Hermes Wins Birkin & Kelly Bag’s 3D Trademark Infringement Lawsuit

On March 9, 2023, the Tokyo District Court awarded HERMES INTERNATIONAL JPY5,640,112 for infringement of its trademark right pertinent to the 3D shape of the Birkin bag and Kelly bag.

[Judicial case no. Tokyo District Court – Reiwa3(wa)22287]

3D mark of Hermès Birkin and Kelly Bag

HERMES INTERNATIONAL, a French luxury fashion house, has owned Japanese trademark registration no. 5438059 for the 3D shape of the “Birkin” bag and no. 5438058 for the “Kelly” bag in connection with handbags (class 25) since 2011 by successfully demonstrating acquired secondary meaning as a specific source indicator of Hermès’ luxury bags.

Birkin and Kelly Bag Imitations

Hermes sued NAO INTERNATIONAL Co., Ltd. at the Tokyo District Court for violating its trademark right and the unfair competition prevention law by allegedly selling 214 Birkin look-alike bags and 184 Kelly look-alike bags in Japan with a price tag of JPY2,270 (approx. USD20) at their brick-and-mortal shops and online shop from December 20, 2019, to February 13, 2021.

Court decision

The Tokyo District Court found that the defendant’s bags respectively resemble 3D marks representing Hermès Birkin and Kelly Bag in an appearance on the ground that the defendant’s bags contain a basic and unique configuration enabling to distinguish Hermès Birkin and Kelly Bag from others. A difference in details is trivial and would not give rise to a distinctive impression in the mind of consumers.

Taking into consideration the fact that both bags are promoted for sale at the department store, the court has a reason to believe relevant consumers are likely to confuse the source of the defendant’s bags with Hermes.

Even though there is a severe price gap between the Hermes bag and the defendant bag, bearing in mind that authentic second-hand Hermès handbags are sold relatively at low prices, such a price gap would be anything but sufficient to negate the likelihood of confusion.

The court measured damages to recover (i) the defendant’s actual profits of infringing bags (JPY5,150,140) by reducing 20% (not attributable to goodwill on Hermès bags) for JPY4,120,112, (ii) “mental suffering” caused by an infringement for JPY1,000,000, and (iii) reasonable attorney fee for JPY520,000.

To read a full text of the Tokyo District Court decision (Japanese only), click here.

HERMES scores victory in trademark battle over KELLY

In a trademark opposition at the Japan Patent Office (JPO), French luxury brand HERMES achieved victory to stop the registration of a word mark “D. KELLY” over bags and pouches in class 18.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900177, Gazette issue date: March 27, 2020]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, “D.KELLY” was applied for registration on August 25, 2017 by designating bags and pouches in class 18, and published for registration on May 22, 2018 without any office action from the JPO examiner.

Applicant, a Japanese individual, apparently operates brick-and -mortar shops in Japan and on-line shop to promote hand bags, shoulder bags, tote bags, rucksacks/backpacks and other fashion items.
“D.KELLY” is used on the bags and as its shop name.

Hermes Kelly Bag

Opponent, HERMES INTERNATIONAL, a French luxury fashion house, claimed that the opposed mark “D.KELLY” shall be liable for cancellation under Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing the Hermes Kelly Bag and an owned senior trademark registration no. 4341534 for word mark “KELLY” in standard character over bags, pouches and other goods in class 18.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to prohibit from registering a junior mark which is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark.

Hermes argued opposed mark is perceived as a combination of “D.” and “KELLLY”. The prefix “D.” per se lacks distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question. The mark as a whole does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. As a consequence, the literal portion of “KELLY” shall play a dominant role as a source indicator. If so, opposed mark is deemed confusingly similar to “KELLY” owned by Hermes. Besides, both marks designate same goods in class 18.

Article 4(1)(xv) provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with other business entity’s well-known goods or services, to the benefit of brand owner and consumers.

Given a remarkable degree of reputation of Hermes “Kelly” Bag in relation to bags, relevant consumers with an ordinary care would associate “D.KELLY” with Hermes and confuse its source when used on bags and pouches because “KELLY” is not a common surname in Japan and thus the term is more distinctive than “D.”.

JPO decision

The Opposition Board of JPO sided with Hermes and decided to cancel opposed mark by stating that:

  1. From the produced evidences, Hermes has continuously used the cited mark on bag since 1956, inspired by an icon, Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. The bag has been advertised or publicized in fashion magazines and internet frequently. Annual sales consecutively reach in the range of JPY 1.6 to 4.6 billion, which amounts 2,000 to 4,000 bags in quantity, for the past fifteen years. The Board admits a high degree of reputation and popularity of opponent mark “KELLY” as a source indicator of Hermes bag.
  2. The Board considers opposed mark is a compound mark of “D” and “KELLY” placing dot(.) in-between. Since an alphabetical letter “D” lacks distinctiveness, relevant consumers would conceive the portion of “KELLY” as a dominant source indicator. If so, opposed mark may give rise to a meaning of Hermes brand bag, identical pronunciation and appearance with opponent’s mark. It is unquestionable that goods in question belongs to that of the citation.
  3. Provided that Hermes “Kelly Bag” has been rather known for in a name of “Kelly Bag” than “Kelly”, the Board finds a high degree of similarity between the marks in relation to bags. If so, it is undeniable that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse opposed mark with Hermes “Kelly Bag” or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with Hermes International.
  4. Based on the foregoing, opposed mark shall be liable for cancellation based on Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv).