Counterfeit Alloy Wheels Search and Seizure Order Granted

Wholesale infringement of well known manufacturers’ intellectual property rights is often seen by the unscrupulous as an easy route to profits. However, a case in which the High Court granted a search and seizure order to a household name car maker showed that judges are well equipped to deal with such cynical lawbreaking.

The car maker suspected that two individuals and two companies were engaged in importing large numbers of counterfeit alloy wheels from the Far East, manufactured to designs that were almost identical to its own. Fake badges bearing the maker’s distinctive trade mark were also said to have been imported and attached to the wheels before they were sold to the public, largely via Internet portals.

The Court noted that the allegations were particularly grave as one of the individuals had previously been caught trading in counterfeit goods bearing the maker’s mark. He had then given a formal undertaking to desist. If it were to be proved that he had resumed his involvement in the illicit trade, that would be a contempt of court as well as a criminal offence, punishable by a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment.

The Court acknowledged that the order sought by the maker was exceptional in that it would enable unannounced searches of various private premises and the seizure of documents and valuable goods. However, the maker had submitted clear evidence that it was suffering irreparable damage due to serious acts of infringement.

In granting the order, the Court noted the risk that important evidence – including the names and addresses of others who might be involved in the illicit trade – would be destroyed if advance notice of the searches were given. The maker had no control over the quality of counterfeit goods and there was evidence of customer complaints concerning the safety of fake wheels supplied to the public.