Singapore – Louis Vuitton gets tough on local retailer

Leading luxury and fashion goods company Louis Vuitton won a High Court judgment against a Hong Kong based watch retailer, City Chain, for trademark infringement in Singapore.

LV’s issue was with certain watches sold by City Chain under its Solvil brand. LV believes that City Chain were infringing on its trademark, a flower with four pointed petals. LV claimed that the Solvil watches had a floral design that was similar to its trademarked motif – a flower with four pointed petals. Not only did this create confusion for the consumer, but also the fact that the selling of look-alike watches in the mass market would damage LV’s image of exclusivity therefore diluting its market.

City Chain have been ordered to hand over the watches sold under the house brand to LV, and their application to dismiss separate criminal chargers brought by LV rejected.

City Chain had been contesting LV’s suit, which sought a court order against them to stop selling the watches. LV claimed that their brand enjoyed goodwill and reputation in its name and products; and that the goodwill was in its trademarks.

LV watches were launched in 2002 and have been sold in Singapore since 2004. Priced between S$4,000 and S$65,000, watch sales accrued between S$1.7 million to S$1.9 million annually between 2005 and 2007. The Solvil watches were launched in November 2006 and cost S$149. Apart from the famous ‘LV’ monogram, its three other graphical motifs are registered as trademarks in Singapore and around the world.

Last year, LV obtained search warrants and raided four City Chain outlets in Singapore to seize the watches. The same watches are sold in China and Malaysia.

LV argued that the prominent floral designs on the Solvil watches were similar, if not identical, to those on LV watches. LV feared that unwary members of the public might think the watches come from LV, especially with the small typeface of the ‘Solvil’ name on them. LV contended that City Chain had in fact deliberately copied LV’s designs in order to appeal to the large consumer group that desired to own LV products but were without the means to do so. They argued that LV products were intended to be exclusive and that the sale of items in the mass market, like City Chain does, would damage its image of exclusivity, causing LV’s existing customers to turn away.

City Chain on the other hand argued that the floral designs on its watches were not at all similar to LV’s marks. In fact it further argued that it was using the designs merely as decorative elements and not trademarks since their trademark ‘Solvil’ was clearly marked on its watches. Furthermore, the prices of Solvil watches were extremely different to LV’s watches and the customer base totally different.

It was noted that City Chain did not offer any evidence as to how it had obtained the design for its watches, and also withheld the identity of the designers as well as not call any of them as witnesses.

City Chain totally disagrees that the marks on its Solvil watches are identical or even similar to LV’s registered marks. City Chain is very disappointed with this decision and is in the process of consulting with it’s lawyers as to whether to appeal on decision, especially since no reasons were given for the decision.

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