Northumbria Dragons' Den designer loses his case

Northumbria University student Rob Law has lost his case against a rival European company producing suitcases for youngsters

Designer Rob Law with his Trunki and Northumbria associate senior lecturer Steve Bailey
Designer Rob Law with his Trunki and Northumbria associate senior lecturer Steve Bailey

A North East designer has suffered a crushing blow after top judges exposed his phenomenally successful Trunki ride-on children’s suitcase to a deluge of competition from a cut-price, 'floppy-eared', foreign rival.

Dragons’ Den competitor, Rob Law, fought to make the Trunki a success. By 2011, 20% of British three to six-year-olds proudly owned one of the pull-along cases which can bear any number of animal or insect motifs.

But trouble brewed when Paul Beverley, MD of Hong Kong-based PMS International Limited, spotted a Trunki on his travels in 2010 and decided he liked it. PMS began marketing a rival product, called a Kiddee Case, and the scene was set for legal warfare.

Now, PMS has triumphed when Appeal Court judges ruled that the ‘more rounded’ shape of the Kiddee Case - which comes in animal and insect versions - is ‘very different’ from the Trunki’s ‘sleek and stylised’ appearance.

Lord Justice Kitchin said: “The Kiddee Case is softer and more rounded and evocative of an insect with antennae or an animal with floppy ears”.

The Court’s decision that the Kiddee Case does not breach the Trunki’s community registered design rights is a disaster for Mr Low and his company, Magmatic Ltd, effectively opening up the European market to its discount competitor.

Bristol-based Mr Law is one of the favourite sons of Northumbria University’s world-beating product design department and has spoken publicly of his battle against cystic fibrosis.

Still a student when he was nominated as a finalist for the 1998 Materials Design Award, he was given a brief to produce ‘a design for luggage’. Bored by bags designed for adults, a novel idea formed in his mind after he visited a toy shop. A concept board for his prototype triumphed in the competition and Mr Law won a £200 prize.

From those small beginnings he went on to design the Trunki and win a contract with John Lewis on the back of his performance on Dragons’ Den.

However, Mr Law’s early success came back to haunt him in court as PMS argued that the design had been honoured publicly at the 1998 prize ceremony - long before design rights were registered in 2003.

Although no one disputed that the Trunki was an ‘innovative design’ - and it was accepted that the Kiddee Case was “inspired by” its rival - PMS pointed to a photograph of Mr Law at the award ceremony and argued the Trunki’s design rights were invalidated by the publicity.

Lord Justice Kitchin said that the differences in the rival products’ shape, decoration, and colour meant that the possibility of parents being confused between them was slight.

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