LONDON — U.K. supermarket chain Tesco lost another round in its court battle with Levi Strauss & Co. and for now has conceded defeat.
This story first appeared in the August 1, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
On Wednesday, the High Court in London upheld a November ruling by the European Court of Justice that retailers importing goods less expensively from outside Europe without Levi’s consent were in contravention of European Union trademark laws.
Levi’s called the case a “clear win, a definitive win for brand owners, who are ensured the right to decide how to distribute their products in Europe.”
Tesco, however, will still be able to sell Levi’s, as long as they are sourced from within the European Union.
“Today’s ruling does not stop Tesco from importing clothes from the European Union, where they are significantly cheaper, to sell to British customers at massive discounts. Levi jeans remain on sale in Tesco stores for $49.50, bought from Europe,” the company said in a statement.
A pair of Levi’s 501 jeans cost about $69 in a U.K. Levi’s store.
Tesco director John Gildersleeve conceded: “After a long battle to promote free trade and clear the way to allow imports of cheaper clothes from outside Europe, it seems we’ve run out of legal road. Our customers think this is a daft law, so it’s time for the lawmakers, the government and the European Union to get it changed and give consumers the lower prices they want,” he added.
Tesco sold about $165 million in so-called gray goods in 2001.
Joe Middleton, president of Levi Strauss Europe, Mideast and Africa, said: “We are eager to put this case behind us, and focus on doing what we do best — marketing the world’s best-known jeans.”
The High Court was widely expected to follow the precedent of the EU court. The case needed to return to the U.K. court in order for the ruling to be implemented.
The spat with Tesco dates back to 1998, when Levi’s filed a complaint in a British court. Levi’s contended that by importing gray goods, Tesco had infringed European trademark laws. Levi’s said that having its jeans sold in Tesco, which also sells groceries, damaged its brand image.