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Burberry wages legal battle against Ssangbangwool

Fashion insiders say claims valid, but Burberry may be seeking to renew brand identity with lawsuits

Burberry Korea on Monday announced that it would sue a local underwear maker for abusing its idiosyncratic tartan pattern and infringing the trademark law.

This will be the 18th lawsuit filed by the British fashion company since 2011. The U.K.-based luxury brand has held a trademark right for its iconic check pattern at the Korean Intellectual Property Office since 1998.

Burberry Korea said it issued a warning against Ssangbangwool for infringing its trademark rights in early January when the local underwear maker sold a slew of men’s boxers with the check patterns under the brand TRY. 
Burberry’s pattern (left) and Ssangbangwool’s pattern (right)
Burberry’s pattern (left) and Ssangbangwool’s pattern (right)

“The tartan pattern with two sets of crisscrossing lines is what makes Burberry distinctive,” said a person close to the issue. “Ssangbangwool has copied that critical part of the brand, and should therefore face the consequences,” he added.

In addition to demanding 100 million won ($94,000) in compensation, Burberry is reportedly planning to demand that the items be pulled from the market. The submission is expected to take place no later than Tuesday.

Ssangbangwool said its legal counsel is looking over the matter and declined to comment further.

The British company, which established its Korean office in 2002, has been aggressively protecting its intellectual property, and its list of defendants range from large corporations such as LG Fashion and the former Cheil Industries to smaller and lesser-known labels.

The latest well-known case was its feud with LG Fashion’s Daks, which is also known for a series of checkered patterns on a beige background. The local court in February made a compulsory mediation ruling LG to pay 30 million won in return for Burberry dropping the suit.

In 2006, Burberry unsuccessfully sued Cheil Industry’s Bean Pole.

Fashion insiders say Burberry, whose sales have been slipping, seems out to create momentum through the legal cases.

The brand posted 228.1 billion won in sales and an operating profit of 21 billion won in 2013, which reflects a 5.3 percent and 38.8 percent fall from the previous year, respectively. Net profit likewise dipped 35.1 percent from the previous year. The brand has been steadily dropping out of Korean department stores including Lotte and Shinsegae.

“Luxury brands have been very protective of their assets, and trademarks are no exception. We will seek tighter monitoring,” an insider said.

On the other hand, some experts point out that Korean fashion houses need to become more creative instead of copying others.

LG Fashion’s Lafuma’s shoes have been accused by French outdoor brand Salomon for copying the design of its soles. Canadian cold-weather apparel line Canada Goose in 2013 warned local fashion companies about copying its brand’s tags.

“It is true that territories in fashion have been rather blurred, and many brands just followed one after the other in the name of trends. We should change that,” a fashion critic said.

By Bae Ji-sook (