The European Court of Justice has rejected a community design challenge by H&M against french fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.
In 2006 YSL registered designs for two of its handbags. In 2009 the Swedish fast-fashion chain appealed to the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) for these to be cancelled on the grounds the bags lacked distinctive character, giving one of its previous, similar designs as an example.
The appeal was initially rejected by OHIM in 2013.
Today judges at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled there are “substantial” differences in the disputed designs registered by YSL and those of the bag previously produced by H&M.
The court said the three main differences are the overall shape, structure and surface finish of the bag. It also noted that the straps and handle of the bags are designed to be carried in different ways.
“While H&M sought to elevate the importance of the test of the designers’ freedom to design to the assessment of a design’s individual character, the European Court of Justice confirmed that it is merely one of four factors that need to be considered,” said David Woods, legal director at law firm Pinsent Masons.
“The [court’s] view that the starting point for assessing a design’s individual character is how an informed user perceives that design is good news for designers. While the average person might struggle to see much of a difference in some competing retail products, from a legal perspective it will be the perceived views of a much more knowledgeable customer of specific products whose designs are in question that counts.
“The judgment confirms that it may not be necessary for designers to come up with something radically different to what is already available on the market to qualify for community design rights protection, and this is especially the case where there are statutory or technical constraints on products that limit the extent of freedom designers have when creating their designs.”