Ralph Lauren Sues Custom Apparel Company Over Bootleg Designs
When we have given coverage to Ralph Lauren, the news has typically possessed plenty of positive qualities. Because of its fashion-industry renown, one might suspect that the company finds itself vulnerable to possible bootleggers, and that is the case this week, as the corporation is suing a custom apparel company for allegedly infringing upon trademarks to produce a variety of goods.
— The Fashion Law (@TheFashionLaw) January 17, 2020
VNDS Los Angeles will likely have the fight of its life on its hands soon, as Ralph Lauren is targeting items such as duffle bags, hats, swim trunks and T-shirts for their supposed use of “materials from authentic Ralph Lauren materials,” according to The Fashion Law. In explaining the matter, the site revealed that VNDS has, among its offerings, a hat that is “upcycled from vintage authentic Polo Sport swim shorts,” meaning the company is making, in mentioning Polo Sport, a direct reference to a brand that Ralph Lauren debuted in 1992. Now, the upcycling process might give one pause, but, as The Fashion Law explains in these passages, VNDS might be feeling legal heat this winter.
Traditionally, it is within the bounds of the law—namely as a result of the first sale doctrine—for third-parties to resell others’ authentic trademark-bearing products. The first sale doctrine, which is a trademark tenet that shields the purchaser of a genuine trademark-bearing item from infringement or dilution liability should he/she opt to resell that item, likely applies to VNDS’ sale of certain products, such as the “Authentic Polo Ralph Lauren RLPC Yacht Club sweater” and “Authentic Ralph Lauren Polo Varick Slim straight Camo jeans” that it is selling on its site.
It likely does not, however, apply to the hats or other similarly-created products due to an exception to the first sale doctrine that maintains that resold goods that are “materially different” from the genuine article do not benefit from the protections afforded by the doctrine.
Given that Ralph Lauren initially sold the textiles that VNDS used to create the hats in the form of swim shorts that were manufactured by its authorized suppliers, it is likely safe to assume that the differences are “material,” and thus, fall outside of the scope of first sale protections and constitute infringement because they stand to generate consumer confusion about the source or quality of the product.
The promotional products and apparel worlds will always have a steady supply of legal matters for the masses to inspect and understand. Since, as The Fashion Law goes on to explore, bootleg designs have been having considerable moments in the spotlight, it probably stands to reason that Ralph Lauren, being the heavy hitter that it is in the fashion world, will work hard to eliminate any industry acceptance that VNDS has achieved. Also, because of its regard, one wonders if Ralph Lauren will end up being an unintentional pioneer in having the public ponder the potential pitfalls of upcycling.