Light Relief: Agile client successfully defends and enforces designs

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Agile IP has recently helped its client NVC Lighting successfully to defend an infringement claim brought by a competitor and to enforce its own rights against another.

NVC, a major manufacturer and seller of a range of lighting products, was recently involved in two disputes concerning unregistered design rights (UDR). UDR is a protection afforded automatically to a new product and essentially protects features of the product from being plagiarized by competitors in much the same way that copying of music and literature is protected by copyright.

In the first dispute, a company alleged that NVC’s design of a new ceiling mounted fluorescent light fitting, NVC included certain features copied from a similar light fitting sold by that company. Through a study of the detailed design records retained by NVC showing the development of the NVC product from conception to production, it was immediately apparent that no copying had taken place. A comparison of the NVC fitting with that of the other company showed, not unexpectedly, that NVC’s fitting did include some features which, in terms of appearance and dimensions, were similar to features of the other company’s fitting. This is, of course, very often the case in products designed for the same purpose. We were, however, able however to establish that each of these features was commonplace in the field of light fittings for reason that they appeared in several earlier light fittings of other companies. Such commonplace features cannot be protected by UDR.

Once we alerted the other company to our findings, they dropped their allegations.

In the second dispute, the boot was on the other foot. In this case NVC became aware that a light fitting being offered for sale by a competitor was, to a significant extent, a copy of an NVC fitting. As before we conducted with NVC a careful comparison of the two fittings and established that in at least one key area it was more likely than not that copying had taken place. We also established that this key feature was unique to NVC, that is to say it could not be said to be commonplace. We then wrote to the other company who promptly agreed to re-design its light fitting.

This article is no more than a summary of NVC’s UDR skirmishes; there are many other issues involved in such disputes. However, it does hopefully illustrate that, on the one hand, allegations of infringement of UDR can be successfully resisted, and that, on the other hand, UDR can be an important tool in preventing plagiarizing of a company’s products.