Normally when we talk about stripes trademarks , we’re talking about iconic sportswear brand adidas. An avid litigant with respect to use of “three stripe” designs on footwear and clothing, adidas is a regular feature here at DuetsBlog, where we have discussed disputes with lululemon, Puma, and retail store Forever 21. But today we’re talking about a different three stripe brand, the blue-red-blue and green-red-green three stripe designs featured by luxury brand Gucci. Not everything is new though. Gucci’s foil in this dispute is no stranger to stripe-infringement claims, as our friend Forever 21 makes another appearance.
Over the past year, Gucci sent cease and desist letters to Forever 21 regarding the sale of clothing and accessories featuring a familiar striped pattern. Following an exchange of letters, Forever 21 struck first, filing a complaint requesting declaratory judgment that its sale of the products does not infringe Gucci’s rights, and requesting that the court cancel Gucci’s registrations on the grounds of lack of secondary meaning and/or genericness. In its answer, Gucci asserted claims of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition. Excerpts from Gucci’s answer displaying the clothing at issue are shown below (with additional examples here and here).
In its answer, Gucci only addressed Forever 21’s non-infringement count. Prior to filing the answer, Gucci filed a Motion to Dismiss all the claims related to cancellation of Gucci’s registrations. On Monday November 6, the District Court issued an order granting the motion, providing Forever 21 with 10 days to file an amended complaint. In the order, the court suggests that Forever 21 may have an uphill battle in pursuing these claims, stating
[T]he court is skeptical that plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts to support its claims for cancellation based on lack of secondary meaning, aesthetic functionality, and genericism.
So while I’d love to get into the substance of whether Forever 21 has a chance at cancelling these “three-stripe” registrations, we’ll have to see whether Forever 21 is able to craft an amended complaint to overcome the court’s concerns. In the interim, I’m left considering Gucci’s three stripe marks alongside adidas’ three stripe marks. In reviewing each parties’ registrations, an interesting detail emerges. Both parties own registrations for stripe designs associated with clothing, but that doesn’t mean both parties have the same type of registered rights.
For adidas, it registered its stripes as trade dress for its products. For example, Reg. No. 3,029,127 describes the registered mark as “three parallel stripes running along the sleeve of a shirt, t-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket or coat.” The drawing of the mark is shown below.
Clearly, adidas’ registrations is specifically for a stripe patterned applied to jackets.
Gucci’s registered rights? Not so much. Based on the registrations identified in Gucci’s answer and counterclaim, none of Gucci’s registrations cover trade dress. All of the registrations instead appear to be for an image of stripes. The descriptions for Gucci’s marks are all similar to Reg. No. 4,379,039, which describes the mark as “a stripe containing three distinct bands of color with a red band in the middle of two green band.” The drawing for the registrations is simply a square with three stripes.
Does Gucci’s failure to register its mark as trade dress affect Forever 21’s ability to cancel the registrations for these design logos? Normally use as a trademark is on a tag, label, on the pocket, or emblazoned across the shirt. If Gucci’s actual use of the registered mark is limited solely to the trade dress along the bottom or cuffs of jackets, does it open up any potential claims for cancellation based on non-use? Does Gucci’s failure to register its mark as trade dress affect Gucci’s ability to assert that Forever 21 is infringing a federally registered trademark? I guess we’ll find out whether Forever 21 wades into these waters when (or if) it files its amended complaint. Stay tuned.