Irish Eyes Aren't Smiling
A striped shirt made history last week.
Of course, it wasn't just any striped shirt. It was a shirt by British designer Karen Millen that, along with 2 other items, became the first article of clothing subject to a decision regarding infringement under the E.U.'s 2002 unregistered design right regulation. Irish High Court Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan found that the defendant, Dunnes Stores, had copied the 3 garments and rejected the defense's argument that the KM shirts and sweater lacked "individual character" and failed "to produce on the informed user a different overall impression" from other similar garments. In reaching her decision, the judge said that the court would take into account the color, texture, and material used in the designs.
Despite the significance of the case and the E.U.'s treatment of fashion as equivalent to other objects of design, the press couldn't resist making light of the subject matter or the attorneys arguing over it, including former Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell for the plaintiff. An article in the Sunday Independent shortly after the trial noted:
Rarely have the fripperies of fashion been dissected with such gravitas in an Irish courtroom. Over four days last week, the middle-aged [male] barristers at times struggled to suppress their chuckles as they crossed swords over ribbed stitching, layered borders, sweetheart necklines and bust-hugging fibres. They did so in a court room littered with copies of Marie Claire magazine, door stopper editions of Vogue and expensive handbags.
And when the question of whether the KM designs were in fact sufficiently new to deserve protection arose, the judge had to remind the parties that the question before the court was not whether "hypothetical husbands" would recognize the difference.
Still, in a battle between stuffed shirts, the new striped shirt carried the day -- at least in Ms. Justice Finlay Geoghehan's courtroom.