Louis Vuitton loses battle
French luxury label Louis Vuitton faced a ‘double blow’ over its use of its trademark chequerboard pattern after an EU court threw out its right to exclusively use its logo.
Celebrity-favourite Louis Vuitton had been fighting to protect its signature chequered squares since 2009.
The label uses the pattern on countless handbags, shoes and other accessories and is aggressive in its policing of counterfeit items and even has a dedicated team to stop copying of its expensive products.
But the EU General Court has now cancelled two of its registered trademarks this month after a German retailer called Nanu-Nana, based in Berlin, challenged its use.
Its dark brown and beige pattern trademark, which it registered in 1998, and a black and grey version registered in 2008 have both been cancelled by the latest ruling.
Some of its most popular handbags, including the Alma, Speedy and Neverfull handbag ranges, use the chequerboard pattern and sell for around £1000 each.
Sharon Daboul, trademark attorney at intellectual property law firm EIP told international business company Global Trader that the trademark loss is a ‘double-blow to Louis Vuitton.’
She added: ‘It can no longer claim to have a monopoly on the chequerboard pattern as applied to leather goods and bags, even if it was the first to come up with it.’
The EU ruling stated that the chequerboard pattern was just ‘basic and banal’ and composed of ‘very simple elements and that it was well-known that that feature had been commonly used with a decorative purpose in relation to various goods.’
It also said it could not be proved that the mark could be recognised as Louis Vuitton across all EU member states such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia.
Other trademark experts expect Louis Vuitton to keep fighting.
Jason Rawkins, head of fashion and luxury brands at international law firm Taylor Wessing, said: ‘It's a surprising outcome given that the chequer pattern is iconic for Louis Vuitton, especially in the beige and brown colour scheme. I suspect this won't be the end of the case. Watch this space for an appeal to the European Court of Justice.’
British luxury brand Burberry faced a similar problem in 2013 when it appealed against a decision made by Chinese authorities who cancelled the trademark protection for its famous check, the Haymarket, when used on leather goods. The case is still ongoing.
Many major brands have fought long and expensive legal battles to try to retain the exclusive use of a pattern or colour that they believe represents their brand. Cadbury tried to stop other chocolate companies using its Dairy Milk purple colour - known as Pantone 2865c. But in 2013 Swiss rival Nestle won an appeal against that earlier ruling to stop Cadbury having exclusive rights.
One of the most famous cases was designer shoe brand Christian Louboutin’s red sole shoes in the US in 2012. A US court ruled Louboutin is entitled to protect its brand against red-soled shoes made by competitor Yves Saint Laurent.
An exception to the rule is when the shoe itself is red as well. In that instance, a rival may match the colour of the sole to the colour of the shoe.