Frank Reddaway Ltd. & Coy. Ltd v. George Banham & Coy

House of Lords

A.C. 199

PRINCIPLE ESTABLISHED

Descriptive Term  The Court held that a purely descriptive product name like “Camel Hair Belting” could acquire a secondary meaning, and be protected from passing off.  Also a place name could become distinctive of a manufacturer and a person setting up business in the same place could not use that name so as to pass-off his goods.

SUMMARY OF FACTS

The Plaintiff/Appellant — Frank Reddaway, for some years had been selling belts, under the name “Camel Hair Belting”. That name had come to mean in the trade as the plaintiff’s belting and nothing else. The Defendant/Respondent — George Banham who was a former employee of the Plaintiff/Appellant began to sell belting made of the yarn of camel’s hair and stamped it “Camel Hair Belting”.

The yarn of which the Plaintiff/Appellant’s belting was made, chiefly consisted of, for the most part, of camel hair. The Defendant/Respondent began to manufacture belting on his own account, made from yarn of the same description as that used by the appellants, which he sold and advertised as Arabian Belting. The Defendant/Respondent’s Company was formed in 1891 and in April/May began to call their belting as “Camel Hair Belting”.

Reddaway sued Banham for passing off. He argued that there was a large portion of the public who recognized the name “Camel Hair Belting” as his product. He was also able to demonstrate that there were people who were getting the products confused. The Court of Appeal held that the name was merely descriptive and so could not be protected.

At the House of Lords, the Court of Appeal’s decision was overturned. Lord Herschell held that the words had acquired a secondary meaning through its broad notoriety, and that the public clearly associated the name “Camel Hair Belting” with the exact product produced by Plaintiff/Appellant.

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