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Monday, 12 May 2008

"One Mann went to mow ..."

From Wednesday 7 May comes the Patents Court for England and Wales ruling from Mr Justice Mann in Rolawn Ltd and another v Turfmech Machinery Ltd [2008] EWHC 989 (Pat) - a decision so far only unearthed by LexisNexis Butterworths' online subscription service.

Rolawn, a company involved in growing and selling turf, used to use various machines to cut large areas of grass. Dissatisfied with these machines, Rolawn instructed its design team to produce a new mower. The team developed a wide area mower with 21 cutting heads, which was built for Rolawn's exclusive use. The new mower being an immediate success, several more were built, all of which were used on Rolawb's own land. Though this mower was not advertised, some publicity photographs were available from about 2003. In February of that year, a registered design application was filed.

In 2004 Turfmech, a supplier of agricultural and grass-cutting machinery, became interested in developing a wide area mower to cater for turf growers and local authorities. After failing to negotiate a licence to make Rolawn's mower, Turfmech produced its own, with 13 cylinder cutting heads, in March 2006 , followed by a 17 cylinder cutting head mower in September of the same year.

Alleging that Turfmech had copied aspects of its machines in developing its own, thereby infringing its registered and unregistered design rights, Rolawn sued for infringement. Turfmech denied infringement and counterclaimed that Rolawn's registered design rights were invalid.

Mann J dismissed both the claim and the counterclaim. In his opinion

* there was indeed an unregistered design right in the physical aspects of Rolawn's machine -- but there was no unregistered design right in anything with any greater degree of generality. Likewise there was no design right in the general way in which the machine was constructed.

* On the evidence, bits of Rolawn's machine had been copied by Turfmech. But these "borrowings" were iun the nature of general ideas of how to put the machine together, the result being an article that had not been made exactly or substantially to Rolawn's design.

* as to the registered design, Rolawn's right was valid but non-infringed since Turfmech's machine created a different overall impression in the eyes of the informed user.
The IPKat is saddened at cases like this. Rolawn could have mass-produced these machines with the benefit of their design protection, getting first to the market and bringing in a tidy sum, instead of keeping their innovation to themselves and giving their money to the litigation lawyers. People say that IP rights are anticompetitive: but that only happens when they lead to questionable business decisions. Merpel adds, having looked at the impressive rolls of turf produced by Rolawn, I wonder if an appeal before the Master of the Rolls might succeed ...

One Man Went to Mow here
Lawnmower humour here and here

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