At left is a Santa V-branded bag, which a Seoul-based manufacturer imitated from the iconic Louis Vuitton speedy bag.
By Jane Han
Louis Vuitton Malletier, a unit of French luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said Thursday that it has won a lawsuit filed last year against a Korean wholesaler, which has been manufacturing and selling imitation bags under the brand Santa V for the past 18 years.
This is the first time the luxury goods retailer has raised a trademark infringement claim in South Korea, sending a warning to domestic abusers of the iconic luxury label.
The lawsuit accused two defendants, identified by the surnames Yoon and Ha, the operators of a shop in central Seoul, of selling and manufacturing Louis Vuitton trademarks and designs since 1991.
The Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of the European brand, saying that there was a likelihood of confusion based on the ``intuitively recognized motif, overall composition, arrangement and expression.''
The defendants appealed twice, pushing the case through to the High Court and Supreme Court. But after the High Court ruled in favor of Louis Vuitton, citing additional grounds of trademark dilution, the Supreme Court last month ended the legal battle by dismissing the appeal and banning Yoon and Ha from selling bags that infringe the Louis Vuitton Monogram.
The world's largest luxury group declined to disclose the amount it was granted in damages. However, in May 2009, the defendants' residential property was put under provisional attachment for $240,000 in anticipation of seeking damages.
``This is a particularly interesting and meaningful case for Louis Vuitton,'' said Seo Ik-hyun, a partner at Cho & Partners who represents Louis Vuitton in Korea.
He explained that the findings on dilution are ``extremely favorable, affording a broad scope of protection than a straightforward trademark infringement claim.''
``The decision should have significant implications against many other imitation products available in the market,'' Seo said.
Louis Vuitton was the No. 1 counterfeited luxury label in South Korea this year, according to the Korea Customs Service.
Among 36,841 knock-offs confiscated in the first six months of the year, Louis Vuitton imitations accounted for 55.6 percent, followed by MCM (12.9 percent), Chanel (6.7 percent), Nike (2.5 percent) and Gucci (2 percent).
The fashion group has been ramping up its global crackdown against counterfeits. Most recently in South Korea, Louis Vuitton, with the help of local authorities, clamped down on four factories and three warehouses in Gyeonggi Province in April.
Around 900,000 counterfeit spare parts were seized and five people were arrested, the company said in a statement.