National Jeweler Network

Public Policy & Issues

French court sides with Van Cleef in designer case

By Michelle Graff

December 23, 2013

Paris--France’s highest court has upheld a ruling mandating that pieces created by full-time employees of jewelry firms belong to the firms themselves and are not the property of the individual designer, a ruling being called “very decisive” for French luxury goods companies.

On Thursday, the Court of Cassation in Paris backed the September 2012 decision of the Court of Appeals, which said that Van Cleef & Arpels was the owner of the intellectual property rights for the drawings used to create jewels under its name. The designs, according to the ruling, are not the intellectual property of the individual designer who created them.

Thierry Berthelot, a former designer at Van Cleef & Arpels, initiated the case in 2005 in an attempt to claim rights over the designs he drew while working at the French jewelry house, arguing that there was no assignment of rights clause in his employment contract, according to a statement provided by Vincent Fauchoux, the Paris-based attorney who represented Van Cleef & Arpels in the case.

Initially, a Parisian trial court ruled against Berthelot but he appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals, where lost again. He then brought his case to the French equivalent of the Supreme Court.

The Court of Cassation confirmed the ruling of the Paris Court of Appeals, acknowledging that Berthelot couldn’t claim intellectual property rights on the drawings because they were part of a “collective effort,” and that he was inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels’ archives and heritage, and was obliged to follow the aesthetic instructions of his superiors, according to the statement.

Fauchoux called the high court’s ruling “very decisive,” because it outlines the concept of collective works under French law with a “high level of accuracy” and secures the intellectual property rights of companies such as Van Cleef & Arpels.

Neither Berthelot nor his attorney, Emmanuel Gouesse, responded to request for comment on the high court’s ruling.

While the Court of Cassation is the highest court in France, the eight-year legal battle between the two parties isn’t over quite yet.

According to Women’s Wear Daily, the Court of Cassation did not rule on an earlier decision by the Court of Appeals to fine Berthelot 10,000 Euros ($13,600 in today’s dollars) for withholding his drawings throughout the entire court case. That matter is headed back down to the Court of Appeals.