Australian motor home company vows to fight Federal Court’s Winnebago decision
Wednesday, August 29, 2012/
An Australian company intends to appeal the Federal Court ruling that it infringed the copyright of the iconic American Winnebago brand.
Entrepreneur Bruce Binns, who runs Knott Investment, was found to have exploited the Winnebago brand, logo and reputation for his own purposes – but now he says he’ll be fighting back.
“Ours is a family-owned business that has been trading as Winnebago since we first acquired the business name in Australia in 1978,” he said today.
“We truly believed we were able to use the Winnebago name in Australia, given the written agreement we had with Winnebago Industries Inc. of Iowa, USA.”
The dispute spans several years. Winnebago Industries has been building its motor homes in the United States since 1966, but Binns has called his own vehicles Winnebagos as well, even using logos similar to those of the American company.
Last month, Justice Lindsay Foster said Binns traded on the company’s reputation for several years and “intentionally hijacked” the brand.
Now, he says the business relies on that reputation.
“As an Australian manufacturing business employing over 160 people, we rely on the reputation and goodwill we have built up over more than three decades,” he said.
“Appealing the court decision is necessary to protect our legitimate commercial interests. In doing so we are encouraged by the support expressed by our customers since the original court ruling.”
But it will be a difficult fight.
The case heard Winnebago first knew about Binns in 1985 but didn’t take action until 1991, when it began negotiations. A settlement was reached in 1992 and in 1997 Binns registered the name as a trademark.
However, when the American business started exploring export opportunities it made demands that Binns stop using the trademark. He refused.
Although Justice Foster said there was an “extraordinary delay” in the action, he found it was still justified.
“I find that, by choosing to exploit the Winnebago name and the Winnebago logos, he was intending to gain for himself as much benefit as possible in Australia from the goodwill and reputation of Winnebago and its recreational vehicles.”
Intellectual property experts warned businesses at the time the case showed they should steer clear from co-opting international, well-known brands for advertising purposes.