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Last Minute Hiccups For You-Know-Who's Flotation

A row over trademarks has landed Lastminute.com's Germany offshoot with a lawsuit on the eve of its 'conditional trading' debut.

According to reports coming from Hamburg, last Monday German travel company, L'Tur Tourismus - a subsidiary of travel giant Preussag - filed a suit against Last Minute Network Germany, the U.K. online travel operator's spin-off there.

Preussag already uses the Reisen (journeys) brand, although earlier legal action in the German courts preventing Lastminute from using it has failed.

But there are similar rumblings coming out of the travel industry in Australia, a market targeted by Lastminute's founders Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox for their first move outside Europe.

In its revised company prospectus, Lastminute acknowledges the latest lawsuit in which L'Tur alleges the name 'lastminute' is anti-competitive, confusing and in breach of German trade law. However Lastminute's executives deny they will have much of a problem, dismissing the row as down to semantics and centering on the fact that the phrase 'lastminute' has a far stricter definition in Germany than it has when used in the U.K - it usually refers to travel that commences within a fortnight of a ticket being purchased.

Executives also claimed the trade law allegedly violated is largely a 'protectionist' measure, often brought by non-Internet companies in Germany and designed to keep foreign rivals from competing in their markets.

News of the fracas has done little to dampen enthusiasm for Lastminute's flotation, however. Tuesday the final price of its debut shares will be set when conditional trading starts, though the company has already revised its opening price - hoisting it 67 percent over the previous week and fixing a range of between 320p and 380p.

The new price values Lastminute at around £526 million ($804.7 million) and making respective paper fortunes of £35 million ($53.5 million) and £50 million ($76.5 million) for Mr Hoberman and Ms Lane Fox.

Full trading in the shares is expected to start next Tuesday.



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