Patents in the fashion industry: Why is AGFA suing Gucci?
Updated: Oct 27
It is quite unusual to see a patent dispute in the fashion sector, so a recent case filed before the new Unified Patent Court (UPC) by Agfa against Gucci is attracting some interest.
The UPC opened in June 2023 after many years of delays. It has jurisdiction over the new European patents with unitary effect and existing European patents in participating member states (unless these have been opted out by the patent proprietor).
Currently, the UPC Agreement is in force in 17 EU Member States, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.
A new patent court for Europe
Most of the cases brought before the UPC so far have been, predictably, in areas such as biotechnology, medical devices and telecoms. However, the case filed by AGFA relates to a European patent (EP 3 388 490) for “Decorating natural leather”. The abstract states (with figure references removed):
“A manufacturing method for decorating natural leather with a decorative image including the steps of: applying on a crusted leather a base coat containing a pigment for providing a chromatic colour or an achromatic colour different from black; inkjet printing a colour image on the base coat using one or more pigmented UV curable inkjet inks; optionally applying a protective top coat on the image; and optionally applying a heat pressing or embossing step; wherein the chromatic colour or the achromatic colour different from black of the base coat and the inkjet printed colour image are used in combination to provide the decorative image.”
The patent was granted on 21 July 2021.
According to UPC documents, AGFA is suing nine Gucci companies in various countries for patent infringement. The case was filed on 16 August 2023 before the Hamburg division of the Court and the language of the proceeding is English.
More details about the case, including the alleged infringing Gucci products, are likely to emerge in the next few weeks. The UPC rules provide for written exchanges followed by a hearing, which is likely to last up to one day in most cases.
What does this mean?
The UPC has attracted much interest among European patent practitioners as it offers the opportunity to obtain remedies across 17 territories in one action. (Conversely, it also enables third parties to file actions to invalidate a patent across the same number of territories.) It will therefore be very interesting to see how this case progresses before the Court.
While patent cases in the fashion industry are fairly rare, they may become more common as technology and fashion continue to converge - for example, in the realm of digital fashion. The extent to which courts issue favourable rulings on infringement may be a determining factor. The UPC covers some of the biggest markets for fashion goods in Europe (apart from the UK*), so it could be a cost-effective way to enforce patents in the sector.
If you are interested in finding out more about the technology at the heart of this case, there is a great article by a patent attorney and my former fellow IPKat blogger Darren Smyth.