Shoes are always in the news. From a fashion standpoint, Nike has made headlines this week, with a re-release of the Classic Cortez running shoe (aka, the Forrest Gump shoe) along with the second edition of the LeBronald Palmer. And yes, the LeBronald Palmer is exactly what it sounds like, LeBron James creating a shoe inspired by Arnold Palmer. Or possibly by an Arnold Palmer that kept James refreshed during his stay in Miami. But for those of us who like our News of Shoes to have a legal bent, Converse is there to help.
In October of last year, Converse laced up an impressive number of lawsuits against more than 30 different retailers and manufacturers, including big names like Ralph Lauren, Wal-Mart, H&M and others. We discussed Converse’s use of International Trade Commission proceedings as part of this offensive back in October. Since that time Converse has been slowly reaching out-of-court settlements with the parties, including Ralph Lauren, H&M (subscription required), Tory Burch, and others.
In an ideal world though, a company doesn’t need to file thirty lawsuits against its competitors in order to protect its brand. While the Converse example is a bit trickier because it involved protection of the trade dress of the All-Star shoe, here are three steps brand owners can take to help minimize the potential for infringement and counterfeits of their goods:
- Conduct a domestic trademark portfolio audit. Are all of your important trademarks protected in connection with all of the important goods? If you have well-known product lines, do you have registrations for these trademarks as well as the overall brand? If not, file new applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It is possible others have developed, or could develop, legitimate and enforceable rights in confusingly similar marks.
- Record your U.S. registrations with the U.S. Customs and Protection Bureau. The cost is relatively cheap and the benefit can be substantial, especially if your products are susceptible to counterfeits (apparel, jewelry, and electronics in particular). If you have products manufactured abroad, you can provide this information and the Customs officials can identify questionable shipments at the ports – before they are distributed in the U.S.
- Conduct an international trademark audit. Do you sell your products overseas? Do you have registrations in these countries? Alternatively, if your products are manufactured overseas, do you have any protection in these countries? By protecting your trademarks in these countries, you can help prevent unauthorized products from leaving (or entering) these countries, too.
These three steps can’t prevent infringing products or counterfeits from ever entering the U.S. or other countries. Yet they can minimize the chances of a problem arising. In the unfortunate situation that the issue does arise, these actions will provide you with an expanded toolbox to address the issue with evidentiary presumptions in your favor and expanded remedies. In short, they’ll help you get off on the right foot.