Hello Kitty is a popular children's character created by Japanese design company Sanrio. She is a little half-Japanese, half-English cartoon cat: small, rounded with a red bow between her ears and no mouth. She made her debut in 1974 and is now the face of a cartoon series and numerous merchandise spin-offs. Hello Kitty has become such a global phenomenon that she appears on everything from purses, stickers, jewellery and pen sets to toasters, televisions, clothing, credit cards and computer equipment all over the world.
Cathy is one of the friends of Hello Kitty. She debuted in 1976 and has similarly appeared in the cartoon series and on merchandise. Cathy appears as a white rabbit with upright ears, wearing a tunic which is the same colour as a bow between her ears.
Miffy is a small white female rabbit who was created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna. She first appeared in a children's picture book in 1955 with floppy ears and has been in her current form with upright ears since 1963. She is drawn in a minimalist style, with only a few lines and one or two primary colours. She has gone on to appear in approximately 30 more books (selling 85 million copies worldwide) as well as in a cartoon series and on merchandise such as toys, clothes and stationery.
Mr Bruna has made no secret of his disdain for all things Hello Kitty. In an interview in 2008 with The Telegraph, Mr Bruna stated that the Cathy character:
'is a copy [of Miffy], I think. I don't like that at all. I always think, "No, don't do that. Try to make something that you think of yourself".'It came as no surprise to anyone then that Mr Bruna would eventually bring an action against Sanrio. Proceedings were brought in The Netherlands by Mercis Media BV (Mr Bruna's copyright management firm) on 26 August 2010. Mercis Media alleged that Sanrio's Cathy character infringed the copyright and trade marks of its Miffy character. Mercis Media sought a provisional disposition order for suspension of the manufacture and sale of Cathy character items and other terms.
On 2 November 2010, the Amsterdam Regional Court found in favour of Mercis Media. It ordered Sanrio: (a) to stop to any production, sale and marketing of Cathy character goods in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg; and (b) to pay €25,000/day if it did not comply, up to a maximum of €2m.
Sanrio appealed the decision. After the ruling in November 2010, it stated that:
'We object to this ruling and do not believe any copyright infringement took place, a view we intend to express legally ... At this point, we believe any impact on company earnings will be limited'.Further proceedings on the merits were brought by Mercis Media, whilst Sanrio filed a counter claim seeking the Miffy trade mark to be removed from the register.
This Kat has learned that the parties have settled out of court. On 7 June 2011, the companies issued a joint statement announcing they had reached 'a worldwide settlement' of all pending actions. As part of the terms, Sanrio will no longer use the Cathy character and both will donate €150,000 jointly to the victims of the earthquake of 11 March 2011 in Japan rather than spend money on legal fees. Further, both Mercis Media and Sanrio will make considerable efforts to keep a respectful distance from each other’s characters.
The IPKat is saddened by the loss of Cathy, but is glad that the parties were able to reach an amicable settlement with a humanitarian element.
Merpel is all for merchandising and the legitimate exploitation of copyright and trade marks, but suggests that a possible IPKat toaster with a toast 'branding' option would be stretching the friendship ...