Northumbria University's Trunki designer wins High Court case

Northumbria University graduate Rob Law MBE won his High Court battle against a Hong-Kong-based company who began marketing a rival product to his Trunki design

Bill Oliver with Rob Law
Bill Oliver with Rob Law

A North East graduate who invented a well-loved ride-on-suitcase for children has triumphed over foreign rivals in a High Court ruling.

Northumbria University graduate Rob Law MBE won his High Court battle against a Hong-Kong-based company who began marketing a rival product to his Trunki design.

The award-winning designer, who appeared on TV show Dragons’ Den, faced trouble when Paul Beverley, MD of Hong Kong-based PMS International Limited, spotted a Trunki on his travels in 2010 and liked it.

PMS began marketing a rival product, called a Kiddee Case, and High Court proceedings started.

Now Mr Law and his company, Magmatic Limited, have triumphed after Mr Justice Arnold ruled that the Kiddee Case breached the Trunki’s design rights. The ruling opens the way for Magmatic to seek an injunction, blocking the sale of Kiddee Cases in Europe, as well as ‘delivery up and destruction’ of any of them in PMS’s possession.

Mr Law’s company can also either seek substantial damages from PMS or an account of profits it has made from sale of Kiddee Cases in Europe. Success of his product Trunki is such that by 2011, 20% of British three to six year-olds owned one of the pull-along cases which can bear any number of animal or insect motifs.

As a student Mr Law, who has spoken of his battle with cystic fibrosis, was nominated as a finalist for the 1998 Materials Design Award and was given a brief to produce ‘a design for luggage’. A concept board for his prototype – which he dubbed the ‘Rodeo’ – triumphed in the competition and he won a �200 prize.

From those humble beginnings he went on to design the Trunki and win a contract with John Lewis.

However, Mr Law’s early success came back to haunt him in court as PMS argued that the Rodeo design had been honoured publicly at the 1998 prize ceremony – long before he registered design rights for his brain child 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. However, the judge ruled that that exposure was so ‘obscure’ that it would have been impossible for someone who was even present at the ceremony to find out about the existence of the Rodeo and certainly not its actual design.

The judge ruled that the “overall impression” created by the Kiddee Case – including the horn-like handles and clasps looking like the nose and tail of an animal – was similar to designs which ultimately led to the creation of the Trunki.

Despite a number of differences between the rival products, the judge added: “I do not accept that there was no relevant copying.”

Although there was a “stylistic resemblance” between the packaging for the two products, the judge said there were also “obvious differences” and rejected Magmatic’s claim that its copyright in the artwork had been infringed. But PMS conceded that the safety notice on the Kiddee Case’s packaging breached the Trunki’s copyright.

A further hearing to decide on full consequences of the judge’s decision is expected later this month.

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