IPEC finds Defendants liable for passing off

Two Asian award ceremonies with very similar names, celebrating similar achievements at famous London hotels (one year, even at the same hotel!) were recently considered by IPEC as to whether passing off had occurred.

Who won the award for best event name? The importance of choosing distinctive names – whether for an event, sign or company name – was brought to light once again.

Summary

The claimant runs an event called the Asian Achievers Awards, while the defendants run a similar event called the British Asian Achievers Awards. The claimant's award ceremony had been held annually since 2000, most recently held at the Grosvenor Hotel, Park Lane.

It was described as a "lavish event", with 1,000 or more attendees and supporters. The awards were also broadcast on television and radio. The annual events celebrate the achievements of winners across a range of categories, such as business, sport, media and culture.

The defendants run a competing awards ceremony, also celebrating the success of members of the British Asian community. The event initially ran in 2014 under the name "Jagatwani Achievers Awards".

In 2016, the event name changed to "British Asian Achievers Awards". The claimant applied for an interim injunction claiming passing off. The injunction was granted on none other than the day of the defendants' awards ceremony.

The ceremony was allowed to take place and be held at the Grosvenor Hotel – where the claimant's award ceremony had previously been held – under the name "British Asian Achievers Awards". This was subject to certain specified disclaimers of any connection with the claimant's event. When returning to court, an injunction was granted from using the name until after trial.

Key issue: misrepresentation

The court focused its assessment on misrepresentation. The remaining issues were agreed between the parties.

The words "Asian Achiever Awards" were found to be distinctive to some extent. Although the individual words were found to be descriptive, the combination was found to have a slightly more distinctive character than "Office Cleaning" (in the case of Office Cleaning Services Ltd v Westminster Window and General Cleaners Ltd). This was due to the alliteration and the inclusion of the relatively unusual word 'achievers'.

The defendants tried to rely on the claimant's use of its logo and strapline, "The People's Choice Awards", as reducing the risk of misrepresentation, but this was rejected by the Court. The logos were unlikely to be viewed side by side, and the claim as to goodwill had only been made in relation to the words "Asian Achievers Awards". In addition, the word 'British' was not sufficient to distinguish the event name from the claimant's event.

There was some limited evidence of actual confusion (as distinct from evidence that the two event names were similar). One of the instances of confusion was significant: an individual who was aware of the claimant thought he had received an email from the claimant rather than the defendants. This suggested that other less well-informed people are even more likely to be confused by the name of the defendants' event.

And the award goes to…

Unsurprisingly, the Court found that the defendants' use of the event name "British Asian Achievers Awards" caused (and is liable to cause) passing off.

Case ref: IPEC EWHC 1094 Alice Anderson