Intellectual Property is Back in Fashion

Written by Tara Mulvany

Yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Dunnes Stores v Karen Millen case over the alleged copying of a jumper and two shirts has been keenly awaited by the fashion industry. It’s the first case involving clothing to be taken under the community unregistered design right regulation.

The regulation was put in place to protect products that have a short market life and where the design is considered to be new and of individual character. Dunnes Stores’ never denied copying the clothes. They based their original defense on the argument that the clothes lacked “individual character” and, therefore, were not protected by unregistered design rights. The onus was on Karen Millen to prove otherwise.

But after an 8 year battle, the European court ruled in favour of Karen Millen saying they were only required to indicate the features which give the designs their individual character, without the need to provide supporting evidence.

Fashion designers everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief that the intellectual property on their designs remains in-tact.

In terms of fines or compensation, the true cost of this legal battle to Dunnes has yet to be quantified as the case now goes back to the Irish Supreme Court for a judgement by reference to the ECJ’s decision. Reports suggest that legal costs alone could have run into seven figure sums. Dunnes’ reputation in the fashion industry has also been severely dented in what is a landmark victory for high street fashion designers.

But, how does this effect Dunnes’ reputation with its customers? Ironically, the answer is – it probably doesn’t. Many ordinary Dunnes Stores’ customers are likely to be unaware of yesterday’s ruling and even if they do know, they’re likely to care even less.

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