Winnebago Wins Ban on Use of its Brandname by Australian Copycat

Winnebago Industries Inc., a U.S. maker of motor homes, won a court decision that will prohibit Knott Investments Pty from using the Winnebago name in Australia as it has been doing for at least 30 years.

Federal Court of Australia Justice Lindsay Foster ruled that Knott founder Bruce Binns “intentionally hijacked the Winnebago marks in Australia in a bold attempt to preempt Winnebago’s opening its doors here.”

Foster gave Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago and Knott until Aug. 13 to propose an order to implement his July 25 ruling. The judge said he would consider a request to defer the ban on Knott’s use of the name for a “reasonable time” to allow the company to rebrand its business.

“I urge the parties to agree on an appropriate period for this rebranding to occur,” Foster wrote. “In the event that agreement cannot be reached, I will determine the appropriate period.”

Knott had no comment on the ruling today, said the person who answered the phone at the company’s office and declined to be identified.

Binns founded Emu Plains, New South Wales-based Knott in 1967 as a landholding company that acquired properties for recreational vehicle factories in Australia. The manufacturing company, Freeway Camper Co. failed and was wound up in 1977, Foster wrote.

Knott then began manufacturing recreational vehicles and selling them under the Winnebago name, either in 1978 according to Binns, or 1982, according to Winnebago, Foster said.

Registering Trademark

Knott applied for, and received, registration of the Winnebago name as a trademark in Australia in 1997. Foster ordered the registration to be canceled.

During the four-day trial last year, Binns had denied he wanted to associate his company with the U.S. brand.

“I didn’t want to associate it with that particular business,” Binns testified, according to a transcript in Foster’s reasons. “We were operating in Australia.”

Foster rejected Binns testimony, writing that it wasn’t credible.

“By choosing to exploit the Winnebago name and the Winnebago logos, he was intending to gain for himself as much benefit as possible in Australia,” Foster wrote.

The case is Winnebago Industries Inc. v. Knott Investments Pty. NSD1355/2010. Federal Court of Australia (Sydney).