Monday, 2 August 2010

Vax Mach Zen vacuum cleaner does not infringe Dyson registered design

Last week, the High Court decided that Vax had not infringed Dyson's registered design for a bagless cylinder vacuum cleaner when it made its Mach Zen model. Following the ruling, Simon Lawson, MD of Vax, made this statement to the press:

"We are really pleased with today's decision as it confirms what we've known all along – that the Vax Mach Zen is different to any other vacuum cleaner people can buy.

"Mach Zen is 70% quieter than other vacuum cleaners and more powerful than anything else of its kind. It leaves your home spotlessly clean and that’s why people love it so much.

"This outcome means that the achievements of our young, talented British design team have been recognised." [Footnotes omitted.]

Mr Lawson does seem to be stressing features of the Vax machine that are not a matter for design protection at all. And I don't like the use of "different to" - a solecism, according to HW and FG Fowler, although even in 1931 they thought that "different from" would give way to "different to" quite soon. The press section of Dyson's website is silent - no updates of any description since June: they are reported to be appealing. The Telegraph (which has a photo of the two machines side-by-side - take a look on their page) call it "this most ridiculous of High Court decisions": clearly their man Damian Reece knows better than the judge (whose identity I haven't yet learnt - even the Patents Court list is out of date). Forresters, Vax's patent attorneys, have published what seems to be the most detailed report here - having won, they would, wouldn't they?
Dyson described the outcome, with notable understatement, as "a bit of a travesty". The company said 'For Dyson, this case was about pure aesthetic design, not function. What is the point of UK Registered Design law if not to protect novel and striking designs such as the DC02 design?' It wasn't about pure aesthetic design rather than function just for Dyson, I hope: that's what the judge needed to think about too.

As for infringement, the question is, does the Vax design make a different overall impression from that made by the registered design? The court thought that the Vax machine was “rugged, angular and industrial” compared with the “smooth, curving and elegant” cleaner shown in the Dyson registration, and if the registered design is anything like the photo (I can't work out which of the many registered designs is the appropriate one, and all seem to differ from the photo) that does seem reasonable. There are important "design freedom" issues here too - any cylinder machine has to be provided with certain features, like wheels and a connection for a hose. I imagine that the cyclone technology (much of which must now be out-of-patent) dictates much of the configuration of the machine, too.

So I think I beg to differ from the Telegraph's assessment of the case ... As for Dyson, they say: “There are plenty of other shapes that TTI could have chosen…Large round wheels, the angle of the clear bin, the line of the handle; does TTI’s Vax-badged machine resemble Dyson’s design?”

A spokesperson for Dyson added: “We’re disappointed, but we want to throw it out to people to see what they think.” So there's an online poll, or perhaps several - which Dyson, who no doubt command vastly more brand loyalty than Vax, appear to be winning hands-down.


Filemot said...

You have to blame Jacob in 2007 for this. His decision set the limits on scope of protection of registered design and this is the outcome. Registered Designs are useful but not overly powerful. After all anybody and everybody can get one for very little.

Peter Groves said...

There's now a much more detailed post on the Class 99 blog from Jeremy, who explores many issues not mentioned in the early reports: I shall now have to rewrite large parts of my item about the case in the podcast I am preparig.


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