AN ONLINE business set up to disrupt the market in university gowns has vowed to bring an anti-competition case against the University of St Andrews after failing to have a case the institution brought against it transferred to an English court.

The university originally took action against the UK arm of Australian business Churchill Gowns after replica versions of its iconic red undergraduate gown were offered for sale on the latter’s website. While official St Andrews gowns, which are supplied by upmarket tailor Ede & Ravenscroft, sell for £159, the Churchill version costs £89.

The university raised a Court of Session action against Churchill, claiming among other things that the business was trying to pass off its “inferior” gown as an authorised product.

READ MORE: Historic red gown worn by St Andrews University students mired in legal wrangle

Churchill attempted to have that matter moved to the English High Court on the basis that its business is based in London and it intends to bring a claim for anti-competitive behaviour against Ede & Ravenscroft and a number of English universities. It said it believed the St Andrews case could be joined with those matters.

Outer House judge Lord Doherty dismissed that claim earlier this month, noting that “the subject matter of the action has a very real and substantial connection with Scotland”.

“The pursuer is a Scottish University which complains that its trade mark has been infringed, and that its goodwill is being damaged by the defender passing off goods as being authorised by the pursuer,” he said in a written opinion.

“While the defender does not have a place of business in Scotland, I consider that on a proper analysis the defender has carried on and continues to carry on business here. Some of the relevant acts of the defender took place in St Andrews.

“While the online advertising was instigated and managed from the defender’s place of business in London, and that is a relevant connection with England, it was and is directed to a very material extent to undergraduates who would be in Scotland when they read the advertising and when they purchased a gown.

“Any damage to the pursuer’s goodwill caused by passing off will have been/will be suffered in Scotland. Similarly, damage caused by the alleged trade mark infringement will have been/will be suffered very largely in Scotland.”

Churchill’s UK managing director Oliver Adkins said that now Lord Doherty has ruled the case must be heard in Scotland “it is our intention to bring a counterclaim in Scotland for anti-competitive behaviour”.

“It has been evident since we first begun selling our undergraduate gowns to students at St Andrews that the university wishes to prevent us competing in the market,” Mr Adkins said.

READ MORE: Scarlet gowns of St Andrews University worn "to discourage student vice"

“They have abused their dominant position by emailing the entire student body to discourage them from buying from us, encouraging those who had done so to seek refunds, made false statements about our sales and their own, made unsubstantiated claims about the quality of our gowns and legal threats against us and another businesses we partnered with in St Andrews.

“This has all been in an effort to prevent us trading in the undergraduate gown market and protect the revenues the university makes from charging their students £159 for a gown.”

Churchill, which was established in Australia in 2014, launched in the UK after having some success breaking into the Australian academic gowns market. As is the case in the UK, the Australian market has historically been dominated by a small number of long-established players.

In its pleadings in the Court of Session the company said that the “de facto exclusive supply” arrangement between St Andrews University and Ede & Ravenscroft has resulted in new entrants like itself being shut out of the market. This, it claims, is in breach of the terms of the 1988 Competition Act.

The business is hopeful that these claims can be heard alongside the passing-off case when it returns to the Court of Session, although Mr Adkins said Churchill would file a separate claim against St Andrews if that is not agreed to by Lord Doherty.

A spokesman for the University of St Andrews dismissed Churchill's claims of anti-competitive practice, saying they are "a red-herring".

"Our dispute with the firm has nothing to do with the matter of monopoly, graduation gowns or online sale, and is concerned only with the fact that representatives of Churchill last year passed themselves off as official agents of the university in selling red undergraduate gowns to St Andrews students on a pavement outside university buildings," he said.

READ MORE: Students at St Andrews University ‘most satisfied’ in the UK

“Students who bought from Churchill’s pop-up shop on the pavement in St Andrews believed they were buying from the university, and were offered free beer and misleading leaflets. Several complained to the university afterwards when they discovered the sellers had purposely misled them about their identity, and the poor quality of the products.

“We have been consistently clear on this point - students are at liberty to buy gowns from whomsoever they choose, but they have a right to be informed about the true identity of the vendor.”

Ede & Ravenscroft did not respond to a request for comment.