Wednesday, 28 January 2015

My favourite passing-off case

In an area of law where the cases are, almost by definition, often highly amusing, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars v Dodd [1981] FSR 519 is in a class of its own. John Dodd, the proprietor of an automatic transmission repair business, built his own car - actually taking over a rolling chassis which someone else had started and building a body on it - powered by a second-world-war vintage Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The first iteration used an engine from a Centurion tank, rather less romantic than had it come from a Spitfire, the most celebrated machine in which the Merlin was used: the second car (its predecessor having been destroyed in a fire) had an engine from a bomber (a Mosquito, apparently). It also had a very different body style. Both cars featured a Rolls-Royce radiator grille and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot, at least until the manufacturer (whose company secretary at the time happened also to be called John Dodd) took him to court where Walton J granted an injunction to prevent passing off (referring to the car as a Rolls-Royce) and infringements of the company's trade marks.

Following the case, Mr Dodd started referring to the car as The Beast. When he promised the judge that he would change the name, Walton J asked where was Beauty. Perhaps in the eye of the beholder?

Thanks to the Internet, I find that Mr Dodd, who moved to Spain after he had breached the injunction within a couple of days (Whitford J fined him £5,000), is still running his automatic transmission repair business. Better still, YouTube has several clips of The Beast in action, including this one from an old edition of Top Gear. The embedded one below includes Mr Dodd executing a doughnut in it, sadly filmed from inside the car so you have to rely on his daughter's commentary.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Danish designers face problems in UK

Kluwer Copyright Blog reports that a Danish Court has issued a website blocking ruling concerning the illegal distribution of replica products. What is particularly interesting - to me, anyway - is that Danish designers of particularly furniture are facing problems with copyists making replica products in the UK and selling them over the Internet to Danish consumers. Is our design law really that pathetic? Yes, and it has been for years, although for good reason and car manufacturers must bear most of the blame: but for their excess of enthusiasm for trying to use copyright to control the spare parts market we might never had had the 1988 New Deal. Will repealing section 52 (which pre-existed the new deal, incidentally) make things any better? Perhaps it will bring our copyright law more in line with continental ones, but as critics of repeal have pointed out it was part of a sophisticated system of checks and balances, and removing it will throw the whole system into confusion.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Rihanna tee shirt case: Topshop lose on appeal

Fenty v Arcadia Group [2015] EWCA Civ 3  just appeared on BAILII. The Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of Birss J that the defendants committed a passing-off when they sold tee shirts bearing the image of the singer Rihanna without her consent - exacerbated by the fact that she has previously had a commercial relationship with the retailer, so there was greater scope for deception of the public than usual. It's a very important case for the developing law on character merchandising and celebrity endorsement. I will comment a bit more when I have read the judgmemt, but the BBC's report of the case is worth a look.


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