UK fashion firm Karen Millen has secured a major court victory against Dunnes Stores in a decision that will make it tougher for retailers to sell copycat clothing designs.
The case at the European Court of Justice revolved around a black top and two shirts that Karen Millen put on sale in December 2005. In 2006, Dunnes put similar items on sale under its Savida range.
The High Court here had previously ruled that Dunnes Stores had breached EU rules by copying the Karen Millen designs and selling similar items in its own stores.
It said that Dunnes had infringed Karen Millen's rights to unregistered community design under relevant legislation in each of the three designs. But Dunnes Stores had appealed that finding to the Supreme Court, which in turn asked the European Court of Justice to rule on some relevant points of law.
Dunnes had disputed that Karen Millen was the holder of an unregistered community design for each of the contested garments. The Irish retailer claimed the designs didn't have individual character within the meaning of EU regulations, and that Karen Millen was required to prove that the designs did have individual character.
In April, an advocate general of the European Court of Justice issued an opinion in the case that all but sealed Dunnes Stores' fate in the case. The legal expert said that requiring the holder of an unregistered community design to produce proof of the individual character of the design would "run counter to the development of the legislative intention".
While the advocate general's opinion wasn't binding on the court, such opinions are rarely, if ever, rejected. The court agreed yesterday.
It said that Karen Millen is only required to indicate the particular features of the designs that afford them individual character, rather than having to provide supporting evidence.
The Dunnes Stores case will now revert to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.