05-04-06

For Spare Parts, Think Different: Dyson v Qualtex A manufacturer and distributor of domestic appliance parts has lost its appeal in a copyright infringement case against a vacuum cleaner company. In Dyson v Qualtex (reported 8 March 2006), Dyson had successfully sued Qualtex for copyright and unregistered design right infringement for creating deliberate imitations of Dyson's original spare parts, which are known in the trade as "pattern parts". The Court of Appeal upheld the lower courts' ruling in favour of Dyson. Since the 1960s, designers and manufacturers have often used the copyright in their drawings to stop other companies from offering cut-price spares for their products. This tactic was curtailed in 1986 when the law lords created an "implied right of repair" and again in 1988 when legislation provided two new exceptions, known as "must match" and "must fit". Together these exceptions allowed cheap spares companies to spring up and the UK has since enjoyed much-reduced maintenance costs for everything from cars to vacuum cleaners. Unfortunately for the original manufacturers, however, consumers are likely to have more confidence in a spare part that looks exactly like the broken one (even if the unrecognisable spare works just as well). In this case, however, the Court was worried that by using the "must match" exception a rival could produce all the parts of the original and legally copy the whole machine itself. Clearly, the Court hastened to add, this is "absurd and cannot be so". The Court concluded that the exceptions do not give a "carte blanche" for spare parts and that pattern spares manufacturers must design their own spares without copying every detail of the original. Indeed, "to be on the safe side they will have to make them different as far as is possible". It seems that spares companies now need to 'think different' - and it may soon become cheaper to drive around with a mismatched front bumper (which works just as well). The full text of the judgment may be accessed via: http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2006/166.html
Article by Tom Frederikse