Underdog determination: Paul Ballinger said, “Our name is our name and we are going to fight for it.” Photo: CAROL SAFFER

Ballarat businessman beats national behemoth

November 30, 2019 BY

TENACIOUS should be Paul Ballinger’s middle name.

As owner of Ballarat business, Real Estate Home Loans, he took on the corporate juggernaut REA Group over a trade mark infringement and won.

REA Group, better known as realestate.com.au, promotes itself as a leading global digital business, specialising in property.

“We are a small regional based company and they are a $14 billion ASX listed company, so it was a lot like David and Goliath,” Mr Ballinger said. “We registered our trademark, which is our logo with our wording, when we opened for business in 2000.

“We thought that was enough to protect us.”

Mr Ballinger checks the trademark data base on the IP Australia website, the Federal government agency that administers intellectual property rights and legislation, every three months.

He said it takes five minutes and does it regularly because, “No one is going to tell you your trade mark is being infringed.”

Three to four years after starting the business Mr Ballinger became aware the REA Group had tried to trade mark realestate.com.au/home loans a number of times and had the request declined by IP Australia.

However in April 2017 he was alerted that the REA Group’s realestate.com.au/home loans trade mark application had been accepted.

For the next two years he spent tens of thousands of dollars defending Real Estate Home Loans, REHL, trade mark.

IP Australia statistics show that two per cent of trade mark acceptances are opposed.

“We were one of a small minority [of businesses] that actually got their opposition upheld,” Mr Ballinger said.

When REA Group had the best Collins Street lawyers defending their case, REHL engaged Davies Collison Cave, Australia’s premier intellectual property practice.

Mr Ballinger said he wanted to fight on an equal footing.

“Small business owners often think it costs way too much money and takes way too much time, so they let it go,” he said. “It controlled a lot of my head space for two years, but I knew we had to stick to our guns.

“From the outset I believed we had a great case, and I had to protect our brand.

“The intimidating part of the process was the language their lawyers used. They wanted us to think that we were fighting a losing cause, but I don’t scare easily.”

REHL’s customer range for advertising and marketing is approximately 140,000 people, while REA conducts their marketing Australia wide.

At the time of the trade mark battle REHL had been in the home loan business for 20 years and REA had only entered the sector two years before.

“I don’t walk away from a fight, I stand up,” he said.

When IP Australia upheld REHL’s opposition Mr Ballinger chose to purchase every URL that contains the words real estate home loans.

REHL now owns about 40 to 50 websites addresses.

“The annual expense is worth it to protect our brand, our name and our business,” he said. “This business is not about the mortgage. It is about the hopes and dreams that people carry with them of property ownership.

“The mortgage is the mechanism by which you realise that.

“This it the culture of our business, assisting people to achieve their dreams.”