In the High Court's Chancery Division last Tuesday, in Dyson Ltd v Qualtex (UK) Ltd  EWHC 2981 (Ch), Mr Justice Mann handed Dyson a welcome victory in its battle against unlicensed spare parts sellers.
Dyson made vacuum cleaners; Qualtex supplied spare parts for domestic appliances that were duplicates of the original parts. Dyson sued, alleging infringement of unregistered design right in a number of vacuum cleaner spare parts including wand handles, cable winders and brush bars. It was accepted that parts of each of those designs was covered by the ‘must fit’ and ‘must match’ exceptions set out in s.213(3) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, but Dyson maintained that bits of design for each product did not fall within either of those exceptions. Qualtex admitted that all the parts were copied but argued that (i) many of the relevant designs had been copied from elsewhere, (ii) the ‘must fit’ and ‘must match’ exceptions applied to significant areas of most of the parts, (iii) the parts of the designs that were not excluded were commonplace and that (iv) some aspects of the designs were mere surface decoration. In addition, it relied on estoppel, or on waiver or acquiescence, on Dyson's part.
Mann J allowed Dyson's infringement claim.
* Qualtex clearly infringed the unregistered design right and failed in almost all instances to establish that the statutory defence applied.
* There could be no estoppel unless Dyson had known of an encouraged Qualtex at an appropriate corporate level. Qualtex could not in principle rely on knowledge on the part of, and encouragement by, someone who would not be of an appropriate seniority to bind Dyson. On the evidence, no senior Dyson knew of Qualtex's activities before 2002, nor could Qualtex prove Dyson had done anything capable of amounting to any level of encouragement.
The IPKat notes that defences to infringement of IP rights that are based on estoppel are raised from time to time but hardly ever succeed on the evidence. Do they really add up anything more than trivial nuisance value?