Leicestershire healthcare business Pal International Limited has won a high-profile legal dispute relating to the packaging of its ‘Medipal’ brand healthcare wet wipes.

Pal’s wipe products are sold to NHS Trusts throughout the UK, and are used to clean and disinfect surfaces in hospitals and healthcare organisations.  The specialist market for healthcare wipe products is worth over £30m annually in England alone.

Pal’s new products were launched in 2012, challenging the incumbent market leaders.  Pal’s use of functional colour-coding and a ‘curved line’ packaging design prompted one of these incumbents, Gama Healthcare, to sue Pal for passing off.

Gama Healthcare alleged that Pal’s packaging looked so similar to their own ‘Clinell’ products that customers would be confused into making mistaken purchases.

The dispute began in November 2013, and was heard in a 2-day trial in December 2015 in the specialist Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in London.

If Pal had lost the case, they would have had to change the packaging designs of their products at short notice, and pay damages and legal costs.  There was a lot at stake.

The Court handed down its judgment on 20 January 2016.  It held that the allegations of passing off were unfounded and ruled decisively in Pal’s favour.

Although the judge accepted that Pal’s packaging shared some similarities with Gama’s packaging, Gama had not adequately demonstrated its ownership of intellectual property rights in the common packaging features, and its evidence of customer confusion was considered unsatisfactory.

Pal emerged victorious as the claim for passing off was dismissed.  The decision leaves Pal free to continue selling their popular wet-wipe products in the existing packaging, and the court ordered Gama Healthcare to pay legal costs to Pal.

Alex Brucciani, Managing Director at Pal International, comments: “We are delighted to have finally won this case.  It is disorientating to be sued for passing off, especially when you believe your actions are entirely above-board.  We received expert legal advice throughout the dispute from Spearing Waite’s specialist intellectual property team, who successfully guided us through the process and fought hard to ensure that we won the case.  We are now looking forward to building our presence in the healthcare market without this distraction.” 

John Buckby, Head of Intellectual Property & Media at Spearing Waite, commented: “This is a great result.  We are delighted to have helped Pal achieve this important win.  The case shows that if you use packaging features similar to those of your competitors, you should also include enough distinguishing elements of your own.  The court found that Pal had done enough in this case, and rightly so.”

The judgment can be read in full here: Gama Healthcare Ltd v Pal International Ltd [2016] EWHC 75 (IPEC)

If you would like more information about brand and trade mark protection, please contact our intellectual property team at: ip@spearingwaite.com.

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