L’Oréal, the French cosmetics giant, on Thursday won an important legal battle against a copycat rival, opening the way to similar claims by other owners of big brand names.
The judgment against Bellure, which markets cheaper imitations of top L’Oréal perfumes, will help big companies in sectors from technology to pharmaceuticals, lawyers said.
The case is the latest twist in the long-running battle by brand owners to protect their products in a world made more complex by the explosion of mimics, counterfeiting and internet retail.
Geoff Steward, partner at Macfarlanes, the London law firm, said the latest ruling by the European Court of Justice – Europe’s top court – was bad news for companies whose designs rode “on the coat-tails” of the market leading brand.
He said: “The L’Oréal decision should sound the death knell on look-alike and own-label products.”
The European court said Bellure’s products – whose bottles and packaging mimic those of L’Oréal’s Trésor, Miracle, Anaïs-Anaïs and Noa fragrances – enjoyed an unfair commercial advantage because of the similarity. It also ruled against Bellure’s use of “smell-a-like” price lists, in which it compared the prices of its copycat perfumes with those of the L’Oréal originals.
Kirsten Gilbert, solicitor at Marks & Clerk, an intellectual property specialist, said the judgment opened the door wider for brand owners to allege imitators of their products enjoyed an unfair advantage.
Isabel Davies, a partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, the law firm, said that the ruling was important because it showed copycat companies could be sued successfully even if – as in Bellure’s case – their products were not doing any damage to the brand they were aping.
The victory for L’Oréal follows a legal setback last month after a Paris court said it should settle a counterfeit dispute with Ebay, the online auctioneer.
The Tribunal de Grande Instance ruled that Ebay was not liable for sales of counterfeit goods on its auction site.
Other European courts have delivered mixed verdicts on similar cases, raising concerns that brand owners could end up with a patchwork of different legal rights across the Continent and beyond. Lawyers contrasted the L’Oréal judgment with a European Court of Justice ruling last year in a case involving Intel, the US chipmaker, which suggested businesses might have difficulty protecting trademarks from encroachment by rivals.
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