FRENCH LINGERIE MAKER WINS COURT CASE OVER 2 VF UNITS

Byline: Katherine Weisman

PARIS — French lingerie maker Chantelle has won a court decision against two lingerie divisions of VF Corp.
According to a judicial announcement published last week, the Paris Court of Appeals handed down a judgment in January finding VF Diffusion and VF Boutiques liable for copyright infringement and unfair competition.
The court ordered the VF companies to pay $17,800 (100,000 francs) plus a provisional sum for damages of $89,000 (500,000 francs). The court appointed an expert to determine the total damages the VF companies owe Chantelle. The published announcement was also part of the court’s decision.
According to VF counsel Pierre Lenoir, VF Diffusion and VF Boutiques have appealed the decision before France’s Cour de Cassation, the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chantelle brought the suit against the VF companies before the Paris Commercial Court in 1993 and asked for $26.7 million (150 million francs) in damages, alleging copyright infringement and unfair competition in the hiring away of several Chantelle employees. The case has its roots in the departure of Valerie Buisson, a member of its creative team, who left to join a company called Etablissements Andre Sylvain et Cie, a firm later renamed VF Boutiques.
Chantelle attorney Pierre Sanier said the company learned that the designer took with her a diskette containing styling and sizing data used by Chantelle. The diskette was put into the information system of Stylmod, later renamed VF Diffusion, a sister company to VF Boutiques, according to lawyers for both parties.
The lawyers noted both parties use Lectra information systems, which explains why the diskette was accessible to both firms.
Sanier said the Commercial Court appointed a computer expert to evaluate the information on the diskette, and the expert found that the data was indeed proprietary and original to Chantelle’s, not the lingerie industry’s, product development. Sanier noted, however, that Chantelle did not seek to prove that the VF companies actually used the data to design its own brands.
VF lawyer Lenoir said in appealing the case he will argue that certain legal actions carried out by Chantelle on the premises of Stylmod were not properly carried out. Moreover, it will be argued that the hiring away of several of Chantelle’s employees does not constitute unfair competition because, in the fashion world, employees regularly change jobs among competitive companies, he said.
Both lawyers said the end of the litigation is several years away, but could not be more precise. The formal appeal before the Cour de Cassation has to wait until the Court of Appeals determines punitive damages.
Chantelle is an independent family-run company and had 1996 consolidated sales of about $157.1 million (880 million francs), according to president Patrice Kretz.

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