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Target and Coach Reach Settlement Over Knockoff Bags

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Target by Matt Callow on Flickr

Photo by Matt Callow on Flickr

In October of 2009, Coach Services, Inc., maker of designer handbags and other accessories, sued Target Corporation, alleging the retailer was selling unauthorized knockoffs of its designs. Just this past week, the two business giants reached a confidential settlement “satisfactory to all parties in this litigation,” according to Todd Kahn, Coach’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel.

Coach had claimed that Target was selling “exact and/or confusingly similar reproductions of Coach’s Ergo designs and Signature Patchwork designs.” And this isn’t the first time Coach has been upset with Target’s inventory; the companies were involved in a trademark lawsuit in 2006, which also ended in settlement.

Can fashion be copyrighted?

The simple answer is no. A 1954 United States Supreme Court case decided that clothing is a “useful item,” not artistic expression or scientific invention, which cannot be copyrighted.

Is there a way to protect fashion under the law?

Yes, through trademark, which is why Coach relied on the “confusingly similar” language in its complaint. The standard of determining whether there is trademark infringement is whether the use creates a “likelihood of confusion” with an existing trademark.

This is tricky legal area, indeed, and we’ve seen lots of lawsuits like this in the past several years from Diane von Furstenberg’s suits against Target and Forever 21 to Fendi’s claims against Wal-Mart. These tend to settle out-of-court, though, so we have yet to see a contemporary, high-level court deal with the issues of trademarking and/or copyrighting of fashion in the 21st century.

Will fashion ever be protected by copyright?

Maybe. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (led by von Furstenberg) is pushing for a law that would allow copyrighting of fashion; on the other hand, some legal scholars believe imitation helps innovation, and is beneficial to the industry.

For a more detailed discussion on this issue, check out Should Fashion Be Copyrightable? by Brandon Scruggs.

How can I protect my creation?

Of course it depends on your type of creation, but remember, LegalZoom can always help you file a trademark or copyright to protect your work.

What do you think of copyrighting fashion? Should it be allowed under US law?

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May 18th, 2010 at 10:46 am