The Burberry Case: Criminal Prosecutions of Trademark Infringement in Spain

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Sunday, June 1, 2003
Elizabeth Boburg
In Spain, trademark infringement is estimated to result in a significant loss of sales and damage to the good will of apparel companies, including famous companies such as Burberry, Nike, Adidas, Levi’s, and Ralph Lauren. On March 17, 2003, the Court of Appeals of Sevilla decided to send a strong message that trafficking in counterfeit goods will not be tolerated in Spain. In this case of criminal prosecution for trademark infringement, the Court rejected an appeal initiated by the Defendants who had been convicted by the lower court of commercializing counterfeit goods and attempting to pass them off as originating from the famous fashion label of Burberry Limited, el al. Throughout Spain, Burberry trademarks are well known for their distinctive checkered design and for their logo in the form of a riding knight. Moreover, Burberry Limited enjoys exclusive ownership rights over these trademarks, which are protected through their registration in the Spanish Patent and Trademark office and in the Office of Harmonization of the Internal Market. In the Burberry case, the Defendants were also held liable for trademark infringement of other famous fashion labels, including Nike International, the Polo Ralph Lauren Company and Levi Strauss & Co. The Guardia Civil (the Spanish police) gathered the evidence of trademark infringement that would serve as the basis of the Burberry case on June 18, 1999. In a sting operation, the Spanish police found approximately 5000 establishment owned by the Defendants. The Defendants admitted to purchasing the apparel in question from a vendor in Portugal and then placing the apparel in their commercial establishment. Burberry, el al. as the trademark owners had never granted licenses to the Defendants for commercialization of their trademarks.