Wilting Copyright Defence Tabled in High Court

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Bodo Sperlein Ltd (BSL) has successfully claimed against Sabichi Homewares Ltd for a breach of copyright in respect of its tableware surface design.

BSL, a designer and manufacturer of ceramic homeware products, released its “Red Berry” range in 2002.  The collection, which – as its name suggests – depicted red twigs and red berries, went on to become a flagship collection for BSL.  Some 11 years later, an employee of BSL spotted a number of items in Sabichi’s store bearing a significant resemblance to Red Berry, though they were sold under the title of “Red Blossom”.  The Red Blossom products had been made in China by Sabichi Homewares Limited, a company which shared the same managing director as Sabichi Limted.

In its defence Sabichi asserted that the Red Blossom collection was an independent design of an employee.  However, evidence emerged that the same employee had visited a trade show at which Red Berry was displayed – though the employee in question denied that she had been influenced by the range and had in actual fact not even seen it.

Given the absence of direct evidence of copying, the Court considered the similarities between the two ranges to determine if an inference of copyright infringement could be drawn.   The stronger the inference, the more evidence of independent design the Defendant needed to show.  The Court felt that the Sabichi employee must have used Red Berry in her design work, despite her assertions that she could not recollect being influenced by the earlier range.  The Court ruled that the similarities were so great both in design and colour, that it was inconceivable that Red Berry had not been copied.

The Court also made an award to the Claimant for an account of profits lost although the Defendant argued that such an award could not be made where the infringer was entirely innocent.  Instead, the Court found that sufficient knowledge could be attached to the Defendant and a net award of over £30,000 was made.

 

Comment:

This case serves a useful reminder that the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights can lead to significant awards for rights-holders – and expensive litigation for infringers. Copyright is a right which arises automatically upon the creation of a piece of work, with no requirement for registration.  It is therefore important that businesses both ensure that they implement independent designs in their work and seek to prevent improper use by others in the market.

Forbes Solicitors regularly assists businesses and individuals with identifying, protecting and exploiting the intellectual property in their business.  For further advice and assistance, please contact John Pickervance in the Corporate and Restructuring Department by telephone on 0800 689 3206 or via our Contact Form.

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