Image of Vacuum hoover by IPKat

The Henry Smiling Vacuum Cleaner (shown left) is Image of Vacuum hoover by IPKata familiar sight to many consumers. He may even make the chore of vacuuming seem like a happier task.

However there were no smiles on the faces of Numatic International Limited (“Numatic”) who make the Henry when they came across Qualtex UK (“Qualtex”) marketing a vacuum cleaner (shown above right) at the Cleaning Show in the NEC in Birmingham last year. Qualtex’s product was essentially a mirror image of the Henry Smiling Vacuum Cleaner, but without Henry’s smile and name, and in a different colour.

Over the years, Numatic has built up substantial goodwill and reputation in the combination of distinctive features which make up the Henry Smiling Vacuum Cleaner, and it was for this reason that when Numatic took Qualtex to court alleging passing off, they won their legal battle.

The court held that consumers could be confused into thinking the prototype model designed by Qualtex had an association with the Henry Smiling Vacuum Cleaner if it were to go on the market. The Judge commented that “whilst a different colour had been chosen for the base, the bowler-hatted lid was in shiny black, just like Henry…”.

Joanna Potbury from DMH Stallard says “Successful products like this often attract copycats and there remains a common misconception that making a number of changes will let you off the hook from a legal perspective.  This case shows that if you think that someone is trying to ride on the back of your success, the law is there to help you.”

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