Lovin' Lanvin -- Too Much
Jeanne Lanvin was one of the great designers of the early 20th century, and her label has been revived in the early 21st under the creative direction of the extremely talented and charming Alber Elbaz. Editors and critics can't get enough of Lanvin -- and neither, it seems, can 9 West.
While these 9 West handbags (top) aren't particularly close copies of the Lanvin originals (bottom), 9 West doesn't want you to miss the resemblance. To this end, 9 West has actually named both of its bags "Lanvin," despite the fact that the name is a registered trademark. In other words, the unprotected design wasn't copied exactly, but the protected trademark was. Fairly ironic, given that 9 West's parent company claims to have "a distinct culture: one that emphasizes product innovation...."
But wait -- isn't there something else particularly distinctive about all of these bags? Reminiscent of, say, Hermes? Check out the croc Birkin on display at the new Hermes Wall Street boutique. (Yes, the opening events on Thursday were exceptional, and not a knockoff in sight.)
The belt across the top of the bag isn't just any design element -- it's actually protected trade dress. Two separate registrations in the U.S. Trademark Office, 1806107 and 2447392, protect similar Hermes designs; this drawing was submitted with the earlier registration (solid lines indicate the protected portion).
So how is it that similar belts appear on so many other bags, both 9 West and Lanvin included? The answer is in the fine print. The protected mark consists of "a rectangular design attached to the flap of a handbag" -- and the other bags do not include flaps. Limited, true, but any trade dress protection associated with product design is a bit of a coup, given the current need to demonstrate secondary meaning (proof that consumers view the design not just as cool but as a sign of who made the item). Hermes could try to challenge the other designs, but absent a flap it would be an uphill battle.
In other words, legal protection of a design has as many holes in it as a pair of fishnets, but protection of a name is much more of a sure thing -- a lesson that 9 West may learn the hard way.