Des Browne: Has he got nothing better to do with his time?


War Hero
Book Reviewer
MoD and 'Next' Battle Over Duvets

The Defence Secretary, Des Browne, is a man focused on weighty and controversial matters: the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bungled purchase of a fleet of Chinooks and the possible involvement of the Royal Navy in mass dolphin deaths.

But he also has other battles to fight, including one about the design on a duvet cover for boys.

The Ministry of Defence is challenging Next over the fashion group's use of the RAF's red, white and blue roundel on a £35 cotton and polyester duvet cover and a range of other bedroom paraphernlia, including rugs, curtains and wall stickers aimed at seven-year-olds.

The MoD has lodged a claim with the chancery division at the high court over the disputed duvet cover design. The secretary of state is the claimant and a writ has been issued, though not yet served.

A spokesman for Next confirmed that its clash with the MoD concerned the right to use the roundel. The offending bedset is a rather patriotic affair in navy featuring roundels and union flags alongside images of a car, guitar and scooter.

The MoD first accused Next of copyright infringement last September. The Leicester-based fashion chain, the UK's third-biggest clothing retailer, is arguing that the roundel sign is also the emblem of the mod movement of the 1960s which was revived by The Jam in 1978 with their All Mod Cons album. Britpop band Oasis, the Ben Sherman shirts brand and Lambretta scooters are also associated with the so-called "mod target".

A few seconds on eBay turns up scooter badges featuring the roundel and The Jam, an array of roundel lapel badges and "Mod/RAF roundel stickers for Scooter/The Jam/Oasis fans" at 99p each.

The Royal Air Force, however, is keen to protect a trademark with a history dating back to the first world war. Until then the underside of the aircraft of what was then called the Royal Flying Corps was marked with a union flag to help avoid being shot down by friendly fire. But at high altitudes only the cross of the flag was visible and it looked similar to the cross used on German planes - so the concentric circles target sign was adopted instead.

Five years ago the ministry took on the Arcadia group, the company behind high street brands including Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, as it tried to get the roundel registered as a trademark for RAF-related clothing.

The Patent Office rejected the MoD application but gave it sole rights to use the roundel on all non-clothing items, such as memorabilia and military equipment and, presumably, boys' duvet covers.

The comptroller-general of patents, designs and trademarks acknowledged at the time that the roundel was "associated with a group of persons known as mods".

Yesterday the MoD refused to comment on the battle of the bedlinen with Next. A spokesman said: "Legal proceedings are pending and therefore we are unable to comment."

The RAF has its own line of casual clothes and accessories for men, women and children, with part of their sale price going to the RAF Museum Charitable Trust. Most feature the RAF wings logo, though a £35 bikini features roundels picked out in diamante.