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1 October, 2012 - 08:45 By Tony Quested

Satchel company bags damages in IP court battle

During New York Fashion Week in February, Bloomingdales dedicated all eight of its display windows to showcasing Cambridge Satchel’s bags

The Cambridge Satchel Company has won a High Court battle against its former manufacturer over Intellectual Property infringement.

Law firm Birketts helped the globally successful UK business sue rival brand Zatchels – set up by the Cambridge company's former manufacturer, Leicester Remedials & Sewing Limited (LRS).

The Cambridge firm won an undisclosed sum in an action fought by Birketts’ IP and technology disputes specialist, Chris Sleep.

The infringement forced The Cambridge Satchel Company to set up its own manufacturing hub – but founder Julie Deane says turnover has since soared even higher.

The designer of fashion satchels, set up in Deane’s kitchen for just £600 and the pride of Bloomingdales in New York, is now manufacturing 1,000 bags a day by hand in its own Leicestershire-based factory. The bags are being sold in 110 countries.

Cambridge Satchel now employs 65 staff and turns over £1 million a month – against turnover of £2 million for the whole of last year. As Business Weekly previously reported, during New York Fashion Week in February, Bloomingdales dedicated all eight of its display windows to showcasing Cambridge Satchel’s bags.

Deane first became aware of ‘Zatchels’ in April 2011 and realised its product range included bags that she believed infringed Cambridge Satchel's registered designs, Birketts tells Business Weekly.

The law firm said that LRS had been manufacturing bags for Cambridge Satchel since August 2010, including ones covered by the registered designs. Deane told Birketts she had shared many of her plans for future Cambridge Satchel design ideas with Dean Clarke and Brian Brady, the directors of LRS.

After further investigation, it also appeared to Deane that, in addition to the actual designs, LRS had used patterns, tools and leather stocks belonging to Cambridge Satchel to make bags for their 'Zatchels' brand, Birketts added.

Deane says she was left with no option but to immediately sever all ties with LRS and Zatchels, in spite of the devastating impact that the sudden loss of Cambridge Satchel's main manufacturer might have had on its ability to meet soaring international demand for its products.

Deane approached Birketts and with the intervention of Chris Sleep – and in spite of resistance from Clarke and Brady, according to Birketts – Cambridge Satchel was able to recover some of its tools and remaining leather stocks (albeit with a significant shortfall) within days, so steps could be put in place to fill the manufacturing void left by LRS.

Cambridge Satchel started High Court proceedings against the companies behind Zatchels for infringement of its registered designs. In addition, Cambridge Satchel claimed in respect of the large quantities of missing leather which it was believed had been used to make Zatchels bags, and breach of contract (in light of the repeated assurances that Clarke and Brady had given that LRS would not make bags for a competitor of Cambridge Satchel).

The legal proceedings were recently settled on terms that include Zatchels paying an undisclosed sum to The Cambridge Satchel Company.

Deane said: “I set up The Cambridge Satchel Company in 2008 to create good quality, handmade, British satchels to fund my children's education. Since then we have been overwhelmed by the support for our brand and the loyal following we have amassed.

“I want to raise awareness of the misconduct that has taken place and to assure our customers that we will stick to our principles and continue to create the best products for them.”

Deane and Cambridge Satchel’s reaction to the difficulties posed by losing LRS as a manufacturer was to set up a own factory in Leicestershire within weeks. This has enabled Cambridge Satchel to achieve rapid growth over the past 12 months despite the ongoing IP dispute.

Chris Sleep said: “One of the inevitabilities of establishing a successful brand is that there will be others that will look to take shortcuts by copying. This case shows the importance of implementing a brand protection policy including taking steps to register trade marks and designs, but also to actively enforce those rights against infringers, as Cambridge Satchel did with Zatchels.

“It has been fantastic to work with Cambridge Satchel over the past 18 months; not only to help guide them through the difficulties they encountered with Zatchels, but to see the company grow from strength to strength.

“It is exciting to see the enormous success that has been enjoyed as a result of the Google ad campaign, and I look forward to the many more exciting developments in the pipeline coming to fruition.”

The story of how Deane developed Cambridge Satchel will be familiar to many from the recently launched ad campaign for Google Chrome. The business has become the latest star in the ‘The Web Is What You Make Of It’ campaign, attracting over 1.1 million views on YouTube since the beginning of September 2012.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Bloomingdales

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