UK High Court rules on scope of interim injunction in car bumper design case

The High Court granted a short-term interim injunction in an infringement claim relating to bumper designs for the iconic VW Transporter vans. This decision shows how it is important to ensure that the scope of any injunction is clearly set out and workable in practice. Click here to read more of our injunction related articles.

Facts in brief

The claimant, Leighton Vans, designs and manufactures bumpers for VW Transporter vans which have a distinct aesthetic and a strong fan following. It claimed that the design of its bumpers enjoyed protection as unregistered design rights (UDRs).  The design consisted of three components: the chin, splitter and fin of the bumper. The bumpers were made from high-quality robust materials and Leighton Vans was reasonably well-known (according to the evidence).

Leighton Vans brought proceedings against the defendants for producing modified VW transporter vans with bumpers which it argued had been created to the same design as its own (s 226 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988). The defendants were using fibreglass to make their bumpers.

The defendants admitted sale and supply of bumpers to the same design as the claimants (version 1 bumpers). But they argued that a second design, which emerged just before the hearing, did not infringe the claimant’s UDR due to differences in design and function (version 2 bumpers)

Scope of injunction

The parties were in agreement that there was a serious issue to be tried in that the claimant’s bumpers had UDR protection. However, they disagreed about the scope of any injunction that the court should order.

The claimant sought a broadly worded injunction preventing the defendants from producing bumpers to any designs similar or substantially similar to its own design. The defendants wanted a narrowly worded injunction which would restrict the prohibition to the manufacture and use of products which were ‘identical’ to the claimant’s design.

What did the judge decide?

Miles J did not consider a generally worded injunction in relation to goods being made to the claimant’s design or substantially to that design appropriate.  He also considered the defendants’ suggested wording too narrow as it would give them too much room to avoid its scope by making slight changes. Instead, he granted a short-term injunction relating to the two versions of the defendants’ bumpers. For the version 2 bumpers, this would give Leighton Vans a chance to consider the defendants’ late evidence.

In reaching this conclusion the judge applied the well-known American Cyanamid decision on the test to be applied in granting interim injunctions. He considered that damages would not be an adequate remedy for Leighton Vans in relation to the version 2 bumpers due to potential reputational damage.

The judge explained that when considering what form of injunction to grant, the court must specify clearly which acts would constitute a breach. This is so that defendants know what they can and cannot do. In this case, the court found that granting a vague injunction preventing unlawful use of a design would not suffice.

(For the judgment see: Leighton Vans Limited v David William Harris & Anor [2022] EWHC 2386 (Ch)).

Key takeaway

This case illustrates the importance of ensuring that the terms of any interim injunction are clearly defined and workable in practice.

The case will now proceed to trial, pending any settlement. It will be interesting to see whether the court decides that Leighton Vans’ bumpers qualify for UDR protection and whether the design has been infringed by both versions of the defendants’ bumpers.