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Academy loses High Court passing off action brought against private college

An academy school has lost an action for passing-off taken against a nearby private college.

Cranford Community College (CCC) operates a state secondary school in the London Borough of Hounslow. It was incorporated in 2011, the school having gained academy status.

It claimed that Cranford College Limited (CCL) had damaged its goodwill by using a similar name and trade mark and asked the High Court to declare the CCL trade mark invalid and to make an order that CCL’s company name, domain names and trade mark were instruments of deception that must be changed.

CCL is a private college that offers courses for students over school age, so far drawn entirely from overseas, which began work in February 2011.

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The CCC logo shows a crane bird, from which the Cranford area’s name is derived, while CCL uses another bird, described in his judgment by HHJ Hacon as “apparently a pigeon”.

The judge said CCC failed to establish that confusion between the two institutions existed in the minds of those most directly concerned.

“I have no doubt at all that over the years CCC has generated for itself a reputation as a particularly fine school and that consequently there is an over-subscription each year from students who would like to study there,” he said.

“But for the purpose of these proceedings CCC had to show that it owned goodwill associated with the name ‘Cranford College’, and in particular that by February 2011 the relevant public treated that name as referring only to CCC and not to any other body.

“This has not been proved on the evidence and therefore the first element of passing off, goodwill, has not been established.”

The judge also dismissed the idea that any goodwill was associated specifically with the CCC logo.

CCC submitted as evidence nine cases of people being confused between the two institutions, including American visitors and applicants for cleaning jobs who arrived at the wrong place.

“The striking feature of every one of these nine instances is that none of them concern individuals who form part of what in my view constitutes the relevant public for the purpose of identifying any misrepresentation in this case,” the judge said.

He dismissed the case saying: “I do not believe that there has been or that there is any likelihood of a misrepresentation by CCL, or that CCC owns goodwill of a nature such that a misrepresentation could arise.”

CCC declined to comment.

Mark Smulian

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