By judgment no. 472 of 14 January 2016, the IP Court of Milan (Judges Mr Marangoni, Mrs Dal Moro and Mrs Giani) ruled that jeans produced by Germani Group and distributed by Il Passatempo infringed Max Mara’s italian patent on “a pocket for clothing” that can “enhance and shape the forms of the wearers, with particular reference to the gluteus area”.
The Court dismissed the defendants’ exception of patent invalidity, based on the alleged lack of inventive step. A three-dimensional pocket that well adapts to the body constitutes an appropriate technical solution for a very clear technical problem: the reduction of the jeans unpleasant aesthetic effect of flattening and the increase in comfort. “This technical solution involves an inventive step, since for a person in the art it was not evident from the state of the art.”
The Court recognized that the patent infringement amounted also to unfair competition for contrast with professional ethics principles under art. 2598 no. 3) Italian Civil Code.
With reference to the distributor, the Court excluded its exemption from liability because unaware of the infringing nature of the saled product. Since intellectual property rights are subject to a system of publicity, the Court argued that market operators are presumed to be aware of their existence. As a consequence, the sale of i
nfringing goods amounts to infringement unless the distributor gives evidence that he was unaware, without his fault, of the infringement. That was not the case, since the distributor continued in marketing the infringing product even after the date of notification of the summons.
As regards the assessment of damages, the Court ordered the defendants to return the profits derived from the sale of the infringing products pursuant to art. 125 Italian Code of Industrial Property. This remedy was granted notwithstanding that Max Mara had not provided any evidence of the alleged damages and loss of profits. Even if the infringement does not give rise to damages, in any case it cannot enrich its authors, which will have to return their profits.
The decision seems to set the inventive step’s threshold required to get patent protection at a particularly low level. The related risk is that the same owner could claim different protections in relation to the same products. Indeed, in connection with the same jeans, design or even trademark protection could be successfully invoked as well.
Court of Milan, 14 January 2016, n. 472, Max Mara v. Germani Group et al.