Be Sure You're Right before Accusing Competitors of Plagiarism

Copyright infringement actions are a highly effective means of protecting original ideas from exploitation by copycats. However, one High Court case concerning floral designs on bed linen underlined that you need to be very sure of your ground before accusing others of plagiarism.

A textiles company (company A) claimed damages and other relief from a competitor (company B) on the basis that it had sold bed linen in the UK the design of which had been copied from its original artwork. The Court found that there were obvious similarities between the designs appearing on the rival product ranges but that they were not identical.

In dismissing company’s A claim, the Court found on the evidence that the alleged infringing designs were imported into the UK prior to the creation of the relevant artwork. In those circumstances, there had been no copying or copyright infringement. The Court also found that company A’s registered design rights in a packaging label were invalid and thus could not have been breached.

The Court ruled that company A had made groundless threats of proceedings in respect of the registered design against two trade customers of company B. Without justification, it had also written to eBay requiring removal of the allegedly infringing items from the auction website. Company B was entitled to compensation in respect of both those matters, although the amount of its payout had yet to be assessed.