Battle of the Brands: Top Ten Intellectual Property Fashion Lawsuits of the Decade
December 31, 2019
Though the decade may be coming to an end, the number of fashion-related legal battles have not. Below are some of the most noteworthy intellectual property lawsuits that have occurred in the fashion industry over the last ten years.
The Hells Angels sue Alexander McQueen for selling handbags, jewelry and clothing using the Hells Angels “Death Head” design
On October 25, 2010, the Hells Angels filed a lawsuit against Alexander McQueen for the trademark infringement, unfair competition and trademark dilution of the biker group’s trademarked name and “death head” skull logo. McQueen, known for commonly using skulls in the designs of their products, reached a settlement with the Hells Angels, agreeing to pull all products referencing the Hells Angels as well as recall any merchandise that has been sold and destroy it.
Christian Louboutin sues Yves Saint Laurent for producing red soled heels
In April 2011, luxury shoe brand Christian Louboutin filed a lawsuit against Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) for the use of red footwear outsoles nearly identical to Louboutin’s red sole trademark, arguing that YSL’s shoe is likely to cause confusion, mistake and deception among the relevant purchasing public. After a lengthy court battle, both parties settled on allowing YSL to make monochromatic red shoes where both the soles and the entirety of the exterior portion of the shoe is red, while still granting Louboutin trademark protection over the red sole alone.
Nike sues Adidas over patented Nike Flyknit footwear technology
In 2012, Nike filed a lawsuit in German courts against Adidas, arguing that Adidas’ Primeknit shoes were an infringement of Nike’s Flyknit patent. Not long after the court granted Nike’s injunction to halt the sale and production of Adidas’ knitted runner, the injunction was set aside. It was held that the technology involved in making the knitted shoe has been used since the 1940s. As a result, Nike’s design failed to meet the novelty element required for patentability and Nike’s patent was deemed invalid in Germany. This decision led to an ongoing legal battle over the knitted footwear technology in US courts.
Read more: Nike Inc v Adidas AG
Tiffany sues Costco for using the Tiffany & Co. name in connection with the sale of non-Tiffany engagement rings
On February 14, 2013, Tiffany & Co. brought a lawsuit against Costco for the trademark infringement, dilution, counterfeiting, unfair competition, and false and deceptive business practices relating to the use of the Tiffany name in connection with non-Tiffany engagement rings. In its counterclaim, Costco argues that the word Tiffany is a "generic term for ring settings comprising multiple slender prongs extending upward from a base to hold a single gemstone.” Costco was ordered to pay nearly 25 million dollars. This lawsuit is still ongoing following a year-long hold in the appeals process.
Harley-Davidson sues Urban Outfitters for producing and selling repurposed Harley-branded shirts and jackets with altered logos
In early 2014, Harley-Davidson filed a lawsuit against fashion retailer Urban Outfitters for the counterfeiting, unfair competition and falsely designated origin of its Harley-Davidson branded clothing. Though the motorcycle company has numerous licensees that are authorized to sell a wide range of its branded merchandise, Harley-Davidson claimed that the clothing sold by Urban Outfitters infringed its marks in two ways. First, though some of the clothing was made from genuine Harley-Davidson products, the products had been altered or reconstructed without permission. Additionally, some of the products do not appear to be genuine Harley-Davidson products, yet have been sold with labels that infringe on Harley-Davidson’s marks. Though the parties reached a settlement prohibiting Urban Outfitters from selling any shirts bearing any version of Harley Davidson’s trademarks, Harley Davidson filed a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters again in 2017.
H&M sues Forever 21 for copying its “Beach Please” tote bag
On July 20, 2015, H&M filed a lawsuit against fast fashion competitor Forever 21 for the copyright infringement, trade dress infringement, false designation of origin and unfair competition in relation to the retailer's “Beach Please” tote bag. H&M asked the court to order Forever 21 to immediately cease manufacturing, marketing and selling its version of the tote and to pay H&M all the profits it has made from the sale of the bag. This matter was settled out of court.
Read more: H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB v Forever 21 Inc
Independent Artist Tuesday Bassen accuses Zara of copying fashion pins
In 2016, independent artist Tuesday Bassen used social media to call out fast fashion retailer Zara for the unauthorized use of her copyright-protected work in relation to a number of original fashion pins that Zara had copied and placed on various products. When Bassen reached out to the retailer, Zara rejected her claims, arguing that the pins created by Bassen lacked distinctiveness. Though Bassen did not file a lawsuit with the courts, her public complaint went viral, revealing over a dozen other indie artists that have also had their products infringed by Zara.
Louis Vuitton loses lawsuit against My Other Bag in relation to its “designer bag-on-a-canvas" bag
In late 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States confirmed that My Other Bag, known for its “designer bag-on-a-canvas" bag – a canvas tote bag decorated with artwork made to resemble luxury and designer bags – was covered by the parody defence. Louis Vuitton sued My Other Bag for infringing of its federally registered trademarks and copyright, and diluting the “distinctive quality” of the luxurious bags by placing images of the luxury bags on inexpensive canvas totes. Louis Vuitton was ordered to pay My Other Bag’s attorney fees for what the Defendant’s lawyer argues was use of “economic power to step on the free speech rights of those who don’t have their [Louis Vuitton’s] deep pockets.”
CAR-FRESHNER Corporation sues Balenciaga for luxury tree-shaped keychain
On October 19 2019, CAR-FRESHNER Corporation sued luxury brand Balenciaga for trademark infringement in relation to Balenciaga's tree-shaped keychain that closely resembles and replicates the Plaintiff’s protected tree-shaped air freshener. CAR-FRESHNER argues that the unauthorized use of its design is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception to consumers. The parties agreed to voluntarily dismiss their claims and settle this case in mediation.
Gigi Hadid sued for posting a copyright-protected image of herself on social media (…again)
Gigi Hadid has been sued numerous times by various photographers and photo agencies for posting photos of herself on Instagram without properly licensing the photos from the copyright holder. Though a repeat offender, Hadid was far from the only celebrity or brand to publicly share unlicensed paparazzi photos this year. In what seems to be a #trending phenomenon, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, Virgil Abloh, Marc Jacobs, Ariana Grande, and many others, have been part of various copyright infringement lawsuits over the last year. Counsel for various Defendants have made arguments of fair use (or, fair dealing) and co-authorship. With the continuous rise in the use of social media by influencers and brands alike, it can be expected that clearer guidance with respect to the online sharing of celebrity and paparazzi photos will be addressed in the coming years.
Note: All lawsuits were commenced in the United States, unless otherwise stated.
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