Next warns of rip-off blitz after Littlewoods victory

Next is getting tough with product design copycats after winning a dispute with Littlewoods.

The retailer has written to a raft of companies with designs similar to its own, warning of the consequences of making and selling rip-off products.

The offensive follows the retailer's pursuit of Littlewoods, which earlier this month agreed a 'substantial' out-of-court settlement with Next after being accused of infringing an embroidered stars bedlinen design.

Next launched the range two years ago, but Littlewoods' design appeared in May 2001, according to Next.

As well as the cash settlement, Littlewoods has signed an undertaking not to infringe the design further. Littlewoods must also hand over the remainder of its copycat product and pay costs.

A Next spokeswoman would not name the other businesses it may act against, but said the guilty culprits are 'particularly at the lower end of the market'. Next insisted it will pursue all infringements.

Jonathan Moore, partner in the intellectual property department of legal firm Hammonds, said such actions are likely to increase following a recent change in the law allowing retailers to register designs. Previously only their copyright was protected.

The change means that retailers with registered designs are now more likely to win infringement cases.

'Businesses like Next are investing lots in new product development and are getting more aggressive against those who infringe their intellectual property, as they want to protect their investment,' said Moore.

He said infringement on homewares design is rife, as the market is so lucrative.