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  • Belfast Between The Wars


Northern Whig, Wednesday 8th June 1932


The colour and design of nightdresses and pyjamas figured in an action yesterday in the Northern Ireland High Courts, Chancery Division, before Mr. Justice Megaw, in which plaintiffs were Messrs. Hanna Bros., & Co., wholesale underclothing manufacturers, Adelaide Street, Belfast, and John O’N. Blair, designer, Bedford Street, Belfast, and defendants Messrs. J. & B. Henderson, Ltd., wholesale underclothing manufacturers, Sydney Street West, Belfast.

Plaintiffs claimed an injunction and damages from defendants for infringing the plaintiffs’ copyright.

The Attorney-General, Mr. E. S. Murphy, K.C., M.P.; and Mr. S. C. Porter (instructed by Cunningham and Dickey) for defendants.


The Attorney-General, for the plaintiffs, said the statement of claim set out that the defendant company had within the last six years requested Mr. Blair to furnish to them certain selections of original artistic designs or patterns from which they might select such as they might require. The defendants undertook to pay for such designs, but, it was contended, knew they intended to copy the designs without payment. It was further contended that they had done so. The non-payment for the design was really a bagatelle; the real gravamen was that having copied these patterns Mr. Blair then took them back into stock and sold them to other customers, who found when they got their goods based on these designs on the market that they had been forestalled by defendant company, which had put the same designs on the market. Mr. Blair would tell the Court that all his designs were original, and that when a design was selected by one of his clients it was never repeated, and became the property of the manufacturer who purchases it. Mr. Blair in February, 1930, submitted 62 designs for nightdresses and 25 for pyjamas. Four designs were retained by defendant firm out of the 62. Mr. Blair, who thought this selection a small one, examined the designs returned and found unmistakable evidence that eight had been copied. These eight designs had been traced, and the tracing was plainly visible on the returned designs. Mr. Blair destroyed these eight designs. He was afraid to return them to stock; he was afraid what had actually happened would happen, and that he would get himself into trouble with some of his other customers if he resubmitted them for selection.


Mr. Babington then explained that in October, 1930, Messrs. Hanna asked Mr. Blair to submit some designs, and brought a floral design for a nightdress. Messrs. Hanna then proceeded to manufacture a range of nightdresses, but before they would put these goods on the market the firm found that this design was already on the market. Mr. Elliott, of Messrs. Hanna Bros., saw the design was used for a garment in a shop in Royal Avenue. Mr. Elliott immediately called upon Mr. Blair for an explanation, and Mr. Blair went round Royal Avenue and purchased the nightdress, which he brought to his office. He also obtained the original design from Mr. Elliott, and on examination found there was no doubt whatever that the design sold to Mr. Elliott. Mr. Blair would tell the Court that the design must have been copied. This nightdress had been made by the defendant company, and Mr. Blair then took up the matter with Messrs. Henderson, and Mrs. Henderson said the nightdress in question was copied from “a nightgown of Swiss manufacture bought in Belfast.”


John Blair, Bedford Street, in evidence, bore out council’s opening statement. He had no doubt the nightdress in question was based on his design. When he taxed Mrs. Henderson about the matter she said she would look into it and see who had done it. Witness asked who could do it, and she said, “You can’t be responsible for everyone in a place like this. Some of the girls may have copied it.” She promised to send the design of the Swiss nightgown to him, but later Mrs. Henderson told him she had looked for the design but could not find it. He had an opportunity of looking at the books of the defendant company, and ascertained that 1,400 dozens of nightdresses of a design numbered 1954, which was supplied by him to Messrs. Henderson. He denied that this design given to Messrs. Hanna had been sold earlier in 1928 to Messrs. Henderson.

The hearing was adjourned until this morning.


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