Community design pertaining to window blind headrail held to be valid and infringed

United Kingdom

In Louver-Lite v Harris Parts Ltd ([2012] EWPPC 53, November 23 2012), HHJ Birss QC, sitting in the Patents County Court, has held that the claimant’s Community registered design for the headrail of a window blind was valid and infringed by the defendant’s headrail product.

Louver-Lite owns a Community registered design for the headrail of a window blind and claimed that the defendant had infringed the design by selling a headrail product called Valencia. The defendant denied infringement and argued that the Louver-Lite design was invalid on the grounds of lack of novelty and individual character.

The judge noted that the Louver-Lite headrail was part of a window blind system with a number of additional components. In accordance with Article 4(2) of the Council Regulation on Community Designs (6/2002), the Louver-Lite design could be considered novel and possess individual character only to the extent that:

  • once incorporated, the headrail remained visible during normal use; and
  • those visible features of the components themselves were novel and possessed individual character.

The validity of the Louver-Lite design was assessed according to the overall impression the design had on the informed user of window blinds. The judge rejected the defendant’s submission that, since the headrail was fixed to a ceiling in order to be used, the informed user, as a person operating the blinds, would only ever look at the product from a distance and was therefore unable to make side-by-side comparisons. The judge noted that the appearance of the headrail in position was important, but did not accept that the informed user never interacted with the products by looking at them directly when they were not fixed to the ceiling or that the informed user would be unable to make a side-by-side comparison.

The judge concluded that the informed user would not consider the Louver-Lite headrail to be a radical departure in headrail designs. Comparing the Louver-Lite design to the prior art cited, the judge found that the most significant feature of the Louver-Lite design was the combination of the side channel and the curved side wall making two relatively sharp edges at the top and bottom. He found that the closest prior art designs were much rounder with a fatter curve and without sharp edges. The Louver-Lite design was clearly novel as it was not identical to the prior art and differed by more than immaterial details. The judge rejected the defendant’s argument that the Louver-Lite design lacked individual character finding that it had a much more trim appearance. Accordingly, he held that the Louver-Lite design had individual character and was a valid registration.

Although the judge considered that the scope of protection of the Louver-Lite design was quite narrow, he rejected the defendant’s argument that it was “trite”, finding that the Louver-Lite and Valencia designs were virtually indistinguishable, even taking into account that the informed user was particularly observant and showed a relatively high degree of attention. The side wall curve was identical; the flange on the Valencia a little thinner, but the edge of the side wall with the flange, as well as the edge the side wall made with the top channel, were the same. Accordingly, the Louver-Lite design produced the same overall impression as the Valencia design. The very small differences between the designs, which could be seen when looking at the cross-sections, were trivial. The biggest difference between the two designs was the presence of slight ribs on the inside edge of the Valencia cross-section; however, these were not visible in normal use and therefore irrelevant. The defendant’s Valencia design was an infringement.

The case is another addition to the increasing number of cases considering the scope of infringement of Community registered designs. In this particular case, the real issue was the overall impression that the design would leave on an informed user. The informed user was not just someone who was concerned with the appearance of the product when fixed to a ceiling, but also included users that would look at products side by side when choosing them prior to installation. However, the informed user would not go so far as to take a hacksaw to the headrails and cut them or dismantle them to scrutinise the cross-section.

Désirée Fields, McDermott Will & Emery UK LLP, London

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