Luxury brand Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) has overcome two Community design challenges centring on its handbags that were filed by retailer H&M. On September 10, the European General Court affirmed the decisions by the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) that two of YSL’s handbag designs had “individual character”. Both designs covered handbags with a rectangular shape with no visible seams on the body. One covered a darker brown version of the bag and the other a lighter version.
YSL applied for two Community designs in 2006. Three years later, H&M opposed the applications on the grounds that they had “no individual character” and invoked an earlier H&M design in support of its challenge. OHIM’s Opposition Division rejected H&M’s challenges in 2011 and the Third Board of Appeal upheld those decisions two years later. EU law on Community designs states that examiners must judge whether a design has “individual character” by taking into “consideration the nature of the product to which the design is applied ... and the degree of freedom of the designer in developing the design”.
The court agreed with OHIM’s rulings that the designer’s “degree of freedom was high”. The court acknowledged that there were key differences between YSL’s design and H&M’s cited evidence, saying that H&M’s design covered a bag with a curved base and displayed seams across three sections of the bag.
In the verdict the court said that “it must be held that the differences between the designs at issue are significant and that similarities between them are insignificant in the overall impression which they produce”.
“Consequently, the board of appeal’s assessment must be confirmed in as much as it found that the contested design produced an overall impression on the informed user which was different from that produced by the earlier design,” the court added.