House of mirrors: a rise in IP infringement allegations
Along with the rise of small businesses and independent content creators on social media platforms, we’ve also seen a rise in intellectual property infringement allegations. A recent case concerns boutique store House of Zana, which specialises in handmade kimonos and consists of a single physical outpost in Darlington. Earlier this year, Amber Kotrri, the owner of the small business, was contacted by legal representatives from Zara, alleging that her business was “conceptually identical” to that of the high street giant. Zara claimed that Kotrri’s business was “confusingly similar” for consumers and that the name “diluted the distinctiveness and reputation of the Zara brand.” In response, Kotrri says she was given just three months to rebrand but refused. Instead, the dispute was taken to a tribunal which ultimately found that the link between the two brands was “too insubstantial.”
Tara Sartoria, a small business specialising in silk garments from small villages in Vietnam and Indonesia, also claims to have been contacted by Zara’s legal representatives concerning branding.
So, what does it actually mean to be “conceptually identical”? Graham Soult, a retail consultant, tweets: “If Zara is objecting to an independent business called House of Zana, where does it end? H&M trying to close down B&M because part of the name is the same?” There are multiple strands of IP infringements listed on gov.uk: copyright; patent; design; and trademark. In the case of House of Zana v Zara, it was likely a trademark infringement allegation, which claims the use of ‘an identical or similar trademark’ for ‘identical or similar goods and services to a registered trademark’ may be “infringing the registered mark if your use creates a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public.” The guidelines further note: “Where the registered mark has a significant reputation, infringement may also arise from the use of the same or a similar mark which, although not causing confusion, damages or takes unfair advantage of the reputation of the registered mark.”
Whether you’re representing the alleged or the alleger, as an IP lawyer, you’ll need to stay updated on all registers of patents, trademarks, and registered designs to protect your client. Zara’s legal representatives became aware of Kotrri’s business when she applied to trademark House of Zana.
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