Dyson Limited v Vax Limited
6 August 2010
By Ben Evans
Dyson Ltd v Vax Ltd  EWHC 1923 (Pat).
Back in 1994 Dyson filed a registered design application under the old Registered Designs Act 1949. This application was for a vacuum cleaner but the novel feature was: “The features of the design for which novelty is claimed reside in the shape and configuration applied to the article…”. Without being able to see diagrams of the vacuum cleaner it is hard to appreciate this but basically it was a two-stage cyclone dust-separation technology.
After this Vax launched a mutil-stage cyclone cleaner, in 2009 Dyson sued Vax for registered design infringement. Dyson claimed that Vax’s product was similar to its registered design, in particular (1) it had an inclined bin halfway between horizontal and vertical, (2) it had a transparent bin which showed the cyclone and (3) the lower bin formed from a sweeping, curved extension of the wheel arches. On the otherhand Vax contended that their product was different to the design, in particular at the rear of the product, the hose connector postion and the front wheels.
The alleged infringements fell within the transational provisions of the 2001 Regulations and thus while it was important to consider the similarities and differences between the products what really mattered was the overall impression produced on the informed user by each design. The informed user was to be taken as a knowledgeable user of domestic vacuum cleaners.
Mr Justice Arnold dismissed Dyson’s claim on the basis that the designer’s degree of freedom was to be taken from the existing designs that pre-date the registered design as well as those that follow. The degree of freedom of the designer was further affected by technical specification of the product i.e. the higher the technical specification the lower the degree of freedom.
Overall whilst there were certain similarities between the two products they were not considered as significant.