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The European Commission has fined Sanrio €6.2 million for banning traders from selling licensed merchandise to other countries within the EEA. This restriction concerned products featuring Hello Kitty or other characters owned by Sanrio.
Licensed merchandising products are extremely varied (e.g. mugs, bags, bedsheets, stationery, toys) but all carry one or more logos or images protected by intellectual property rights (IPRs), such as trademarks or copyright. Through a licensing agreement, one party (a licensor) allows another party (a licensee) to use one or more of its IPRs in a certain product. Licensors typically grant non-exclusive licenses to increase the number of merchandising products in the market and their territorial coverage.
Sanrio Company, Ltd. is a Japanese company that designs, licenses, produces and sells products featuring Hello Kitty, an anthropomorphic cat girl also known by her full name Kitty White, and other popular characters such as My Melody, Little Twin Stars, Keroppi or Chococat. Through its subsidiary Mister Men Limited, Sanrio also holds the intellectual property rights to the “Mr. Men” and “Little Miss” series of animated characters.
In June 2017, the Commission opened an antitrust investigation into certain licensing and distribution practices of Sanrio to assess whether it illegally restricted traders from selling licensed merchandise cross-border and online within the EU Single Market.
The Commission investigation has found that Sanrio's non-exclusive licensing agreements breached EU competition rules: