Kiwi breastfeeding businesses My Boobie Bag and The Lactation Station in 'boobie' trademark dispute

The two businesses blame each other for starting the dispute.
The two businesses blame each other for starting the dispute. Photo credit: Instagram / Lactation Station / My Boobie Bag

The owner of a fledgling breastfeeding supplies business is urging others in the industry to trademark their product and brand names after a rival successfully registered the word 'boobie'.

Beheshta Ali, the founder of My Boobie Bag, says she's had to change her business name and has hemorrhaged thousands of dollars in unsellable stock and legal costs after a trademark dispute with The Lactation Station (TLS).

Ali's decision to alter her brand comes after weeks of back-and-forth with TLS director Renee Ball - a clash that's resulted in an expensive legal battle, mental health struggles and social media abuse.

Their dispute started when Honorable Ltd, which owns TLS, applied to trademark several boobie-related phrases with the Intellectual Property Office - including 'boobie bag', 'boobie box', 'boobie bar' and 'boobie breakfast'.

TLS also trademarked the word 'boobie' in its entirety, leaving Ali with just two choices: engage in a tense legal standoff with a rival company, or scrap My Boobie Bag and start a new brand from scratch.

While Ball apologised to Ali for the move, she insists it was just a business decision rather than a "malicious attack" - and argues Ali herself kicked off the dispute in the first place.

Ali is now warning others in the industry to look into registering their own trademarks to avoid the same fate as her business, which she says may now take years to become profitable.

Renee Ball (left) and Beheshta Ali (right) have been locked in a dispute over the 'boobie' trademark for weeks.
Renee Ball (left) and Beheshta Ali (right) have been locked in a dispute over the 'boobie' trademark for weeks. Photo credit: Instagram / Lactation Station / My Boobie Bag

The boobie dispute

Having had difficulties with breastfeeding herself, clinical pharmacist Beheshta Ali launched My Boobie Bag in April 2021 with the intention of improving the experience of struggling new mums.

Ali's 'boobie bags' were filled with a mixture of her own and other traders' products, and in September she contacted TLS about stocking their lactation cookies in them, which they agreed to do.

However, just over a month later, Ali got an email from TLS founder and director Renee Ball informing her that the company was trademarking all its products, including a boobie bag.

"This is something that I wanted to bring to your attention first and I will leave it in your hands for now to take action," Ball said in her email. "From women to women (sic), I want to express my sincere apologies for this. These are the parts of the business I do not enjoy."

The news came as a shock to Ali, who had until that point never considered she'd need to trademark her products.

She told Ball it put her in a difficult position because she had been using the phrase 'My Boobie Bag' for over a year. She urged Ball to withdraw her trademark application and consider co-existing in the market.

Ball refused and said all further correspondence would be through her lawyer.

TLS's boobie bag (left) and My Boobie Bag (right).
TLS's boobie bag (left) and My Boobie Bag (right).

Ali later hired a lawyer of her own when she was advised she may be able to get something in exchange for agreeing to make changes to her business. She filed a trademark application of her own in an attempt to protect My Boobie Bag.

However she soon received a letter from Ball's lawyer telling her to stop using the trademarked phrases within weeks or risk legal action - the first of several legal letters she would receive in the ensuing weeks.

"I'd never experienced anxiety… but every time I would open one of those lawyer's letters, I would just have a panic attack; I would have nausea, I would have the shakes, heart palpitations," Ali explained.

"It really gets to me that my little kids have seen me cry in front of them more than I would want to. Sometimes my son who's four will come and say, 'Mummy, are you reading a mean email?'"

The mental strain becoming too much for her, Ali went back to TLS and said she would stop selling My Boobie Bags and trading under the name.

"I told them I'm not stopping because I think what you're doing is right, I'm stopping because I just do not have the mental or financial energy to put into this," she told Newshub.

'I did what any business would do'

Ali is disappointed a business she'd previously had a working relationship with had taken such a decision - but Ball told Newshub the trademark application was simply a business decision and wasn't personal.

"I just did what any business does, right? It's a common practice for businesses to trademark," she said.

"Unfortunately, the word 'boobie' is, yes, a very commonly used descriptive word for the woman's breast, but it was a word that my lawyer advised me to trademark as a whole… It's the same as Hello Fresh owning the word 'hello' and the Yellow Pages owning the word 'yellow'."

She argues the dispute is Ali's own doing anyway. Ball says while she did apply for 'boobie' related trademarks, she had no intention to enforce them until Ali made a trademark application of her own for My Boobie Bag.

Beheshta Ali says she'll give all her unsold My Boobie Bag merchandise to charity.
Beheshta Ali says she'll give all her unsold My Boobie Bag merchandise to charity. Photo credit: My Boobie Bag

"It became a bit of a legal thing as soon as she started to do that - that's why lawyers were involved," she said.

"It just shocks me that she's taking it to this level because I had no intentions of doing anything. It was a courtesy email to let her know… It blows me away that she's playing the victim in all of this when it was actually her that took it to this next step.

"I just did what any common business would do in that situation and involved my lawyer."

Ball regrets that her exchange with Ali became dominated by lawyers and caused financial and mental hardship for Ali, but says she's had mental health struggles of her own as a result of their dispute.

Ali had posted about My Boobie Bag's name change on a small business Facebook page, explaining that her existing merchandise was on sale due to the 'boobie' trademark. The post didn't name Ball or TLS, but it proved easy enough for people to find out who was behind it by searching the trademark on the Intellectual Property Office website.

The post went viral, and Ball says the backlash was immediate and brutal.

"I received messages being called a c*** and an evil person; there's been a boycott started, #BoycottLactationStation - it's been absolutely horrific on my side too," she said.

"For [Ali] to try and say that it affects her mental health, I understand that because I'm receiving the same hate, if not more, by her continuously adding fuel to the fire."

'My inaction cost me my original name'

While Ball has had her struggles, it's Ali who has accepted defeat after her lawyer advised her the dispute could drag on for many months if she chooses to pursue it. She told Newshub she simply doesn't have the mental or financial capacity to handle that.

Ali has vowed to gift all her remaining My Boobie Bag-branded stock to the Bare Necessities charity, which supports mothers postpartum.

The ordeal has cost her thousands already, and Ali says she will have to revisit her business at some point in the new year as she has no money left to rebrand at the moment.

"At this point, I'm just going to have to try and work my way through the legal debts and the merch sales that I would have lost," she said.

However despite her experience, Ali is still keeping one eye on the future. She recently applied for a new trademark, and while she wouldn't share with Newshub what it is, she revealed it has nothing to do with breasts.

She's hopeful her ordeal will serve as a reminder to those in the industry that they need to protect their intellectual property.

"My inaction to register my trademark when I first started to use the mark in 2020 means that another business has forced me to stop using my own original name," Ali said.

"This could happen to anyone - particularly small businesses who don't have the funds to fight it or those like me who were not even aware of trademarks. It's therefore critically important to protect your trademarks as soon as possible, before someone else does."

Ball agrees that the situation could prove to be a lesson for many others. She notes that a number of small businesses have started registering trademarks of their own since the dispute.

"It's such a great lesson learnt, that you need to do your due diligence when going into business and ensure that your brand is not going to affect anyone else's brands that have been built by the same passion and love and sweat and tears that everyone else's does," she said.

"We're all mums, we're all human, we're all trying to start a business. But you know, the business world is a bit cutthroat sometimes."