The London Taxi Company (LTC) – the maker of London’s distinctive black cabs – have failed to obtain trademark protection in battle against an electric taxi company. 

LTC had claimed that rival car company, Frazer-Nash’s, new Metrocab was a copy of its distinctive London black cab design. LTC had registered a number of trademarks in respect of its black cabs, including the shape of the cabs.

The Metrocab, an electric vehicle, had been designed and engineered to help London meet its air quality standards. The electric vehicle can emit 75% less carbon dioxide than a comparable London taxi, and production of the new car is planned to start later this year. LTC, who are owned by Chinese firm Geely, are also developing an electric version of their cabs.

Unfortunately for LTC, the recent Court of Appeal decision dismissed their claims, ruling instead that LTC’s trademarks were invalid for various reasons, including lack of inherent distinctive character, lack of acquired distinctiveness, and (contrary to the previous decision of the High Court), lack of substantial value in the shape.

“In my view, the CTM [the design of the black cab] would have been perceived by the average consumer of taxis as merely a variation of the typical shape of a taxi,” Mr Justice Arnold said.

This decision shows the difficulty in asserting rights over trademarks, particularly shape trademarks, which have become commonplace in the eyes of the public. This is despite LTC’s prior arguments that the shape of the mark held substantial value given its fame and iconic status, an argument not accepted by the Court of Appeal.

Interestingly, the Court of Appeal did note that this argument was not crucial to its decision, meaning that there is a chance that a similar argument in future could succeed upon further examination. Proprietors of valuable shape trademarks are likely to be keeping a keen eye on this decision to see if LTC will appeal (which they have hinted at).

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