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Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Dust settles on Dyson's long battle

James Dyson's High Court battle with Hoover was about more than just vacuum cleaner technology. It marks the climax of a 20-year battle to do things his way.

"No bag. No filter replacement. No problems," is Hoover's boast for its Vortex V2500 vacuum cleaner.

Now, though, it may have to rethink that catchy line, because problems there most certainly are.

The manufacturer has suffered a devastating loss in the High Court, over patent infringement, to its arch rival, Dyson.

Hoover Vortex
Playing dirty? Hoover found guilty of patent infringement
At issue was the inner workings of its bagless Vortex range of vacuum cleaner, launched by Hoover in the UK in March last year.

On Tuesday, James Dyson, self-proclaimed inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, won his claim that the machine had ripped-off his patented "Dual Cyclone" technology.

Now Mr Dyson says he will be seeking an injunction to stop Hoover producing the Vortex range, and damages that will "hopefully run into millions".

The judgement will have resonance not just for the two parties involved, but for the thousands of "Dyson-devotees" around the world.

Japanese launch

When the first Dyson vacuum cleaner was launched in Japan in 1991, few would have predicted what an astounding impact the brand would have.

For nigh on 80 years the mechanics inside a vacuum cleaner had hardly changed. The principle was that dirt was vacuumed up and separated by passing the stream of dirty air through a bag or a filter or both.

The Ballbarrow
The Ballbarrow: One of James Dyson's earlier inventions
In 1978 James Dyson, who had already succeeded in "reinventing" the wheelbarrow with his Ballbarrow, set out to try and change that. His "big idea" was to scrap the bag and filter in favour of a system that used centrifugal force to separate dirt from air.

After five years and more than 5,000 prototypes, the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner from Dyson was born.

The design was not just different, it was better, claimed Mr Dyson. While conventional vacuums lose suction as the bag fills with dust, the Dyson cleaner maintained "100% suction, 100% of the time".

But to Mr Dyson's alarm, the industry big boys were not interested in taking on his idea.

He took his invention to various companies including Electrolux, Philips, and Black & Decker, but without success.

'Extracting teeth'

Getting the industry interested was "like extracting teeth" said Mr Dyson's lawyer, David Kitchen QC, in the recent case against Hoover.

Eventually, he decided to go it alone, borrowing £600,000 to manufacture and market the patented "Dual Cyclone" cleaner himself.

James Dyson
Cleaned up: James Dyson with a variation on his original invention
By 1994 his DC01 was Britain's most popular upright machine. Today, Dyson claims to have achieved sales of more than £3bn worldwide.

But Mr Dyson was embittered by his failure to win over big business and his case became a cause célèbre for inventors and small businessmen who have long railed against Britain's "anti-entrepreneurial spirit".

In his autobiography, Against the Odds, Mr Dyson uses phrases such as "complete bastards", "pathetic attitudes" and "creative jealousy" in chronicling his 15-year struggle for success and independence.

Set the record straight

Fuelled by self-belief, his legal battle against Hoover was seen as an attempt to set the record straight for once and for all.

"I spent 20 years developing the technology and I am very pleased to see Hoover, who made a lot of false claims about their product, now found guilty of patent infringement," he said after the judgement.

In the case, Hoover claimed there was nothing new in Mr Dyson's invention - the technology was already well known in the industry.

But now its take on the bagless vacuum cleaner may have to be consigned to the dustbin.

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See also:

03 Oct 00 | Business
Dyson wins Hoover case
15 Feb 00 | Business
Dyson goes abroad
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