Posts Tagged ‘luxury brands’

The alleged infringing "Hell's Four Finger" Ring marketed by Alexander McQueen Trading Limited.

Someone didn’t do their homework, and it’s going to be a costly and embarrassing lesson.

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club has sued the Alexander McQueen fashion house for trademark infringement.  The suit was filed October 25, 2010 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.  The club also named the Saks retail chain and Internet retailer Zappos.com as defendants for their roles in selling the allegedly infringing products. 

In its complaint, the Hells Angels club requests findings that the defendants infringed its trademarks and committed unfair competition and trademark dilution.  The club seeks an injunction preventing additional sales of the alleged infringing products as well as a recall of the alleged infringing inventory.  The Hells Angels ask that the inventory be delivered to a third party for destruction.  Finally, the club seeks money damages which it asks be multiplied because of the blatant and “exemplary” nature of the infringement, along with the club’s attorney fees for the action.

The alleged infringing "Hell's Knuckle Duster" Clutch marketed by Alexander McQueen Trading Limited.

The motorcycle club claims that Alexander McQueen Trading Limited, the fashion house founded by designer Alexander McQueen (who committed suicide earlier this year), infringed its winged skull design mark by using it in a multi-finger “Hell’s Four Finger” ring and “Hell’s Knuckle Duster” clutch handbag (see pictures.)  The suit also claims that the defendants infringed by marketing a jacquard dress and a pashmina scarf using the word mark HELLS ANGELS, without authorization by the club.

The Hells Angels club registered a winged skull design (which the club calls the “HAMC Death Head design”) in 2009 as U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3666916 for goods including “jewelry, jewelry pins, clocks and watches, earrings, key rings made of precious metal, badges made of precious metal, and chains made of precious metal.”  An image of the registered design appears at right, below.  In its complaint, the club claims use of the design since 1948.

An image of the "HAMC Death Head design" mark registered for various goods, including jewelry, by the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

The same design is registered separately (U.S. Reg. No. 3311550, issued in 2007) for “clocks; pins being jewelry; rings being jewelry.” In that registration the Hells Angels claim use of the mark on those goods since 1966.

What Happened Here?

This is, by all appearances, a tremendous blunder by Alexander McQueen Trading Limited, as well as Saks and Zappos.com.  You’re welcome to judge for yourself, of course, but to this observer the designs used by the defendants unquestionably are confusingly similar with the design registered by the Hells Angels.  The use of the words “HELL’S” and “HELL’S ANGELS” merely completed the effect, making it a virtual certainty that consumers would perceive some connection with the infamous motorcycle club.

Here, boys and girls, we have a perfect example of why marketers should always consult an experienced trademark practitioner well in advance of introducing a new product line.  It frankly seems hard to believe that marketers as savvy as those at the House of McQueen, Saks and Zappos.com could have failed to recognize the potential trademark implications of their actions here.  Perhaps they did. 

In any event, it’s highly unlikely that these product ideas would have survived a review by an attorney experienced in trademark law.  Right about now, it probably seems to the good people at the House of McQueen, Saks and Zappos that a review by their trademark attorneys would have been money well spent.



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For the first substantive post here, I thought I would honor the obsessions interests of certain unnamed family members and report on a current ruckus in the designer bag industry.  The story here is that mega-retailer Target Corporation has been sued for trademark infringement by Coach Inc., the marketer of costly prestigious COACH® brand handbags and personal accessories. 

Coach brought its suit in federal district court in the Southern District of New York, where the company is headquartered.  The complaint asserts that this summer, mass merchandiser Target began selling bags which are “exact and/or confusingly similar reproductions of Coach’s Ergo designs and Signature Patchwork designs.”  

Coach’s Ergo bags apparently are designed to be ergonomically correct (sidebar: good luck protecting that mark), while the Signature Patchwork (ditto) bags are pieced together using patches of different fabrics.  Coach has, not surprisingly, asked the district court to issue an injunction preventing Target from selling the bags.  It also seeks undetermined damages and attorney fees.

Coach’s Ergo bags look like this:


This bag also happens to feature one iteration of the Signature Patchwork design. 

My online review of Target’s handbag line turned up any number of fabulous bags, but nothing that looked to this reporter like an “exact and/or confusingly similar reproduction” of the Coach handbag.  Of course, Target very likely pulled the bag(s) in question once the suit was filed.

Since I don’t have a picture of Target’s bag to give you, the least I can provide is an image of the company’s famous logo:


Presumably, Target Corporation didn’t consider the “vexatious litigation” angle when selecting its brand name and logo.

For those keeping track, the two companies have a history of friction, and this is not the first time Coach has sued Target for infringement.  Coach filed suit in 2006, claiming that Target sold counterfeits of Coach’s Python Signature Striped Demi purse.  Coach dismissed the suit after only three weeks when it came to light that the bags in question were legit Coach bags purchased by Target “at a major department store liquidation sale.”  Coach also currently has a suit pending against Brown Shoe Company for infringement of the Ergo and Signature Patchworks bags.

Coach maintains a page on its website as well as a telephone hotline, both devoted to reporting COACH counterfeits.  The web page points out that “counterfeit quality is typically poor,” and goes on to intone that COACH counterfeiters “illegally profit at the expense of Coach and affect the entire economy through lost revenues and taxes.”  Frankly, I had no idea that the luxury handbag market was such a dominant force in our national economy.

I have not seen the actual complaint as yet, and thus have no basis to provide my own vaunted SOLID GOLD™  analysis of whether Target’s bags infringe.  Stay tuned for further comment when I have more information.

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