London Black Cabs ‘Have No Distinctive Character’ High Court Rules

cab officeThe classic London black taxi vies with the red double-decker bus as London’s most iconic image – however, in the context of intellectual property law, they are devoid of inherently distinctive character, the High Court has ruled.

Thousands of the old-style taxis ply their trade on the capital’s streets and are part of the London experience for millions of tourists. They appear on countless post cards and a procession of them at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony was seen by almost 23 million viewers worldwide. However, in giving its decision in a passing off and trade mark infringement dispute, the Court found that their curvaceous outline is merely a variation of the typical shape of a car. The decision opened the way for new-style Metrocabs to appear on London’s streets.

The manufacturer of three versions of the classic London cab (company A) argued that the shape of the Metrocab had had been substantially copied from its designs. However, the Court had no hesitation in rejecting claims that the maker of the Metrocab (company B) was intent on fraudulently deceiving the public. The Metrocab, although designed to be recognisable as a London taxi, was different in a number of respects from the classic designs.

Company B had taken no unfair advantage of the old-style taxi’s reputation and the Court found that discerning cabbies would not be confused into believing that the newcomer came from the same source as its forebears. The introduction of the Metrocab would not create unfair competition and the lack of distinctive character in the relevant designs meant that company A’s trade marks were invalid. Its passing off claim also failed.

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