September 09, 2008

It's a Lipstick Jungle Out There

Counterfeit Chic has no patience for those ostensibly high-minded folk who would declare analysis of style choice irrelevant to political debate in particular, or the professional and legal worlds in general. 

Yes, Hillary's pantsuits and Sarah's coiffure will receive more column inches than Barak's unconventional shirtsleeves or the other guy's ghastly convention makeup, but that doesn't make the discussion itself sexist or silly.  It's simply that men have been in power long enough to have a standard dress code from which few deviate -- Al Gore's unfortunate earth tones aside -- while women have not.  We're still making it up as we go along, and ideally having some fun at the same time.  It's dismissive to focus exclusively on anyone's fashion instead of his or her ideas, but not as one component of carefully chosen political packaging.  Are we really not supposed to acknowledge Michelle's transition from sharp business suits to retro Jackie Kennedy-style suits and sheaths to fuzzy pastels and floral prints -- all the while looking fabulous, but progressively less threatening?  And on a more quotidian basis, would we really bother with judges' robes, attorneys' pinstriped suits, and defendants' carefully scrubbed appearances if these choices didn't send messages?

That being said, the colorful comments of the current presidential campaign may have gone a shade too far.  Sarah Palin won rhetorical points with the best punchline of the Republican convention when, after asking the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull, she concluded, "Lipstick."  Memorable -- and even more so when you realized that she'd just called herself a b*tch with lipstick before anyone else had the chance.  Now Obama is making presumably unwanted headlines for comparing the McCain/Palin attempt to co-opt his "change" message to putting lipstick on a pig -- "it's still a pig."  An old figure of speech, to be sure, but suddenly an awkward one. 

Perhaps its time for the candidates to wipe the lipstick off their teeth, kiss, and make up -- before the makeup smears get ugly


May 28, 2008

T-Shirt Contest

Vote!  For the candidate with the best knockoffs.

One of the most striking aspects of the Obama campaign has been the amount of spontaneous creativity it has generated, from music videos to t-shirts -- including some designs inspired by unrelated trademarks

Not to be outdone, the Clinton campaign created an official site seeking t-shirt design submissions -- and got things started with some reinterpretation of its own.  Not only is a Warhol-style Hillary head among the 5 faves up for a vote, but the contest "borrowed" its logo from Project Runway.  No word on whether this is representative of Mrs. C's official trademark policy.

Good thing PR exec producer Harvey Weinstein is a diehard Clintonista.

April 28, 2008

The Naughty List

Uncle Sam has released this year's naughty list, a.k.a. the 2008 "Special 301" Report, analyzing other nations' intellectual property enforcement efforts.  And sure enough, China is getting a lump of coal in its stocking this year, along with 8 other "priority watch list" countries and 38 on the lower-level "watch list."

Norman Rockwell 1939

In other bad news for China, Louis Vuitton has decided to pick up its toys and go home.  The boutiques will stay -- but amidst anti-French protests relating to Gallic support for the Dalai Lama, LV has postponed the "China Run" vintage car rally originally scheduled for late May

For smokin' analyis of China and intellectual property, remember to vist IP Dragon

September 04, 2007

Power Dressing

Remember when Condoleezza Rice was the most powerful woman in the world -- and dressed the part?  In a memorable column, Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan described Condi in her stiletto-heeled boots and long, military-style coat as "draped in a banner of authority, power and toughness." 

Photo Michael Probst - AP

Alas, 2 1/2 years later it seems that Condi's strong, independent voice isn't what many had hoped -- and neither is her wardrobe.  Did Air Force One lose her luggage on the way to Iraq, forcing her to borrow one of her boss's suits, or has she become our fearless leader's mini-me

Photo Jason Reed - Reuters 

August 16, 2007

Copy This Label

Here's a label that hasn't been copied yet -- but it should be.  For the good of the American fashion industry.

From Lucky Puppy, via Oddee

June 27, 2007

Big Bust


Federal officials announced one of the biggest counterfeit busts in years yesterday, charging 29 people with importing approximately USD $700 million worth of illicit luxury goods in over 950 separate shipments.  Unlike street raids, which target low-level retailers and hardly cause a ripple in the flow of counterfeits to consumers, this coordinated action targeted major suppliers who collaborated to circumvent customs inspections.

