Background of the case
Louis Vuitton is a company that operates in 50 countries with more than 460 stores worldwide. It is a part of Meet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) Group. Its products are advertised in various countries under the said trademark. In addition to the name “Louis Vuitton” as a trademark its initials “LV” as used as the trademark since 1890.
Louis Vuitton Dak – It is a South Korean fried chicken restaurant based in Seoul owned by Kim. The restaurant's name is a play on the Korean word tong dak, which means "whole chicken." The logo of the restaurant also bore a striking resemblance to the French fashion house's signature monogram. Louis Vuitton saw resemblance as an issue that would inevitably lead to customer confusion and sent the restaurant a cease-and-desist letter. In September 2015 this case was taken to court alleging the violation of the “Unfair competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act”. In addition to the name infringement, the restaurant's logo and packaging closely mirrored the designer's iconic imagery.
The Court while deciding the case considered the long duration the mark was used for/infringed, and the deliberate intention with respect to infringement activities. Louis Vuitton demanded a complete change of the name and the Seoul Central District Court ordered the restaurant owner to pay close to $12,750 a day to the fashion brand for 29 days that the amended name was displayed. The restaurant was ultimately hit with another 14.5 million fine for non-compliance, after changing its name immediately after the first ruling to LOUISVUI TONDAK.
Curse of big brands
The reality is that cases such as this one are numerous and their number will keep increasing in the upcoming years. According to the data compiled by the Korea Customs Service, about 467.9 billion won worth of counterfeit bags, or 1,866 cases, were seized from January 2017 to August last year. Louis Vuitton was the most frequent victim of counterfeiting, followed by Chanel, Gucci, and Hermes . The local fashion industry also predicts that the number of knockoffs has increased during the pandemic since people chose to secretly buy and sell the copies through social media platforms.
As start-up culture grows, entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to get a quick boost ahead of their competition. Taking advantage of the success of established brands such as LV through similar imagery and names attracts immediate consumer attention and curiosity, thus gaining wider recognition for the business when it first opens its doors. However, small businesses shouldn’t forget that by mimicking a registered trademark they are infringing on the brand’s intellectual property rights, which will most likely cost them more in the long run compared to relatively small gains in the beginning.