In a civil legal battle involving design copycat of luxurious “BAO BAO” bags designed by ISSEY MIYAKE, a Japanese fashion designer, the Tokyo District Court sided with ISSEY MIYAKE and found infringement under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act on June 18, 2019.
[Judicial case no. H29(Gyo-wa)31572]
BAO BAO ISSEY MIYAKE
Issey Miyake’s innovative and unique bag designs under the brand of “BAO BAO” since 2010 earned it accolades and wide recognition in the fashion world. Its most prominent design is crafted with a tessellating triangular structure that shifts as it’s moved to create new three-dimensional forms. Capturing a seamless fusion of geometric shapes and fluid silhouettes, the designs are often a kaleidoscope of color. Most of the pieces consist of rectangular equilateral triangle.
Defendant, Largu Co., Ltd. began to promote following women’s shoulder bags, pouches, backpacks and tote bags under the brand of “Avancer” from 2016. Defendant copied tessellating triangular structure on disputed bags likewise. Most of the pieces are not rectangular equilateral triangle.
Defendant sold these goods for JPY 1,000 ~ 6,000. It was far cheaper than BAO BAO ISSEY MIYAKE – sometimes up to one-thirteenth.
In the judgment, at the outset, the court assessed whether the geometric shapes of tessellating triangular structure shall play a role of source indicator protectable under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act. The judge found the shape of plaintiff’s goods has a distinctive and different feature from other women’s bags by taking account of produced evidences. Its unique and innovative design, inter alia, creating various three-dimensional forms when used, apparently gives unusual impression to consumers. If so, the prominent design consisting of triangular structure shall be protectable under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act.
Besides, the court found the triangular structure of plaintiff’s goods obtained a certain degree of popularity and reputation as a source indicator of BAO BAO ISSEY MYAKE by the time defendant launched disputed bags in 2016.
In assessing a likelihood of confusion, the court dismissed defendant’s counterargument on different shape of triangle by stating that disputed goods give rise to a same visual effect with BAO BAO ISSEY MIYAKE by means of creating various three-dimensional forms when used. Price difference is not a material factor to negate a likelihood of confusion as long as consumers conceive BAO BAO ISSEY MIYAKA at the sight of disputed bags.
After significant litigation, the trade dress suit ended with an injunction barring all future sales of the copied designs and a hefty damages award, JPY 71,068,000 under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act.
In the meantime, the court dismissed plaintiff’s allegation of copyright infringement on the ground that plaintiff’s goods are rather suitable for industrial design. In fact, plaintiff’s goods are produced in quantity at factory. If so, it shall be unprotectable under the Copyright Law.