Supreme Court Ruling: Lifestyle Equities CV and Another v. Ahmed and Another [2024] UKSC 17

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court addressed the complex issue of director liability for trade mark infringement in the case of Lifestyle Equities CV and Another v. Ahmed and Another [2024] UKSC 17. This case involved directors of a company accused of infringing trade marks through their business operations. The ruling not only clarified the conditions under which directors can be held personally liable for their company’s actions but also established important precedents regarding the requirement of knowledge for accessory liability and the scope of the remedy of an account of profits.

In short, the Supreme Court’s decision makes it far more difficult for directors to be liable as an accessory with their company for trade mark infringement if they have no knowledge of the relevant facts.

Case Overview

In the case of Lifestyle Equities CV and Another (Respondents) v. Ahmed and Another (Appellants) [2024] UKSC 17, the Supreme Court examined the liability of company directors for trade mark infringements conducted by their company. This case was on appeal from the Court of Appeal, following a 2021 decision ([2021] EWCA Civ 675), with the Supreme Court Justices, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Kitchin, Lord Leggatt, Lord Stephens, and Lord Richards presiding.


Mr. Kashif Ahmed and his sister, Ms. Bushra Ahmed, were directors of Hornby Street Ltd., a company involved in the production and sale of clothing, footwear, and headgear. For over a decade, Hornby Street sold products bearing the logos “SANTA MONICA POLO CLUB” with images of polo players on horses. Lifestyle Equities, which owns trade marks featuring a polo player on a horse and the phrase “BEVERLY HILLS POLO CLUB,” alleged that Hornby Street’s use of the “SANTA MONICA POLO CLUB” logos infringed on their trade marks. Lifestyle sued Hornby Street and the Ahmeds personally, claiming joint liability for the infringements.

Mr Ahmed was the managing director and ultimate decision maker of the business.  He managed the IP portfolio, he instructed the design director to come up with the logo, and he agreed which manufacturer to use to manufacture the items.  Mrs Ahmed was head of sales and her role was managing the day to day operations of the business and it was her decision to display the goods. 

Initial Trial Findings

The trial judge found that Hornby Street’s use of the “SANTA MONICA POLO CLUB” logos indeed infringed on Lifestyle’s trade marks due to similarities likely to confuse the public and because it exploited the distinctive character and reputation of Lifestyle’s trade marks. The judge also held the Ahmeds jointly liable with Hornby Street, ruling that they procured the infringements and participated in a common design to infringe. The judge did not find that the Ahmeds knew or should have known about the likelihood of confusion or infringement. Nonetheless, the judge determined this lack of knowledge did not absolve them of liability.

Hornby Street was later dissolved. Lifestyle sought an account of profits against the Ahmeds. The judge ruled that the Ahmeds were not liable for profits made by Hornby Street but were liable for profits they personally gained from the infringements, attributing 10% of their salaries and a loan from Hornby Street to Mr. Ahmed as profits derived from the infringements.

Court of Appeal Decision

Both parties appealed. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision except regarding the loan to Mr. Ahmed, ruling it was not a profit.

Supreme Court Judgment

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Lifestyle’s appeal and allowed the Ahmeds’ appeal. Lord Leggatt delivered the judgment, with the other Justices concurring.

Key Points of the Judgment

Accessory Liability

Primary liability for trade mark infringement is strict, not requiring proof of knowledge or fault. However, the Ahmeds did not directly infringe Lifestyle’s trade marks; Hornby Street did.

The Ahmeds were alleged to be liable as accessories for either procuring the infringements or participating in a common design.

The court examined whether accessory liability should also be strict when the primary liability is strict. It concluded that accessory liability requires proof of knowledge of the essential facts making the act wrongful.

Acting in good faith without such knowledge exempts individuals from being held jointly liable as accessories. Therefore, since the Ahmeds lacked knowledge of the essential facts, they were not jointly liable for Hornby Street’s infringements.  In particular, the Court recognised that in the lower courts there was no evidence the Ahmeds were even aware of Lifestyle’s trade marks before March 2014 and there were no findings at the Ahmeds knew, or should have appreciated that there was a likelihood of confusion between the marks. The Supreme Court made it clear that this situation is very different to a company selling counterfeit products where it would have been obvious to the director who arranged the manufacture of the products that the products were counterfeit – in such circumstances the director would have known the facts which would make him liable. 

Account of Profits

The remedy of an account of profits can be applied to anyone liable for infringement, even if innocent.

However, only profits made by the infringer themselves can be claimed, not profits made by another party, such as the company.

The loan to Mr. Ahmed did not constitute a profit, and there was no evidence his salary was anything but ordinary remuneration. Thus, the Ahmeds had not made any profits from the infringements and the decision of the lower court was overturned.


The Supreme Court’s decision clarified that directors are not automatically liable for their company’s trade mark infringements without knowledge of the essential facts making those acts wrongful. The judgment also underscored that an account of profits could only target profits directly made by the infringer, not by associated parties.

Therefore, this case makes it harder to show that directors are liable as accessories to trade mark infringement.  It will only be in the most extreme circumstances where it is obvious that they must have known that the acts would infringe a third party’s rights.

Therefore, companies and directors should ensure that they conduct proper due diligence when undertaking a rebrand such as clearance searches and ensure that they maintain those records.  If there is a concern that a company may be infringing a third party right, proper advice needs to be sought to safeguard the company and directors.