The first appeal judgement concerning unregistered design rights for a decade, made this month at the Royal Courts of Justice, has set an important precedent for designers who fear their work has been copied.
The case, between appellant Farmers Build and Carier Bulk Materials Handling, concerned a piece of agricultural machinery, a rotary screen slurry separator.
Farmers Build claimed Carier had copied elements of its design for such a machine after a business agreement between the two companies had ended. The original hearing found in favour of Farmers Build, but no award was made as Farmers Build was judged to have taken too long to make a formal complaint.
But the appeal court judged that Farmers Build had not acquiesced in the date of its complaint, and dismissed a counter-appeal by Carier against the original judgement. Margaret Briffa, principal of law firm Briffa & Co, which represented Farmers Build, says the judgement proves how important specific argument is in such cases. Exploded diagrams were used to show which parts were similar in the machines
Central to the judgment was the interpretation of the term “commonplace”, says solicitor Simon Clark from law firm Theodore Goddard and Acid, the anti-copying in design group. “It would be wrong to say a design was commonplace just because it was well known,” he says.