Winnebago Reclaims Its Name After 3 DecadesPublished on Mar 19, 2015
The Winnebago name has been around since the 1960’s and most people, at some point, have heard of the name, seen the logo, or even taken a vacation in one. For some, the Winnebago brings back fond memories of family vacations, traveling the country and a sense of freedom without boundaries. For one Australian company, that reputation, was one for the taking.
Winnebagos were first sold in the US and then were quickly expanded overseas into the UK, Canada and Europe. They quickly became the front runner in the RV industry and that was enough for Bruce Binns (director of Knotts Investments) to jump on the bandwagon, or actually just steal the whole darn thing. At the time, the Winnebago wasn't available in Australia, so businessman Bruce Binns took advantage of this by copying the Winnebago brand and slapping a similar stylized logo on the side of their RVs. In 1982 Knotts Investments’ began to manufacture and sell RV’s with the similar logo of the original Winnebago company. This would later be found by the court as “an attempt to present the new [Knott Investments] business as an associate of the well-established and highly respected Winnebago”.
The REAL logo
The Unauthorized Logo
By 1985 the US company had become aware of Knotts unethical investment activities and took steps to protect their legal position in Australia. In 1992 a settlement had been reached by both parties and Knotts Investment agreed to cease association with the company and agree to never apply for a trademark of the Winnebago name. After the agreement, the Australian company continued to exploit the Winnebago brand and trademarked the logo in 1997. When the US company became interested in selling the motor homes in Australia, the company again continued their proceedings against Knotts investments and their dealers in the Australian Federal Court in 2010.
Winnebago had gathered substantial evidence of their reputation outside of Australia and presented evidence of the Winnebago brand being prominent in popular culture reference. They also provided evidence of travel between Australia and other countries in which Winnebago sold their motor homes. With the evidence presented at hand the judge had found that a great deal of potential motor home owners in Australia would have known of the US company at the time Knotts had began selling the unauthorized version of the Winnebago brand. The Knotts company and its dealers unethically participated in the manufacture and sale of a knock off of a well established brand, thus misleading customers into thinking they were purchasing the famed US Winnebago.
As a result, the court found that the use of the Winnebago brand by Knotts company was a false representation that the Australian Company was associated with the US company and ordered the immediate cancelation of Knotts Investments’ registered trademark. The court also saw Knotts conduct as misleading and deceptive. The Australian company had presented claims in their defense that the late founder of the US company had given permission to use the Winnebago brand. The Judge completely rejected these claims. Although a substantial amount of time had passed before the legal proceedings were brought to court, the Judge did not find this to be a reason to deny relief to the US company. The initial settlement agreement created a “standstill’ in which the US company reserved their right to take legal action.
The first US Winnebago caravans were finally introduced to the Australian market this year. They were debuted at the Melbourne Caravan show with the first customer taking ownership in March of 2015. They now have four Minne models available. This has been a long and drawn out battle for the US Winnebago company, but what a refreshing story to remind us it’s never too late to seek out what is right.
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