Federal Court rulles against Caravan industry stalwart Bruce Binns
WHEN is a Winnebago not a Winnebago? When the big boxy mobile home is made in Australia, according to the Federal Court in Sydney. In a decision that will have ramifications for a swath of dealers that sell Australian-made vehicles bearing the name Winnebago, the court has found that a Sydney businessman, Bruce Binns, "intentionally hijacked" the well-known US brand "in a bold attempt to pre-empt Winnebago's opening its doors here".
Winnebago Industries, of Forest City, Iowa, has been making its distinctive recreational vehicles in the US since 1966. But the Federal Court heard Mr Binns' company, Knott Investments, which has nothing to do with the US company, began making similar vehicles in Sydney from at least 1982. He called them Winnebago and advertised and marketed the vehicles using logos almost identical to those of the US company.
The Federal Court has found Mr Binns deliberately exploited Winnebago's brand, logo and its reputation, and breached the Trade Practices Act and the Australian Consumer Law.
Justice Lindsay Foster said Mr Binns traded on the US company's reputation for decades.
"No doubt Bruce Binns thought that, by taking such action, he could keep Winnebago out of Australia or, at the very least, hold it to ransom and extort a significant payment from Winnebago," he said.
The court heard that an advertisement Mr Binns placed in Austra-lian Caravan World in 1995 contained the text: "You'd expect nothing less from Winnebago, the world's most respected name in luxury motor homes."
Justice Foster said Mr Binns' "earnest denials", that he was not trying to exploit the goodwill and reputation of Winnebago, were not credible, and instead he wanted to garner as much financial benefit as possible from using the Winnebago brand.