Blog: Leonie BarrieImitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Leonie Barrie | 10 July 2003

As some idea of how aggressively Levi Strauss protects the distinctive symbols stitched onto its clothing, the San Francisco-based jeans maker currently has around 300 trademark cases pending in the US alone. The latest to face its wrath is Hong Kong fashion retailer Esprit Holdings Ltd which is being sued for illegally using a distinctive tab on the back pockets of its jeans.

Some companies might be flattered that their brands are in such high demand – after all, millions of pounds are spent each year trying to build globally recognised names. But not Levi’s. It has registered the tab under trademark laws and is the only company that can use a tab on the back pocket of its jeans.

Adidas might be interested in a few tips on how to cross the fine line between trademarks and similar signs. A ruling yesterday in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg dismissed its legal action to stop Dutch-based Fitnessworld Trading Ltd using a two-stripe logo – deemed unerringly similar to Adidas’ three-stripes – on its sportswear. Advocate General Francis Jacobs said trademark owners could not stop others using signs that are similar to their trademarks, provided they were used as decoration.

What this says about their customers is anyone’s guess. When threatened with legal action from Levi’s because its grey, branded tab label might create "customer confusion" with Levi’s own red tab, small Welsh clothing maker Howies pointed out that that consumers “would have to be colour blind and illiterate" to confuse the two logos.

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