On 26 July 2018, the Brussels Court of Appeal confirmed the judgment of the Brussels Commercial Court of 25 October 2017 on whether Longchamp, owned by the Jean Cassegrain company ("Longchamp"), had a copyright in its famous handbag design "Le Pliage" and whether this copyright had been infringed by S.A. Confiserie Leonidas ("Leonidas").
The dispute arose in 2016 when Leonidas started to give away to its customers shopping bags resembling Longchamp's Le Pliage as a reward for any purchase in excess of EUR 28.
In a cease-and-desist procedure (stakingsvordering/action en cessation) initiated by Longchamp, the President of the Brussels French-language Commercial Court ordered Leonidas to cease the distribution of the handbags at issue.
Leonidas appealed this judgment to the Brussels Court of Appeal (the "Court") and invoked a judgment handed down by the Ghent Commercial Court in 2014, which held that Longchamp did not have a copyright in Le Pliage. Leonidas argued that this 2014 judgment should be enforceable against and by third parties to the proceedings, similar to administrative decisions relating to patents, trade marks and designs, which are also valid erga omnes. The Court did not uphold this argument. Instead, it pointed to numerous judgments which had acknowledged copyright protection for Longchamp's handbags and which judgments had no lesser value than the 2014 judgment.
In addition, Leonidas claimed that, in any case, Longchamp's handbag design did not bear a sufficiently distinctive character to benefit from copyright protection. The Court dismissed this argument as well and found that a combination of elements constituted a determined, concrete and original form, giving rise to a copyright in Longchamp's Le Pliage.
Finally, Leonidas argued against any copyright infringement. In this respect, the Court held that Longchamp's design derived its distinctiveness from a combination of otherwise ordinary elements. Accordingly, an infringement would arise if the same combination was apparent in the design of the handbags distributed by Leonidas. The Court confirmed that this was the case.
According to the Court, both designs gave an identical "overall impression". As a result, the Court found that Leonidas had infringed Longchamp's copyright and upheld the judgment at first instance.
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