Gildan Lawsuit Follow-up: Trademark Law Information to Protect Your Business
On Oct. 12, 2012, Gildan Activewear Inc. was sued by Russell Brands LLC for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Russell Brands, a Fruit of the Loom affiliate, claimed that Gildan relabeled about $100,000 worth of Jerzees-brand clothing as Gildan product, then resold the items to customers. Yesterday Gildan issued a statement on the suit, claiming it was a packaging mistake stemming from a required $1,000,000 purchase of Jerzees goods tied to a supply deal with Dollar General Stores. (In such agreements, a new supplier will sometimes buy up the old supplier's stock and resell it at a discount, though keeping the original labeling is usually an intended part of that process.)
Where guilt will be assigned in the suit, if anywhere, is not yet clear. It does raise some interesting questions, however, on how those in the apparel resale and redecoration business can be sure they're protected from possible trademark suits. If you have any questions on whether you're unknowingly putting your business at risk for a trademark suit or not, the links below should be of some help.
Overview of Trademark Law from Harvard Law
A quick, easy-to-follow overview of the basics of trademark law. Note sections 7 and 8, "What constitutes trademark infringement?" and "what constitutes trademark dilution?"
The Trademark Electronic Search System (Tess)
Connected to the United States Patent and Trademark office, TESS will allow you to search for registered trademarks by name ("Count Chocula") or by concept ("chocolate vampire"). The database does not contain all registered trademarks (inclusion can be declined, and not all trademarks pass through the U.S. Trademark office), so to be absolutely certain of a trademark's status it's still best to consult a trademark attorney.
Explanation of Trade Dress from Cornell Law
Trade dress is a subset of trademark law revolving around design elements used to promote a product or service. It can apply to packaging, product shape (such as the shape of a bottle) or even colors used. Like trademark law, trade dress infringement cases typically revolve around whether one item mimics another enough to cause confusion about its source. For example, trade dress played a roll in the recent Apple versus Samsung suit, where Samsung was found guilty of infringing on the trade dress of some of Apple's phones and tablets by creating similar-looking items.