Publication on Tuesday 19 April 2005
The struggle between traditional high street stores and cut-price rivals has reached a new level with the clothing chain Monsoon suing the discount retailer Primark over the alleged copying of its designs.
Primark is accused of selling replicas of six items of Monsoon's successful clothes and accessories range, despite being repeatedly warned against infringing copyright.
Monsoon claims that the copies, which sell for a quarter of the price of the "real thing", are of much poorer quality than its own and are damaging to the Monsoon brand.
The demand for six-figure compensation has increased acrimony between traditional high street stores such as Marks & Spencer and Monsoon and the increasingly dominant cut-price market, including firms such as Matalan and Primark.
Purchases from the cut-price sector, including supermarket ranges and stores such as TK Maxx, now account for almost 20 per cent of the total clothing market, compared with 11.9 per cent five years ago.
According to the business analyst Verdict, the market is now worth £6.3bn a year and is the fastest-growing sector of retail clothing. The George range at Asda is the market leader with an 18.7 per cent share, followed by Matalan and Primark.
But middle-market stores say that their low-cost rivals are undercutting them by using cheap foreign labour, inferior materials - and by copying original designs.
Monsoon previously won £23,000 from Primark after it accused the company of selling copycat products of a top and a dress from its girls' range.
It now says that a further six items have been copied, including a distinctive women's linen skirt that sells for £44 in Monsoon - and just £11 in Primark.
Rose Foster, chief executive of Monsoon, said: "Monsoon and Accessorize are strong brands with a distinctive identity of which we are very proud. We take any infringement of our design and copyright very seriously.
To protect the exclusivity of the brands, we are vigorous in our pursuit of those who attempt to copy our designs."
It is not the first time that Primark has faced claims of design copying. Earlier this year, the high street chain H&M issued a high court writ against Primark, claiming it had copied prints, designs and motifs on a range of adult and childrens' clothes. The case is continuing, but H&M is hoping to win £100,000 in compensation from its rival.
Primark declined to comment on both cases.