Three separate complaints detailed the alleged activities of the smashed smuggling rings, including:

  • Providing false descriptions of merchandise to crooked customs brokers, who act as the conduit between U.S. Customs & Border Protection and importers, in order to conceal counterfeits or avoid paying duties on expensive merchandise (e.g. labeling containers of counterfeits as children's toys or shower curtains);
  • Fraudulently obtaining permits to transfer merchandise between ports of entry and bonded facilities to await clearance -- and then delivering merchandise to their own or customers' warehouses instead;
  • Keeping "dummy" containers of innocuous merchandise (like those toys) ready for customs inspection;
  • Stealing the ID numbers of legitimate importers in order to disguise counterfeits;
  • Falsely avoiding inspection by claiming that merchandise was simply passing through the U.S. and was destined for Canada or Mexico;
  • Bribing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (who were working undercover) to file false paperwork or to release goods; and, of course,
  • Money laundering.

The entry points for illicit merchandise spanned the nation:  Newark, NJ; Houston, TX; Long Beach, CA; Staten Island, NY; and New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.  The list of luxury brands involved is even more extensive, including Coach, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Balenciaga, Nike, North Face, Gucci, Fendi, True Religion, Seven for All Mankind, Kate Spade, Timberland, and A Bathing Ape in categories ranging from shoes and sunglasses to watches and handbags.  (Any company left out should count its blessings -- and then worry that its brand is no longer "in.")

As apparent from the WWD photo, New York officials wasted no time in processing the first batch of defendants -- or parading them in front of the waiting press.  And no doubt some of the Homeland Security folks responsible for coordinating the investigations enjoyed a hard-earned beer after wrapping up the sting.  It's all up to the prosecutors and the courts now. 

Still, one wonders:  Why are there so many apparently simple ways of avoiding customs enforcement?  Just how porous are U.S. borders, anyway? 

Perp walk in New York

And, of course, will souvenir-seeking New York tourists who would otherwise buy counterfeits by the bag go home empty-handed this Fourth of July? 

Thanks to my sharply dressed and national security-minded Fordham law student, James Creedon, for forwarding the press release.

June 25, 2007

Fake Chocolate?

Say it isn't so!  An industry petition allowing chocolate to be adulterated with less expensive cocoa butter substitutes would wreak havoc on an entire food group -- not to mention eliminate the last hope of preventing size zero models from sliding into negative numbers.  This is possibily the worst idea since carob began masquerading as chocolate.  Counterfeit, yes; chic, no. 

It must be Monday.

March 15, 2007


After last December's debacle over fur-trimmed jackets wrongly labeled as faux, and the additional sensation caused by headlines calling the fallacious fuzz "dog fur," the Humane Society has demanded that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission take action.  The petition, available here, requests that the FTC seize mislabled garments and levy fines against retailers ranging from Bergdorf's to Burlington Coat Factory.  In addition, the Human Society is backing federal legislation to further restrict the sale of fur. 

Whether or not you have a dog in this fight, ironically taking place during the warmest winter on record worldwide, the cultural debate is inescapable.  At a lecture at Parsons The New School for Design earlier this evening, Business Week editor Bruce Nussbaum challenged an audience of design students to challenge their assumptions about issues such as ethics and sustainability.  Is a mink coat somehow evil, or is it an example of a sustainable, organic, durable, reusable, biodegradable product that might be preferable to one fashioned from synthetic materials?  A shocking question to many, no doubt, but leading an examined life (or career, for that matter) calls for more than easy inquiries. 

Is wearing fur about fashion, cruelty, warmth, conspicuous consumption, the natural order, inhuman behavior towards non-humans, control, freedom, or all of the above?  The debate continues -- and this time, it's legal.

December 11, 2006

Don't Copy the Cops

Counterfeiters target particular brands on the basis of consumer demand.  The greater the brand awareness and the popularity of certain styles, the more likely they are to be copied.  Of course, the reverse is true as well.  As one individual told me, he knew a certain line was "over" when purse party hostesses asked him not to bother bringing along those particular fakes.

When it comes to imitating official logos, however, I've frequently wondered whether it's just business, or whether some counterfeiters take wry pleasure in taunting the powers that be.  After all, it takes a particularly brazen retailer to sell fake NYPD baseball caps and T-shirts right under the nose of the beat cop.  Talk about waving a red flag in front of a "bull."

In New York, city officials decided last year to fight the flood of fakes with hologram hangtags on authentic goods.  A year later, the New York Post reports that sales of the real deal are up 10%, with police and fire department merchandise remaining the most popular. 

