A recent newspaper story has highlighted the merits of resolving IP disputes without resorting to litigation, where issues of reputation are at stake. 

Fashion giant Chanel has apologised to Fair Isle designer Mati Ventrillon for using a design of a jumper which she had created as part of Chanel's international fashion show.

The dispute

Back in the summer of 2015, two Chanel staff visited Ventrillon's studio on the tiny Scottish island between Orkney and Shetland and bought a few items, on the understanding that they were to be used for research purposes. However, a jumper bearing a striking similarity to one designed by Ventrillon was then used on the catwalk at a Chanel show in Rome. Ventrillon contacted Chanel directly to raise the issue and also took to social media to question the use of her design posting a piece on Facebook with the title "Endorsement or plagiarism?"

The resolution

Chanel took notice and, while stopping short of acknowledging any liability, it apologised to the designer and confirmed that it will include an acknowledgement (in the form of the words "Mati Ventrillon design") in its communication tools to recognise her contribution in inspiring the design. Chanel admitted that "dysfunctionality" in its teams had caused the issue and recognised the "heritage and know-how" of Fair Isle.

A win-win result

The fashion industry is famously fast-paced in the creation, use and disposal of designs. As such, it can be difficult to identify infringements before the damage has been done and by then it is often too late to obtain any injunctive relief. There can of course still be a claim for damages and other non-financial remedies (such as publication of a Court order in which infringement is confirmed) but for smaller value disputes, this is often not a commercially viable option. This case demonstrates that providing an apology can assist in reaching a quick and effective resolution to a dispute, particularly as part of an out of court settlement. Chanel's statement was carefully crafted and it notably only went as far as to acknowledge that Ventrillon had "inspired" its design. It quite clearly stopped short of acknowledging any rights which Ventrillon may claim to have in the design in question, such as copyright.

Chanel's approach to resolving the dispute gained wide spread media coverage but in doing so, it raised the profiles of Ventrillon and Fair Isle and secured an association with (and an endorsement from) one of the biggest fashion houses in the world. Ventrillon has said that the outcome will help strengthen the relationship between the fashion and craft industries and that "that's enough for the moment", so she clearly seems satisfied with the resolution reached. As far as Chanel is concerned, it resolved the dispute without significant damage to its brand. In short, it was a win-win solution.

This dispute illustrates how a willingness to reach a compromise which has benefits to both parties can be the most effective resolution to a dispute and it is always worth keeping an open mind on the options to avoid litigation.