Copycat Design Proves Expensive for Retailer

There is almost nothing more frustrating for businesses than to see their successful products imitated by rivals. However, as a High Court case showed, expert lawyers are more than capable of putting a stop to such conduct if it amounts to a breach of copyright.

The case concerned a palette of two makeup powders which was sold for about £49 and had achieved sales of £12.9 million. The product's packaging and the powders themselves were embossed with starburst motifs. Its manufacturer launched proceedings against a supermarket chain after it began to market a similar product, in store and online, at a price of £6.99.

In upholding the manufacturer's claim, the Court found that the product's distinctive appearance was created by one of its employees in concert with a design agency. The latter had assigned any rights it had in the design to the manufacturer. Copyright subsisted in the starburst motifs in that they were artistic works and the fruits of original thought.

Given the substantial similarities between the product and that sold by the chain, the Court found that the latter bore the burden of proving that those similarities did not arise from copying. The chain having no real prospect of discharging that burden, summary judgment was entered in the manufacturer's favour. A final injunction was granted, restraining further sales of the chain's infringing product.