Cause and effect?  Perhaps.  But it seems that not everyone got the memo.  A law-abiding lawyer recently told me that he attempted to purchase an authentic item, only to be told by a helpful city employee that it was unavailable -- but that plenty of copies were for sale just around the corner. 

December 07, 2006

Red Herring

For a century and a half, fashion designers have deliberately set out to produce multiple copies of the same dress.  While they also create one-of-a-kind pieces for special occasions or runway publicity, the business model pioneered by Charles Worth still obtains.  Designers propose a series of looks each season, and then produce either made-to-measure copies for couture clients or standardized copies for the ready-to-wear industry. 

Despite the reality of mass production, however, we still consider it a faux pas for two women to attend the same event wearing the same outfit.  Never mind four. 

At Sunday's Kennedy Center Honors reception in Washington, First Lady Laura Bush and three other women showed up wearing the same red Oscar de la Renta -- which Laura also chose for her official holiday photo.  Laura apparently slipped away to change into another outfit, but not before CBS cameras captured the clones on film:

Laura and George in an official photo

Send in the Clones

Of course, it's wholly unremarkable that the President and most every other man in attendance were presumably wearing near-identical costumes.  Sartorial self-expression in the modern era is not only for the most part the domain of women, but a social requirement.  Men are stereotyped as intellectual, women emotional; men defined by their minds, women by their bodies; men serious, women frivolous; men relatively unconcerned with fashion, women ... lucky. 

No, really.  How boring is it to be expected to show up in the same dark suit for business or tuxedo for formal occasions day after day, year in and year out, with only the occasional flashy necktie to break the monotony?  Men outside the mainstream -- gay men or entertainers, for example -- have a bit more leeway to make stylish statements with their attire.  Nearly all women, on the other hand, have a whole range of colors, silhouettes, patterns, and styles in which to dress themselves while still remaining appropriately attired.  Freedom of choice and the expectation that it will be exercised can be a burden, but on the whole it's a wonderful opportunity.

So perhaps the most immediate question is not why it's embarassing for women to turn up dressed alike, or why we maintain the fiction of uniqueness in the face of mass-market fashion, although both of these issues are fascinating.  Instead, we might ask what social forces caused four affluent women with access to the vast resources of the fashion world to choose the same rather matronly, $8,500 ensemble. 

Maybe they all just liked the outfit.  Or maybe the groupthink endemic to the executive branch has made its way into the wardrobes of its First, second, third, and fourth ladies as well.

September 25, 2006

What's in the Bag?

Head over to The Trademark Blog for an amusing U.S. Chamber of Commerce public service announcement on counterfeiting -- and the truth about why oversized bags are "in" this season.  Again.

July 14, 2006

Inventive Steps

Washington, DC, is my original hometown.  However, it isn't the most fashion-forward of cities, despite the efforts of Pulizer Prize-winning Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan and the weekly column of The Manolo.  The Metro is filled with men and women in conservative suits and sensible shoes, and the city's most characteristic fashion statement is the ubiquitous lanyard with government-issued photo ID attached. 

This summer, however, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is stepping out in style. 

Although fashion design ordinarily isn't protected by intellectual property law, technological innovation in the field -- as in any other -- can qualify for patent protection.  An exhibit opening today at the USPTO Museum, "Shoes:  Innovation at Your Feet," highlights technological accomplishments of the footwear industry from the 19th century to the present

So if you're visiting the nation's capital this summer, grab the kids, hop on the Metro, and head out to Alexandria.  It may not be the ever-popular Air & Space Museum, but it's certainly a great idea for an exhibit.  Who knows?   It may even be a step towards closing the gender gap in science and engineering.  And above all, remember to wear cute -- and comfortable -- shoes.

March 13, 2006

Do Unto Others

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,

adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nobody could accuse these anti-copying copyists of philosophical consistency, foolish or otherwise:

La Bas bag from Neiman Marcus $550Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus is suing pet boutique Neiman Barkus for trademark infringement (hat tip to The Trademark Blog), while at the same time distributing mail-order catalogs that contain an obvious (albeit probably legal) Bottega Veneta knockoff (left). 

On the same day that the U.S. Congress passed a new anticounterfeiting bill, a sharp-eyed Counterfeit Chic reader noticed that the U.S. military daily Stars & Stripes was offering advice to servicepeople stationed in Germany on cheap fakes available across the Czech border.  (What happened to those allegations of fakes funding terrorism?)

