A recent lawsuit brought by Steve Madden against Cult Gaia concerning copying of a handbag design highlights the requirements and limits of different forms of intellectual property.
While neither company is in the luxury goods space, the legal issues at the base of the suit are the same and important for luxury goods companies to consider.
Last summer, Cult Gaia introduced what became a hot item, a bamboo “Ark Bag,” which was heavily promoted on Instagram and other social media. Shortly thereafter Steve Madden began marketing a very similar design bag.
Cult Gaia’s lawyers cried foul over the alleged copying, and threatened legal action. Deciding to take matters in its own hands Steve Madden filed an action in federal court, seeking a declaration that Cult Gaia had no rights to infringe.
Meanwhile, the United States Patent and Trademark Office denied Cult Gaia’s application to register the design as the company’s “trade dress.” That rejection was in October; Cult Gaia has six months to respond.
A major argument raised by Steve Madden is that the Ark Bag itself closely resembles vintage Japanese bag designs that have been marketed for years.
How then can Cult Gaia complain of copying when its own work is alleged to be a copy? That seemingly simple moral argument, however, is not necessarily consistent with the law.