According to Carolyn Rafaelian, Juicy Couture is attempting to put the squeeze on her patented, adjustable bangle bracelet.
The single mom sells her Alex & Ani line through Bendel's and Saks, and she's garnered more than the usual complement of celebrity fans and editorial props. A couple of months ago, however, she noticed that Saks was also selling suspiciously similar Juicy Couture bangles online, as were Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Shopbop, and Bloomingdale's. At Saks.com, a set of 12 Alex and Ani bangles starts at USD $138, while a single Juicy Couture bangle starts at $48. Nice markup -- particularly if Rafaelian's allegations are true and Juicy Couture skipped the experimentation and design step.
In legal terms, Rafaelian enjoys a number of options. She holds two similar design patents on adjustable bangles, D498,167 and D486,709, both of which issued in 2004. Should Juicy Couture challenge the patents, Rafaelian might also consider copyright, since jewelry -- unlike fashion designs -- is part of the subject matter of copyright under U.S. law. There may even be another argument lurking in the wings, as Rafaelian hinted to the New York Post:
We told them that we are known for that bracelet - and there's definitely evidence of customer confusion. I've been getting a ton of phone calls and e-mails from customers, editors and buyers who are confused - it's just bad business.
Let's see: secondary meaning generated by independent editorial coverage and celebrity wearers, plus evidence of consumer confusion. A product configuration trade dress claim, perhaps? (Interestingly, despite the significance that Rafaelian places on the adjustable fit mechanism of the bracelets, she doesn't seem to have pursued a utility patent.)
Faced with a similar claim from Rafaelian, JCPenney pulled its knockoffs from shelves and apologized. Thus far Juicy Couture has declined to make a similar adjustment.