And Finnish Minister of Culture Tanja Karpela, an anticounterfeiting crusader, was caught on camera carrying a fake Prada bag

I'm reminded of my years studying medival canon law (quite a switch to IP & fashion, but that's a long story for another day) and of a paper that I once wrote linking the "clean hands doctrine" back to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.  The clean hands doctrine basically states that if you approach a court asking for relief in equity, you'd better not be guilty of similar misconduct yourself -- or you've got some 'splainin' to do.  Today the doctrine is sometimes applied to actions involving the same set of circumstances -- e.g. the case of a parent who kidnaps a child and then asks for custody.  It would certainly be interesting, though, if a plaintiff suing for IP infringement or a nation demanding international enforcement on behalf of its own industries were vulnerable to charges that it had "unclean hands." 

Gotta love that Golden Rule!  (After all, metallics are once again "in" for spring/summer.)

February 28, 2006

Disparaging or Merely Descriptive?

Can "Not Made in China" be trademarked?

And are trademark offices a new hotspot in the culture wars?

IP Dragon, an interesting blog dedicated to "gathering, commenting and sharing knowledge about IP in China to make it more transparent," reports that Gibraltar-based Alvito Holdings has submitted three verbal and figurative applications for "Not Made in China" to the European Union's Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), while an unrelated individual has submitted five such applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  The applications cover categories such as clothing and leather goods.

Apparently China isn't pleased. 

At least as far as the U.S. is concerned, however, "Not Made in China" may be a tempest in a teapot.  A similar attempt to register "Not Made in France" for clothing resulted in a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision that the mark was "merely descriptive" and therefore unregistrable.  In re: VRBIA, 2004 TTAB Lexis 703 (not citable as precedent). 

And unless current trends in garment manufacturing are reversed, a "Not Made in USA" mark may one day be simply superfluous.

P.S.  The Trademark Blog, Marty Schwimmer's intelligent and informative site, has updated information on the U.S. applications.

February 03, 2006

Counterfeits for Katrina Victims -- Again

Copying others' charitable activity?  Probably a good thing, from both an evolutionary and a moral standpoint.  Trademark lawyers, however, may beg to differ.

As Mayor Bloomberg reported at the Harper's Bazaar / Kirkland & Ellis Anticounterfeiting Summit on Wednesday, New York is donating counterfeit fashion items seized by the NYPD to victims of Hurricaine Katrina.  The audience applauded politely, but the mayor didn't exactly receive a standing O. 

La Retrosessuale, one of the fabulous women of ShangriLaw, has clearly retained her generous humanistic instincts despite being subject to a legal education.  She writes that "it is better to let these knockoffs go to use than rot in a plasticine grave somewhere." 

Hardcore intellectual property owners and their lawyers wouldn't be so sure.  Nobody is about to run the public relations risk of taking candy from babies -- or clothing from Katrina victims -- but all trademark owners weren't necessarily thrilled that the small percentage of counterfeit merchandise actually impounded by law enforcement is back on the streets.  And the anticounterfeiting stance of both the federal government and the New York City government may be compromised by these actions.

Last fall, the Legal Times kindly published my editorial on the subject, available here (along with additional blog commentary). 

Which leaves us with the perennial question:  are lawyers human? 

December 27, 2005

Endangered Gators

Earlier this month Lacoste and the U.S. Marshal Service teamed up to conduct raids on 19 retailers and wholesalers across Puerto Rico.  The raids resulted in seizure of over $1 million in counterfeit Lacoste polos and other clothing -- and pending lawsuits against 27 defendants. 

Vacation advice?  Enjoy the beach; avoid the faux wildlife. 

Lacoste trademark

December 26, 2005

Year in Review I: Katrina and Counterfeits

Whether the culprit was global warming, mysterious astrological conjunctions, or sheer coincidence, 2005 was a bad year for water.  We began in the wake of a tsunami in the Indian Ocean and now end with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast -- events which the radiator pipes in my century-old landmark building felt compelled to imitate on a smaller scale, but that's another story. 

Our tale is one of U.S. Customs and counterfeits, laws and largesse.  It seems that the Bush Administration, while accused of ignoring the good citizens of New Orleans and surrounding areas, was in fact attempting to provide for their needs -- with counterfeit goods.  Warehouses full of fake trademarked items were emptied and the infringing contents sent to shelters, where the victims of Katrina were offered knockoff clothing, bedding, and even toys.  The Legal Times was kind enough to print my editorial on this curious federal strategy of seizing with one hand and redistributing with the other.  For the full text, please click here.