Competitors triumph as court dismisses Stokke’s imitation claims

Denmark

In Stokke AS v Jysk A/S (Cases V-127-10, V-75-11 and V-9-12, June 4 2013), the Maritime and Commercial Court has found that the defendants’ highchairs were not confusingly similar to Stokke AS’s Tripp Trapp chair.

Norwegian company Stokke has manufactured and marketed children's highchairs under the name Tripp Trapp since the early 1970s. The chair was designed by Peter Opsvik.

In previous Supreme Court decisions, it had been ascertained that the chair enjoyed copyright protection as a work of applied art. Furthermore, since 2004 the chair has been registered as a three-dimensional (3D) trademark in Denmark.

Stokke argued that the highchairs produced by the three defendants - Jysk A/S, Schou Company A/S and Jan Bøgh - were confusingly similar to its chairs and obtained interim injunctions against the marketing of the defendants' products.

In all three cases, the Maritime and Commercial Court found for the defendants and rejected claims that their chairs were confusingly similar to Stokke's.

The court stated that there was no doubt that Stokke's chair was protected both by copyright and as a 3D trademark. However, the court also noted that, in a 2001 Supreme Court decision, it had been established that the Tripp Trapp chair was characterised by the straight lines and stringent form in combination with the use of an 'L-form' for the side rails and the horizontal legs.

With regard to one of the chairs (which is marketed under the name 'Steve'), the majority of the judges found that the only characteristic from the Tripp Trapp chair that also appeared in the Steve chair was the constructive idea, which can be freely used. The L-shape and the horizontal legs were not repeated; rather, in the Steve chair the legs formed an upturned 'Y'. The judges also noted other differences between the two designs and consequently found that the Steve chair was sufficiently separate from the characteristics of the Tripp Trapp chair. The fact that the Tripp Trapp chair was registered as a 3D trademark could not affect the result, as there was no close imitation.

The judges all agreed that the above arguments also applied with regard to another of the chairs. Furthermore, they noted that, although there were constructive likenesses between the chairs, these likenesses were functional and thereby did not constitute a close imitation.

In recent years, the Danish market for highchairs has become distorted following a number of cases in which Stokke has successfully pursued competitors for marketing similar highchairs, despite arguments that such chairs could not be mistaken for Tripp Trapp chairs by an informed user. These decisions thus provide a welcome respite.

Mads Marstrand-Jørgensen, MAQS Law Firm, Copenhagen

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