Company supporting paramedics says it's being blocked by St John

Why would they take something away from their staff which doesn't really affect them at all?"
Why would they take something away from their staff which doesn't really affect them at all?" Photo credit: Getty

Nita Blake-Persen for RNZ

A company working to set up a fund supporting front line ambulance workers says it's being blocked in its efforts by St John.

YelloHalo is an internet service provider, returning 100 percent of its profits to help front line ambulance staff.

It was launched by Waikato businessman Graeme Blake last November as a way of paying forward the help his family received when his daughter was just six days old.

"She had trouble breathing and we thought we were about to lose her. A couple of paramedics swooped in and saved the day, and we'll forever be grateful."

Blake and his wife want to repay that kindness through a fund for frontline ambulance officers which would offer scholarships, career development and eventually holiday homes for staff.

The money will come from the profits of Blake's charitable internet service provider, YelloHalo. Profits would be distributed through a trust, with most of the trustees paramedics themselves.

Trustee Dorothy Johnston worked as a paramedic for 33 years before retiring from St John last month. She said her colleagues were blown away by the idea.

"No one has ever done anything like that for us before," she said.

But the business has hit a snag. Blake applied to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to have YelloHalo trademarked, and he has since found out ambulance provider St John has asked the IPO for an extension so they can file an opposition to the trademark application.

"It looks like we're being challenged by a big organisation with a lot more resource than we have," Blake said.

"This is literally my business partner, my wife and I trying to do a good thing here by setting up a cool initiative, and it actually feels quite intimidating."

YelloHalo had previously approached St John about their plans but the discussions fell flat - Blake does not know what its issue is now.

"In terms of trademark classification, we're not even in the same classification so we're scratching our heads here."

YelloHalo's trademark lawyer Tim Walden said they would not know what the exact reasons were until St John filed a formal notice of opposition.

"I can only assume that St John isn't altogether happy with what the business of YelloHalo is and how that's being carried out, and are looking at whether they have any rights they could rely on to successfully disrupt the business of YelloHalo.

St John declined to be interviewed for this story but in a statement told Checkpoint it was "reviewing information and working through a process as we do with any commercial interests".

As for the fund itself, it would be available to all ambulance staff - including those who work for Wellington Free Ambulance or rescue helicopter outfits.

Dorothy Johnston said she could not see what St John's issue was.

"I really don't understand it, because we're not representing St John... they don't own us," Johnston said.

"Why would they do this to their staff? Why would they take something away from their staff which doesn't really affect them at all?"

Blake has spent around $100,000 of his own money getting YelloHalo off the ground - money he said he could have donated as cash, but had hoped to create a system which keeps giving back.

"They go on TV and tell the nation how under-resourced they are. Why are they spending money on trademark attorneys just to beat up on at outfit that's trying to help their sector?"

St John has until 28 February to formally oppose the application.