Bird & Bird wins landmark design case for Reckitt Benckiser

10 October 2007

Groundbreaking case sees first ever application of the Community Design Right.

International law firm Bird & Bird has been representing Reckitt Benckiser in its dispute with Procter & Gamble in a high-profile case which has led to the first ever ruling on the scope of the Registered Community Design Right. The decision, which was handed down today by the UK’s Court of Appeal, has major significance for designers and brand owners worldwide. The case is groundbreaking as this is the first authoritative guidance on the Community Design Right and has also set an important precedent in Europe, clarifying for the first time what constitutes the protection available to an original design.

The case itself started in February 2006 when Procter & Gamble sued Reckitt Benckiser over the design of the container of its air spray freshener `Air Wick Odour Stop’ claiming it infringed the Registered Community Design which it had obtained for its equivalent award-winning `Febreze’ product. Proceedings began in the UK in the High Court – at the same time Procter & Gamble also launched interim injunctions in several European countries including France, Belgium, Italy, Austria and Spain. Several months later in November 2006, the High Court ruled in favour of Procter & Gamble finding that the two designs were too similar. This decision was however appealed and in his judgment, which was issued today, Lord Justice Jacob stated that there was sufficient difference of detail between the two that Reckitt Benckiser’s ‘Air Wick’ does not infringe. In explaining this analysis, Jacob LJ moreoever brought clarity to the legal definition of design rights.

Lorna Brazell, one of the Bird & Bird partners who has been representing Reckitt Benckiser said:

“There is no overestimating the significance of this case. Today’s decision is hugely important for all brand owners and all those involved in consumer product industries where the use of designs is paramount. We now have for the very first time clear guidance on what protection an original design can attract and significantly a systematic approach in order to get there. The acid test in cases of this nature is to answer the question what is the “overall impression” of a product which gives its distinctiveness from another – potentially a dangerously subjective issue, but this case goes several steps further in reaching clearer guidance on this. This is a sensible decision, hugely welcomed by lawyers and brand owners alike, and has set an important legal precedent not just in the UK but across Europe”.

Also representing Reckitt Benckiser on this case were Bird & Bird partner Morag Macdonald assisted by Cristina Garrigues and barristers Henry Carr QC and Hugo Cuddogan.

For more information on this please contact Natalie Arestis on 020 7905 6248 or by email on


Notes to Editors

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