On the eve of the Wall Street stock market flotation, and after peaking in popularity with their “guest appearance” in Greta Gerwig’s film “Barbie”, comes a nasty setback in the seemingly unstoppable run of success of the world-famous Birkenstocks. The manufacturer of the iconic ugly-chic sandals has been beaten (again) in court by the (much smaller) Goldstar-Valleverde group.
The Romagna-based company, with its factory in Coriano di Rimini, prevailed against the German giant led by LVMH, a French giant whose investment fund, L Catterton, owns the majority of Birkenstock.
The object of desire or rather of the controversy is a sole: or better the “classic” woven pattern of the soles of Birkenstock sandals, which the German manufacturer and the Italian Goldstar-Valleverde group share.
The dispute between the two parties arose seven years ago, when Birkenstock sued Valleverde for infringement of Intellectual Property. The bone of contention, in fact, was the design of the soles of the two sandals, which looks similar, but which Valleverde has repeatedly proven to have been using for over 40 years.
A legal battle that over the past 7 years has raged on several fronts, passing through the courts of Italy, France, Benelux and finally Germany, the “lion’s den”.
It was a debacle for Birkenstock, since the rulings always favored the Italian group, up to and including the latest decision in recent days before the German Federal Court regarding the registrability of Birkenstock’s sole weave.
“In this decision, the GPTO (German Patent and Trademark Office) came to the conclusion that Birkenstock’s position mark no. 30 2015 053 169 should be cancelled on the basis of lack of distinctiveness within the meaning of Sec. 8 par. 2 No. 1 of the German Trademark Law” – so reads the text of the judgment.
During this litigation, all attempts by Birkenstock to both patent its models and register the sole design as a trademark were challenged: “In the various courts”, reads a statement signed by Elvio Silvagni, president of the Silver1 group, which owns the Goldstar, Valleverde and Biochic brands, “we have proven that this is a sole that we have been using for 40 years, and which we can therefore use quite legitimately. This latest verdict simply confirms what had already been established by the European Court of Justice in its 2018 ruling and then in Italy, Germany and the Benelux”.
“A legal battle that has now lasted for over seven years”, reads the note, “and which has so far seen the small Italian group always see its rights vindicated”.
It seems, however, that seven years of battles, let alone the rulings by courts across Europe, are not enough for Birkenstock, because, according to the latest reports in various media, it seems that the queen of sandals has already decided to appeal the Federal Court decision before the German Supreme Court.
As in any self-respecting soap opera, therefore, the last episode of the series ends on a cliffhanger, foreshadowing the arrival of an exciting new season…