General Electric Co v General Electric Co Ltd; GE TM; Re GE Trade Mark: HL 1972

Lord Diplock said: ‘The common law of trade marks before 1875
The use by manufacturers of distinctive marks upon goods which they had made is of very ancient origin, but legal recognition of trade marks as a species of incorporeal property was first accorded by the Court of Chancery in the first half of the 19th century. It may be said to have been established by Lord Cottenham L.C. in Millington v. Fox (1838) 3 My. and Cr. 338. He decided that it was not necessary to establish any intention to deceive on the part of an infringer against whom an injunction to restrain his use of a trade mark was sought.
The right of property in a trade mark had special characteristics. One, which it shared with patents and with copyright, was that it was a monopoly, that is to say, it was a right to restrain other persons from using the mark. But it was an adjunct of the goodwill of a business and incapable of separate existence dissociated from that goodwill. To be capable of being the subject matter of property a trade mark had to be distinctive, that is to say, it had to be recognisable by a purchaser of goods to which it was affixed as indicating that they were of the same origin as other goods which bore the same mark and whose quality had engendered goodwill. Property in a trade mark could therefore only be acquired by public use of it as such by the proprietor and was lost by disuse. The property was assignable, transmissible and divisible, but only along with the goodwill of the business in which it was used . . A right of property of this character calls for an accommodation between the conflicting interests of the owner of the monopoly, of the general public as purchasers of goods to which the trade mark is affixed, and of other traders. This accommodation had been substantially worked out by the Court of Chancery by 1875.
The interest of the general public requires that they should not be deceived by the trade mark. It ought not to tell a lie about the goods. Two main kinds of deception had been the subject of consideration. These were misrepresentation (a) of the character of the goods to which the trade mark was attached, and (b) as to their origin, i.e. that they were the product of some other manufacturer.
But the interest of the public in not being deceived about the origin of goods had and has to be accommodated with the vested right of property of traders in trade marks which they have honestly adopted and which by public use have attracted a valuable goodwill. In the early 19th century trade was still largely local; marks which were identical or which closely resembled one another might have been innocently adopted by traders in different localities. In these their respective products were not sold in competition with one another and accordingly no question of deception of the public could then arise. With the rapid improvement in communications, however, in the first half of the 19th century markets expanded; products of two traders who used similar marks upon their goods could thus come to be on sale to the same potential purchasers with the consequent risk of their being misled as to the origin of the goods. Furthermore, it was accepted that as an adjunct of the goodwill of the business the right to use a trade mark might be acquired by more than one successor if the goodwill of the business were divided, as it might be, for instance, where the business had formerly been carried on in partnership or from more than one manufactory or shop. To meet this kind of situation the doctrine of honest concurrent user was evolved. Under this doctrine a trade mark remained entitled to protection in cases where the use of it had not originally been deceptive but a risk of deception had subsequently arisen as a result of events which did not involve any dishonesty or other wrongful conduct upon the part of the proprietor of the mark. If, however, his own wrongful conduct had played a part in making the use of the mark deceptive, the Court of Chancery would not grant him an injunction against infringement. This was but a particular application of the general equitable doctrine that he who seeks equity must come with clean hands.
In cases of honest concurrent user, neither of the owners of the mark could restrict the other from using it, but as against a usurper who infringed it either owner of the mark could obtain an injunction: Dent v. Turpin (1861) 2 J. and H. 139 and Southorn v. Reynolds (1865) 12 L.T. 75.’


Lord Diplock


[1972] 2 All ER 507, [1973] RPC 297, [1972] 1 WLR 729


England and Wales


At first instanceGeneral Electric Co v General Electric Co Ltd ChD 1969
A form of co-branding was held to be non-deceptive. Grahame J said: ‘The registered use provisions are permissive only and not a compulsory prerequisite for retention of validity of the mark and that, provided the conditions of control are adequate, . .
Appeal fromGeneral Electric Co v General Electric Co Limited; GE TM; Re GE Trade Mark CA 1970
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Cited by:

CitedBudejovicky Budvar Narodni Podnik v Anheuser-Busch Inc CA 20-Oct-2009
The parties had long disputed the use of the trade marks ‘Bud’ and ‘Budweiser’ for their beers. The claimant now said that the defendants had made an abusive registration under the 1994 Act, by requesting a declaration that the registration by the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Intellectual Property

Updated: 05 May 2022; Ref: scu.377525