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Trunki case provides salutary lesson in intellectual property rights

26/04/2016

For inventors, designers and entrepreneurs, the success of the Trunki child’s suitcase was a cause for celebration despite its failure to secure investment on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den TV programme.

Although the Dragons spurned Rob Law’s offer to get involved, Trunki has gone on to be a massive commercial success, raking in millions of pounds. 

But with that comes a price, says FBC Manby Bowdler lawyer Charlotte Clode, an expert on intellectual property rights. She explains why:

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but I doubt the inventor of the Trunki agrees after the Supreme Court ruled that the makers of the similar and cheaper Kiddee case did not infringe the design rights of his product."

This really illustrates the need to have your intellectual property rights properly protected from the outset. This case failed because of the way Magmatic, the makers of Trunki, registered the individual character of its design, particularly in its reliance on computer-assisted design images.

It can be tempting, particularly if you have an exciting new idea that you’re keen to get funding or publicity for, to share your ideas but always be prepared to safeguard your ideas through patents or design rights before you unleash your product on the world – it could save you a lot of trouble in the future.
It’s not just in the early stages of marketing that you need to be aware of imitations or images or designs being copied. If you think your intellectual property rights have been breached, always seek legal advice.

I advised a photographer who discovered that fashion retailer Next had used one of his images taken at the Shropshire County Show, replaced it with a monkey’s head and used it on a child’s t-shirt. 

Next accepted Allan Potts’ ownership of the photo, removed all stock and paid damages and costs. Copyright is a valuable protection for photographers and other creative people and applies to original artistic works such as photographs and arises without any formal registration.

Mr Potts is in good company though – singer Rihanna successfully sued TopShop for selling a sleeveless T-shirt that featured a photo of her without getting her permission. All businesses should be aware of how easy it can be to fall foul of laws governing image rights and copyright but equally those creating the images should be prepared to fight for their rights if they are abused.

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