A NORTH-East businesswoman has launched an appeal to raise £50,000 to fund a legal battle against a retailer she claims copied her Christmas toy design.

Durham entrepreneur Sarah Greenwell has accused B&M of duplicating her idea for the elf-themed Christmas kit she launched three years ago.

And the mum-of-two, who was inspired to create the toy for her children Holly, five, and Finley, three, has now decided to launch a crowdfunding appeal to raise enough money to pursue legal action against the retailer.

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The Northern Echo:

FIGHT: Durham businesswoman Sarah Greenwell with her children Holly and Finley, the inspiration for her reward kit An Elf For Christmas

However, B&M insists its product does not infringe on Mrs Greenwell’s intellectual property.

She said: “It’s unfair that large businesses think this form of intellectual property theft is acceptable behaviour and the majority of the time, the small business and original designer can’t afford to do anything about it.

“Legal action usually runs to tens of thousands of pounds – a financial burden that could potentially cripple a sole trader like myself.

“As a small business, it’s incredibly hard to do anything about this situation.

"I have started legal proceedings against B&M and so far this has run to significant costs. I firmly believe I have a strong case against B&M and I intend to take further action, until this is resolved fairly.”

Mrs Greenwell designed the kit while on maternity leave with her second child and came up with the idea after struggling to find a similar product which encouraged children to be well-behaved.

The kit includes an elf, good behaviour charts, stickers, report cads and certificates, all aimed at encouraging children to stay on Santa’s “nice list” during the run up to Christmas.

Since launching it three years ago, the kit, which is priced at £24.99, has won several awards and has been sold all over the world, including in John Lewis, Selfridges and Harrods.

She first noticed the rival B&M kit in September, after spotting it online.

Mrs Greenwell says as well as having a similar design to her own product, B&M’s A Magical Christmas Elf reward kit, which is on sale for £9.99, uses “almost identical” language.

She added: “Their product has many striking similarities across the whole kit and packaging, including the design and almost identical wording of the magical reward kit, which has led to confusion in the market place with customers believing the cheaper product in B&M is my original product – which it isn’t.”

A B&M spokeswoman said: “B&M has taken counsel’s advice on this matter and is confident that its Magical Christmas Elf does not infringe Ms Greenwell’s product which is itself inspired by the highly successful ‘Elf on a Shelf’ product in the US.

“The matter is being dealt with by both sides’ respective lawyers and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

B&M has released a number of toys aimed at reducing the bill for parents this Christmas, stocking products similar to other popular brands.

The online legal campaign fundraiser has so far raised just over £1,000, with a target of £50,000 set.

If legal fees are less than the money raised, the surplus will be donated to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

To find out more or to support her fund visit www.gofundme.com/elfforchristmas