17 May 2019Copyright

IPEC finds fault with F1 team sponsor in copyright battle

The UK’s specialist IP court has sided with British cycle company Whyte Bikes in its copyright infringement dispute with the current title sponsor of the Haas Formula 1 (F1) team.

The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) delivered the decision on Tuesday, May 14.

Whyte Bikes has used a logo depicting a stag’s head since 2008, when two of its employees created the image.

Rich Energy, a UK-based energy drinks company, has used a similar stag’s head logo since 2015. Digital marketing company Staxoweb provided the logo after being commissioned to design a brand identity for the drinks company.

The logo, which has been used on Rich Energy’s website as well as its drinks products, was registered under UK trademark number 3,126,288 in 2015, in classes 5, 25, and 32. As the title sponsor of the Haas F1 team, the image is now used on F1 race cars.

According to Whyte Bikes, the level of similarity between its own logo and Rich Energy’s logo is overwhelming, and Whyte Bikes’ parent company ATB Sales filed a copyright infringement complaint against Rich Energy, its CEO, and Staxoweb.

Whyte Bikes asked the IPEC to award injunctive relief, and to invalidate the trademark.

In response, the defendants claimed that the Rich Energy logo was designed independently and without reference to, or knowledge of, Whyte Bikes’ logo.

On Tuesday, the IPEC said it found “some significant findings of dishonesty” in relation to the defendants’ evidence. This included that Sean Kelly, who founded Staxoweb, manufactured documentation to provide support for the defendants, by producing parts of Rich Energy's brand guidelines in 2018 but claiming that they were created in 2015.

As a result, “the question of the honesty of the defendants’ beliefs remains a question to be determined by the court,” the IPEC said on Tuesday.

The IPEC noted that the defendants looked at hundreds of stag head logos online for inspiration and, as a result, it is more likely than not that the defendants accessed Whyte Bikes’ logo.

After comparing the two logos, the IPEC described them as strikingly similar and “more likely to be the result of copying than coincidence”.

The IPEC concluded that the defendants “knowingly copied” Whyte Bikes’ logo in creating Rich Energy’s logo. The court held that Whyte Bikes is entitled to injunctive relief and damages or an account of profits, in addition to a declaration of invalidity in relation to Rich Energy’s trademark.

Speaking to WIPR, William Storey, CEO of Rich Energy, said that he is "extremely disappointed with the judgment" and that it "seems at odds with the overwhelming majority of evidence".

In relation to Whyte Bikes, Storey said: "We had never heard of them and registered our brand in good faith across the world at great expense and in good faith four years ago with zero objections. The judge seems to have taken a dislike to our witnesses and concluded because the logos look similar, we copied."

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Storey claimed. "We would never have invested the money we have with a copied logo as that would be mad. The conclusions of court are completely counter-intuitive and illogical."

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