How Rihanna's Post Invalidated a PUMA Design


In a striking blend of celebrity influence and intellectual property law, the European Court of Justice recently upheld a decision invalidating PUMA’s registered design for a pair of sports shoes. The culprit? None other than global pop sensation Rihanna and her Instagram account.

What happened?

In December 2014, Rihanna, who had just been appointed PUMA’s new creative director, shared photos on her Instagram account, "badgalriri," sporting a pair of white trainers with a thick black sole. These photos quickly gained media traction and later became pivotal evidence in a legal battle.

Fast-forward to August 2016, when PUMA sought to register the design of these very shoes with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). However, Handelsmaatschappij J. Van Hilst (HJVH) challenged the registration, citing that the design had already been publicly disclosed—thanks to Rihanna’s Instagram post. The EUIPO agreed, noting that Rihanna’s photos clearly displayed the shoe design’s essential features, constituting prior disclosure. This meant the design could no longer be considered new, leading to its invalidation.

PUMA appealed the decision to the General Court, arguing that the public hadn’t paid much attention to the shoes in the photos. However, the court remained unconvinced. Given Rihanna’s superstar status and the widespread media coverage of her PUMA appointment, the court concluded that the design was sufficiently disclosed to the public and specialized fashion circles.

In the end, the General Court dismissed PUMA’s appeal, affirming that the prior disclosure on Instagram was enough to invalidate the design registration. This decision underscores the powerful interplay between social media and intellectual property rights. In the digital age, a premature post can turn an innovative design into the public domain overnight, paving the way for potential knockoffs.