. That was utterly rebuffed. We were told we could quite simply make this go away by changing the name.
“That would have made it difficult for us to market, to say who we are, and to look to build the business with confidence.
“The Highlands, from my observations, have never been busier when it comes to tourism. Never has the offering been better and we will be adding to that.”
A post-judgement statement from Tomatin Trading Company read: “The Appeal Judges concluded that there was no warrant for Tomatin Distillery – described as producing a niche brand in a niche market – to have a monopoly on the use of the word Tomatin for non-whisky products.
“We look forward to putting this case firmly behind us, and can now finish off our financial structuring with real confidence, getting down to the very important business of actually starting – and delivering – this important new development for the Tomatin and wider Highlands areas.
“It has been an extremely long and hard three years that this has hung over William Frame and his family, causing unnecessary stress, anxiety, cost and uncertainty.
“The case has been fought without the reserves of a large company, but in this case integrity has ultimately won. David has defeated Goliath!”
The company has planning approval for a 99-bedroom hotel, 200-seat restaurant, four retail units, a filling station and a farm shop.
Many of the buildings, described as in keeping with the rural setting, would be of the pre-fabricated, modular kind and construction work is expected to take about 18 months.
A spokesperson for Tomatin Distillery said: “While we are disappointed that Lord Woolman has upheld the original ruling regarding trademark infringement, we are delighted that the judgment regarding our trademark registrations has been overturned.
"We are pleased to now be able to draw a line under the matter and, as ever, remain committed to creating a thriving community here in Tomatin."