Puma Loses Sneaker Patent Dispute Due to Rihanna Social Media Post

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A decade-old Instagram post by music, makeup and fashion mogul Rihanna has cost Puma a patent on one of its sneaker styles.

An EU court ruled against the German sportswear brand in a patent dispute last week, saying that the 2016 registration of a sneaker design was invalid because Rihanna had worn the shoe on social media more than 12 months earlier.

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The prior disclosure of the shoe design on the public-facing platform allowed Dutch footwear company Handelsmaatschappij J. van Hilst (HJVH) to overturn Puma’s registration at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in 2022. HJVH argued that because Rihanna posted photos of herself wearing the sneaker more than one year before Puma registered the patent, it should be rendered null and void.

In support of its argument, the Dutch business submitted images taken from Rihanna’s Instagram account from December 2014, which coincided with the artist’s appointment as Puma’s creative director. In the photos, Rihanna wore the Puma trainers, which featured a white upper and black sole. The images were redistributed by web-based news outlets across the globe.

Rihanna's 2014 Instagram posts.
Rihanna’s 2014 Instagram post.

EUIPO assessed that the images were sufficient to prove that the design was made public, and that the disclosure could have become known to consumers and “circles specialized in the sector concerned.” The images from Rihanna’s Instagram post “make it possible to identify, with the naked eye or by enlarging those photos, all essential features of the prior design.”

Puma appealed EUIPO’s 2022 decision, arguing that no one took an interest in the sneakers when Rihanna posted the photos in 2014; they were just interested in the star herself. The brand defended its right to the patent by saying that the photos focus on Rihanna rather than the shoes, and that there were not enough close-up details of the product’s features to make its design perceptible.

But the EU General Court rejected that notion, writing that “Rihanna was a world-famous pop star, it should be observed that both her fans and the circles specialized in the fashion sector had, at that time, developed a particular interest in the shoes that she wore on the day on which the contract under which the star became the applicant’s creative director was signed.”

“That being the case, it is perfectly reasonable to take the view that a not insignificant proportion of the people who were interested in music or in Rihanna herself, including her clothing,” it added. People were in fact likely to study the photos closely in order to see exactly what she was wearing, the court’s filing said.

Design images filed by HJVH.
Design images filed by HJVH.

“As has already been noted, the front and side views of the shoes appearing in the images in question make it possible to identify a sports shoe with a number of lines and holes along the upper, a closure of seven holes with thick laces and a flat and thick, vertically striped sole, as well as all the other features of the prior design,” the decision read. “The perception of those features is immediate, that is to say, it does not depend on the knowledge that an informed user might have of the features of the contested design.”

“In view of those considerations, according to the General Court, EUIPO was entitled to find that the prior design had been disclosed in December 2014 in such a way as to allow the registered design to be declared invalid,” the court wrote.

Rihanna reprised her role as Puma’s creative director in March of 2023. The most recent Fenty x Puma collaborative collection dropped in September.

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