The European Union’s highest court gave out a ruling in favor of Karen Millen Fashions, a women’s clothing company. The ruling would provide more protection for fashion designers against copycats.
The European Court of Justice’s ruling is one of the final steps in a legal battle that began in 2007, when Karen Millen filed a lawsuit against Dunnes Stores, an Irish retail chain, for copying a shirt and sweater. The store was also selling replicas under its Savida label. They were priced cheaper than the original.
The Irish Supreme Court asked the European court to assess when a particular design has individual character and enjoys protection according to EU law. The argument made by Dunnes Stores was that Karen Millen wasn’t entitled to protection of the designs because it was based on a combination of features from previous designs. Dunnes Stores also stated that designers should be able to prove the individuality of the designs instead of being protected by default.
The European court said that the fact that some features of the design have been used by others in the past doesn’t mean it was not unique as long as the designer can point out the elements that make it different.
The case will now be sent back to the Irish Supreme Court for a final ruling on the case based on the decision made by the European court. The decision provides additional protection to fashion houses and retailers and make them to create more original models in the future.
The court also stated that the designed that were not registered with the EU trademarks and design office should also be presumed protected unless their individuality has been challenged successfully.
Most designers depend on unregistered rights that give protection for three years under the design-rights law of the EU. The cost of registering each design is too expensive. Now the copycats would have to argue why the copies don’t infringe.