Source: DIY Week.net - http://www.diyweek.net/
Bonnington Plastics, the company behind the Kingfisher gardening and homewares brand, has secured a five-figure settlement from a group of companies after bringing a claim in the High Court for intellectual infringement.
The infringers were keen to capitalise on the reputation of Bonnington's Kingfisher brand
After developing innovative software to monitor the sales of its products online, Bonnington discovered that companies in the Toptrade Group, which included Bradford-based Zoozio, Trade Marketing and Verage, were advertising Kingfisher goods on sites such as Amazon and eBay. However, the companies were supplying their own branded products under the Kingfisher listings.
Wholesaler Bonnington, which established its Kingfisher brand in 1967, does not sell directly on Amazon or eBay but its retail customers use the sites to sell Kingfisher products.
After numerous letters to the infringers without a satisfactory response, Bonnington's managing director Ian Fisher instructed intellectual property (IP) specialists at Manchester law firm Pannone Corporate to tackle the problem.
Mr Fisher said: "We found that these companies were advertising Kingfisher products at impossibly low prices. This was causing our retail customers to believe that we were offering better prices to their competitors.
"We started buying from these companies and found out that they weren't supplying Kingfisher goods at all. It was really damaging the brand and I decided that enough was enough."
Bonnington estimates that these 'substitute sellers' were costing the business about £1m a year in lost sales, and its in-house investigations showed that, at the peak of the problem, one in every two items advertised online as Kingfisher was a substitute product.
Bonnington said that Zoozio, Trade Marketing and Verage were former customers of Bonnington but had started to import their own products from China.
Keen to capitalise on the reputation of the Kingfisher brand, the companies then piggy-backed on the Kingfisher listings, supplying their own branded products, tricking consumers into thinking they were purchasing legitimate Kingfisher goods at a discounted price.
Mr Fisher added: "The goods looked almost identical to Kingfisher products. The packaging was so similar that it was difficult to tell them apart and they had even used photos taken by our graphic design team."
Pannone Corporate issued a High Court claim on behalf of Bonnington alleging passing off and trademark and copyright infringement. The claim was eventually settled on terms which awarded Bonnington £80,000 in compensation and banned the Toptrade Group from selling its own goods under Kingfisher listings online.
Sarah Bazaraa, IP solicitor at Pannone Corporate, said: "This is a fantastic result for Bonnington and sends a strong message to the market that infringement of its IP rights will not be tolerated. We are working with Bonnington to take action against another group of companies and their directors and we are committed to helping the company to stamp out this problem."
Ms Bazaraa went on to explain that, whilst good progress had been made, putting a stop to the practice of substitute selling presented significant challenges.
"Each product sold on Amazon is given an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number)," she said. "Amazon allows sellers to upload products with a new ASIN or to an existing ASIN (if they are selling an identical product). However, some companies are taking advantage of this function and advertising their own products under an established brand's listing in order to take advantage of the superior ranking and pulling power of that brand."
Bonningtons has vowed to continue its crusade against the online infringers, and its approach to the protection of its IP was recognised in November last year when it scooped the In-House Innovation Award at the British Legal Awards.
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