Friday, June 1, 2012

Gucci Trademark Infringement Against Guess

After three years, the Gucci v. Guess trademark infringement battle finally ended earlier this month when Gucci received a settlement of $4.7 million in damages (Gucci initially demanded $221 million). The judge’s words: “Over the past three years, the parties have put in countless hours and spent untold sums of money, all in the service of fashion — what Oscar Wilde aptly called ‘a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.’”

Ever since the end of the case, the web has been abuzz with talk about what this decision means for future trademark disputes and how it relates to the now-infamous Louboutin v. YSL lawsuit. In that case, a judge ruled that Louboutin could not protect its red-soled shoes from use by YSL based on the idea that denying an artist the use of a certain color is too restrictive. Louboutin appealed that decision, but the appeal is still pending.

The Gucci v. Guess case echoes aspects of Louboutin v. YSL because one of the marks that Gucci alleged that Guess copied was its green-red-green color stripe pattern. Additionally, Gucci claimed that Guess copied its “quatro G” pattern of interlocking G’s. Along with the settlement mentioned above, the judge awarded a permanent injunction, which means that Guess is now barred from using the “quatro G” pattern, the green-red-green color pattern, and other square G marks on Guess merchandise. Gucci reportedly says that it will file similar cases in Italy, China, and France.

It’s possible that this case could lead to stricter restrictions in the fashion industry with respect to using a similar pattern to another brand. However, it doesn’t seem that a win for Gucci signals a sure victory for Louboutin on appeal. While Louboutin disputed the use of the color red, Gucci argued against the use of a striped pattern of color. It’s unclear whether this would make a difference to the district court judge that decided the Louboutin case, but the fact that Guess used a similar color pattern and not just a solid color does seem to make the two cases distinguishable. It also gives less weight to the idea of artistic freedom to use a certain color because it involves a specific pattern.

A judge could decide though that the use of the red-sole deserves trademark protection based on public recognition and secondary meaning associated with the red-sole (partly thanks to “Sex and the City”). Louboutin continues to fight for protection against similar use and it will be interesting to see the outcome of the case after appeal.