07 May 2020

The claimant’s success in obtaining summary judgment in passing off in this case is a useful reminder that summary judgment can be a powerful enforcement tool in a brand owner’s armoury in appropriate cases: where the nature of the infringement is clear, and the brand owner can demonstrate a real prospect of success if the matter were to proceed all the way to trial.


A dispute arose between the claimant, DCBL, an enforcement agency well known amongst the public as the agency providing debt collection services on the popular television show 'Can’t pay? We’ll take it away!' ('CPWTA') and the defendants, Integra Court Services ('Integra'), and Integra’s director. Integra’s director had worked for DCBL over a three-year period and then subsequently set up his own debt-collection business – Integra. He starting using the CPWTA title and logo on his website to advertise his business. He also registered Integra at the same registered address as DCBL.

DCBL applied for summary judgment against Integra and its director, claiming that Integra’s use of the programme’s name and logo on its website, together with the act of registering the Integra business at the same registered address as DCBL, amounted to passing off, since it was clear evidence of Integra’s director’s intention to pass his business off as DCBL’s business.

Passing off

Integra’s director argued that DCBL did not have the exclusive right to use the show name and logo (which were owned by a television company and not DCBL), and that its use of the CPWTA name and logo merely referenced the fact that he had previously been featured in the programme when he worked for DCBL.

Whilst it was correct that DCBL did not own the rights in the CPWTA name and logo, DCBL had been the sole debt collection agency featured on the show for the last three series of the programme. With the permission of the television company DCBL had used the CPWTA name and logo on its own website, identifying itself as the programme’s featured agency.

After confirming that DCBL had goodwill in its own business, the court found that there was a strong public association between DCBL and the programme, and that any misrepresentation by another agency as to an ongoing association with the show would lead to that other agency being taken by the public to be DCBL or to be associated with DCBL. This would cause damage to DCBL because DCBL could not control the quality of Integra’s services, which would be associated with DCBL, potentially harming DCBL’s reputation. 

Integra and its director had no defence to their acts of passing off, and the court granted summary judgment against them.

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment involves an early determination of proceedings without a full trial. The threshold for applicants seeking summary judgment is high: DCBL was required to demonstrate that Integra’s defence had no real prospect of success and that there were no other compelling reasons why the case should have been dealt with at a full trial.

The Court held that Integra had no real prospect of defending the passing off claim. As Integra’s director had offered an undertaking not to use the programme’s name or logo going forwards, there was no likelihood of future passing off and an injunction was therefore not necessary. Nonetheless, the Court granted DCBL’s application for summary judgment in respect of previous acts of passing off and noted that DCBL was, in principle, entitled to damages and an account of profits.

How can Burges Salmon help?

As with all passing off claims, this case turned very much on its own facts, and not every case will be appropriate for summary judgment. Our IP litigation team is very experienced in advising on and handling summary judgment applications. If you would like any further information, please contact Jeremy Dickerson, Georgina Shaw, Harry Jewson, or your usual intellectual property team contact.

Key contact

Jeremy Dickerson

Jeremy Dickerson Partner

  • Head of International 
  • Head of Intellectual Property, Media and Sport
  • Defamation and Reputation Management

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