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NEIL LANE: Branding in Paradise

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Fashion, Product Configurations

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

I’ll admit it: if there’s a frivolous TV franchise I watch, it’s probably The Bachelor in one of its many iterations. Each series fits the same template: caricatures of eligible men and women stoke the flames of tear-stained conflict for a few weeks, before the show tries to narrow its focus to a true romantic connection (or, at least, attempt to salvage one with careful editing).

And each series, jewelry designer Neil Lane makes an appearance, brandishing engagement rings priced well into the six-figure range. Lane has been a staple of the ABC show for many years, and appears to help each bachelor pick out just the right engagement ring. The lucky contestant then presents the ring, each time with just the right camera shot to display that NEIL LANE stylized logo (Reg. No. 4,007,677):

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For those keeping track, the latest season of Bachelor in Paradise wrapped up just last night, with three separate marriage proposals and three separate Neil Lane engagement rings on offer. This has been something of a coup for Neil Lane, whose brand has become a big-box jewelry store staple. Lane says the product placement has “totally been a tremendous boon,” but what I found interesting was his comment about the IP in his jewelry designs:

It’s totally been a tremendous boon for me, but I think it’s helped to whole American bridal industry. I don’t hold copyrights on everything I do—when you affect change, people use it. It becomes part of the lexicon, and that’s kind of cool. If you look now in the assortment of American bridal, you can see the aesthetics that I brought to it. The whole industry has benefited—it’s been boosted, and now girls can get things like they see on The Bachelor, or they can get a piece of that Hollywood glamour with that vintage vibe, which I don’t think was available before. I’m not saying I did all of that—I think the energy of the universe, I was in sync with that.

Neil’s reference to “copyrights” is a bit vague here – he may be referring to trade dress protection in his ring or diamond designs. A brief search of the Trademark Office suggests diamond “shape” configuration marks are fairly rare, but aren’t unheard of. So long as the design is non-functional and the applicant can establish acquired distinctiveness in the design (i.e., recognition of the design among the consuming public as a trademark), these designs could well be protected. One example is a registration for “a non-round diamond that bears a hearts pattern and an arrows pattern” owned by Worldwide Diamond Trademarks, Ltd.:

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The Trademark Office reveals a variety of word mark registrations and applications owned by Neil Lane Enterprises, Inc., but no configuration marks of any kind. Lane does mention that his “aesthetics” are now used by his competitors in the quote above, suggesting that there might not be any design features in which Lane can claim exclusive use to establish acquired distinctiveness.

I’m no jewelry expert, but the question seems apparent – is there something unique about Neil Lane’s jewelry worth protecting, aside from its presence on TV? Given the unlimited term of registration for a configuration trademark, and the ability to enforce the mark against other similar designs, the advantages to registration are clearly there.