By decision no. 4595/18 of last April, the Milan IP Court granted copyright protection to some chairs designed by well-known US designers Charles and Ray Eames, produced and marketed exclusively by Vitra, whose copyrights were infringed by two Italian companies that marketed unauthorised copies. The protected chairs included, among others, the famous “Aluminum Chair” and “Soft-pad Chair” which in the past had struggled to get copyright protection: in essence, the fact of their being office chairs had been considered somehow incompatible with the requirement of “artistic value” posed by the law. The Milan IP Court, instead, decisively affirmed the existence of this requirement, in combination with the other legal requirement of “creative character”.

In the judgment in question, the Court noted first of all that the products do have a creative character as “they express the personality of their authors” and “possessed highly innovative characteristics for the time“. In fact, according to the Court (in agreement with Vitra), creative character must be assessed in reference to the moment in which the works were conceived, and not the moment in which the offence is contested.

In addition, the decision states, these chairs meet the requirement of artistic value, which must be assessed by applying the criteria established by the now consistent case-law: “What counts most, in this respect, is certainly a general and unanimous appreciation of the work, which is not limited to the specialized critics or to the cultural environments in which it was born. The consolidation of widespread recognition by critics, cultural institutions (not only closely related to the environment of reference of the work) and museums, for example through the exposure of the work or its attribution to a well-identified artistic trend, therefore, constitutes a sure external manifestation and an objective criterion in order to verify if a certain work of design can be recognized as having artistic value (which, however, undoubtedly arises with the creative act)“. In this respect, the Court considered particularly sound the evidence, provided by Vitra, relating to the display of the chairs in the most authoritative museums of modern art, their publication in specialised and general magazines and newspapers which are very popular amongst the public, and the high resale price of the used chairs which “confirms that the public attributes to them a high value, and not just a commercial value; these are in fact figures that can only be due to the artistic value of the works”.

Having thus established the rights of Vitra, on the basis of the exclusive licence conferred initially by the Eames and later by their heirs, the ruling also ascertained counterfeiting by the two defendants. To these the Court therefore inhibited the further production and marketing of counterfeit products, ordering the withdrawal from sale of the same and setting a penalty of two hundred euros for each product marketed in breach of the injunction. The liquidation of damages and litigation costs were left to be decided in a subsequent trial.