Probus clubs threatened with action

Members of the Mosgiel mens probus walking group stride along Gladfield road in 2014. Photo: ODT.
Members of the Mosgiel mens probus walking group stride along Gladfield road in 2014. Photo: ODT.
Social clubs for retirees have been threatened with legal action if they continue using the Probus name while not affiliated to an Australian organisation.

A Sydney-based organisation Probus South Pacific Limited (PSPL) owns the copyright to the name Probus in New Zealand.

Originally formed as a service group for clubs in New Zealand and Australia, PSPL became an incorporated company in 2011.

There are 28 clubs in Otago and Southland which use the Probus name but  are no longer affiliated with PSPL.

About 240 Probus clubs in New Zealand decided to form their own service association after PSPL asked clubs for the names and addresses of all members, which many believed would have been to use for commercial reasons.

In 2015, Probus New Zealand was taken to court by PSPL along with seven of its associated clubs, which included Wanaka Grand-view Probus, for using the Probus name.

Justice Kit Toogood found PSPL  was the legal owner of the name in New Zealand and clubs not affiliated could no longer use it.

Probus New Zealand changed its name to Fellowship New Zealand and has about 18,000 affiliated members.

Clubs which used the Probus name and regalia but were not affiliated were threatened with legal action in a letter sent by lawyers acting for PSPL this month.

After October 31, legal action would be taken against any club using the name without affiliation, the letter said.

Fellowship New Zealand secretary Jim Taylor said PSPL used bullying tactics to get its own way, but Fellowship New Zealand would not be intimidated.

Attempts to negotiate on the use of the name had come to nothing, Mr Taylor said.

Probus clubs had existed in New Zealand since 1974 and to  tell clubs what they could be called was ridiculous, he said.

Initially, Fellowship clubs were told to take a  wait-and-see approach but Fellowship New Zealand now advised clubs to remove Probus from their names until it was certain the name could no longer be used, Mr Taylor said.

Probus South Pacific Ltd chief executive Silvana Martignago said she believed some clubs in New Zealand which disaffiliated did so based on a misunderstanding of how PSPL operated.

Wanting to protect the reputation of the Probus name and ensure it was used appropriately was not bullying, she said.

As the owner of the Probus name and emblem, PSPL wanted to ensure only affiliated clubs used the name so current or potential members were not confused or  misledby  non-affiliated clubs, she said.

Any disaffiliated clubs could rejoin at  any time, Mrs Martignago said.

There were 10 Probus clubs in Otago and Southland still affiliated with PSPL.

One club which has taken the threat seriously and decided to change its name  is the Wanaka Women’s Probus club.

Club president Bev Johnston said the club had been sent a letter on Tuesday telling  it to stop using the name.

"It’s particularly distressing for some of the members of the committee who only want to do what’s best for the club and our members and not worry about legal action."

The club would officially change  its name once members had been informed, she said.

"We are just a group of woman who get together every month and then to get threatened like this is all very ridiculous."

Not all clubs dissatisfied with PSPL left. Probus Dunedin South decided it was best if they continued to be affiliated,  despite members’ concerns.

Secretary David Jaquiery said there were justifiable reasons many clubs left but Dunedin South members had decided it would be better for the club to continue to be associated.

"We only really worry about our own group and if those in Australia stay out of our business, we don’t mind being affiliated."



A social group for retired people.

• Originally formed for retired Rotary  members.

• First New Zealand club formed in 1974 on the Kapiti Coast.

• Meetings once a month.

• About 25,000 members of Probus or former Probus clubs in New Zealand.

• Club activities include social events, day trips and guest speakers.

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