Denim Wars: G-Star vs. Voi

March 5th, 2015

about-gstar_676As reported in Drapers, G-Star recently stopped rival denim brand Voi from selling a copycat style jean. Design right cases are few and far between in the English High Court, particularly when those rights are unregistered, so Fashionista was interested to read the judgment.

G-Star is one of Europe’s leading denim brands and the case focused on its “Arc Pant” design which launched in 2008. The Defendants were a collection of companies who, to various extents, have been involved in the importation and sale of under the Voi brand in the UK.  In all instances, the Defendants’ products were made abroad by third party suppliers.

G-Star alleged that a total of nine styles of Voi jeans infringed its unregistered design rights in the Arc Pant. As G-Star relied on unregistered rights, it had the burden of proving that Voi had copied its Arc Pant design when making the infringing Voi styles. As the Voi styles were all made abroad by third party suppliers, G-Star’s claim was based on secondary infringement, i.e. that Voi knew or had reason to believe that the jeans they were importing and selling were copies of G-Star’s designs. The judge confirmed that the Arc Pant design is not commonplace, and was therefore protected by unregistered design rights.

Arc Pant

G-Star relied on five key design elements of its Arc Pant:

(i) the shape of the legs in the most capacious arrangement that the arrangement of fabric allows,

(ii) the shape of a third pattern piece along the length of the inside of the leg,

(iii) an accentuated knee portion, achieved in part by gathering fabric using a diagonal dart on the inside leg of the front panel,

(iv) a foreshortened back panel resulting from an additional seam, and

(v) the twisted leg configuration achieved y combining the features (i) to (iv).

The judge compared the Voi jeans to  G-Star’s design wand considered any differences were insubstantial. Based on the similarities between G-Star’s designs and the Voi styles, the Judge found that copying had taken place. A key reason for this finding was that Rhodi failed to provide an adequate explanation of their design process.   They instead submitted the “improbable” story that rudimentary instructions were given to factories in Pakistan and India and the Voi designs were produced as a result. Key designers did not give evidence and instead a witness was presented who “has no training, is bad at drawing and cannot materially use a computer”.

When considering whether the relevant Voi companies had the relevant knowledge to be liable, the Court considered that senior staff responsible for overall design and purchasing decisions would at least have had reason to believe that the Voi styles were infringing articles, particularly as G-Star and Voi had settled a dispute relating to the Arc Pant back in 2010.

G-Star also tried to hold two former officers of the Defendant companies personally liable. Officers of companies can be held as joint torfeasors if they share a common design with the infringing company. The relevant individuals in this case were held not to infringe as they were not sufficiently involved in the design process or infringing activities.

This decision confirms G-Star’s ownership of the design in its Arc Pant style of jean which it will no doubt find very useful in any further enforcement actions.

For fashion brands, the case also acts as a useful reminder that they should keep full records of their internal design process so that, if challenged, they can show how their design was derived from the original idea through to the final garment put on sale.

By: Sarah Wright
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