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Karen Millen victorious in long-running Dunnes design battle

Karen Millen has won its eight-year intellectual property battle against Irish retailer Dunnes Stores, after the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of the womenswear retailer today (June 19).

The case centres around a black jumper and two shirts that Karen Millen had claimed were copied by Dunnes in 2006.

The Irish department store business said the designs were not sufficiently distinct to warrant protection, but the court has found designers can rely on ‘community unregistered design rights’, which means even if a design isn’t a registered copyright, the designer can still protect it against being replicated.

The court said Karen Millen is required only to indicate the features which give the designs their individual character, without the need to provide supporting evidence.

Intellectual property partner Simon Bennett from law firm Fox Williams said: “The decision is a very significant victory for designers and reaffirms the value of unregistered design rights in tackling potential design copycats.”

David Rose, head of intellectual property at King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin, said: “Designs can often enjoy a relatively short lifespan so this form of IP protection is extremely valuable, and the fact that its importance has been upheld by the court today means designers and other holders of unregistered community designs will ultimately find it easier to enforce their rights.” 

No compensation or fine can be ordered by the European Court of Justice in this type of case so it will now go back to the Irish Supreme Court, which will give a judgment by reference to the court’s decision.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Congratulations to Karen Millen. However, 8 years is a very long time. It seems that the Law is finally recognising the importance of design protection to a business albeit slowly. For far too long blatant design copying has been allowed to go on pretty much unchallenged. Specifically because those who do the copying know they can get away with it due the lengthy and costly process of challenging them in the Courts. Design copycat costs businesses dearly and should not be tolerated. We want clear concise legal protection for our designs. Come on Drapers give us your vocal support.

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  • The European Court has given a good decision. But designers often overlook the possibility of obtaining a registered Community Design Right. Registration is fast, not expensive and provides much greater protection than an unregistered Community Design Right.

    Registration provides a way for designers to tackle erstwhile infringers.

    Stephen Sidkin
    Fashion Law Group
    Fox Williams LLP

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