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Is Gucci wasting its time in the battle against Guess?

March 30, 2012


Experts doubt that Gucci has much to lose no matter what the outcome of its trademark-infringement battle with mass apparel brand Guess, but the question of whether or not the Italian fashion label is being overzealous is still up for debate.

Gucci accused Guess of allegedly infringing on its trademarks, including the block letter “G,” its signature green-and-red stripe combination and diamond-logoed motifs. However, some experts believe that Gucci has bigger things to worry about than going after a mass brand, especially since Gucci is considered a thought-leader in luxury and Guess already has its own image and following.

“I doubt anything material will happen to Gucci except that it’ll learn a lesson about picking the right cases to go after,” said Steven Gursky, partner and head of intellectual property practice at Olshan, Grundman, Frome, Rosenzweig & Wolosky LLP, New York.

“I think that the word ‘knock-off’ being thrown in this case is used excessively and inappropriately,” he said. “Guess has its own identity and the notion that they’re trying to steal [Gucci’s design] is hard to prove.

“I don’t think that this is something that luxury brands should be spending their time worrying about.”

Mr. Gursky is not affiliated with Gucci, but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

Gucci declined comment for this article.

Knock it off
Gucci filed the lawsuit against Guess in 2009.

The Italian brand’s attorney stated that the Guess designs were “studied imitations of Gucci’s trademarks” and the company had “knocked off” $200 million in Gucci product, according to a report from Women’s Wear Daily.

The Guess designs in question were the “G” design and red-and-green striped patterns.

Bag by Guess

“Copy is not as valuable as you might think,” said Al Ries, Roswell, GA-based chairman of marketing consultancy Ries & Ries.

“For example, a brand that uses Gucci’s classic green-and-red stripes would be perceived to be an imitation Gucci,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a good position to own.

“The real value of any brand is the name itself and not the designs the brand uses.”

One aspect that could be in Gucci's favor is the fact that one of Guess' shoes that displayed a red-and-green striped pattern stopped being produced when it caught the attention of a Guess intellectual property expert, according to WWD.

This could be one step in Gucci's gaining trademark rights over this design, claims Mr. Gursky.

Bag by Gucci

Worth its worth
The Gucci versus Guess case is not the first lawsuit to involve a luxury brand, and will definitely not be the last.

For example, earlier this year, Christian Louboutin brought Yves Saint Laurent to federal court in Manhattan, New York, claiming that the Italian fashion label stole the high-end footwear designer’s trademark by including red soles on the shoes of its latest resort collection (see story).

Yves Saint Laurent won the first proceeding in August.

Interestingly, François-Henri Pinault, CEO of YSL’s parent company PPR, told Women’s Wear Daily,"I am, therefore, very confident with regard to this case, even if I regret it, because these are two great houses and I think we have better things to do than to fight in court over a question of color."

The experts believe that it is highly unlikely Gucci’s status in the luxury industry will be shaken, despite the outcome of the case. Therefore, it may have other things to deal with rather than chasing brands that may or may not have mimicked its designs.

“The Gucci name remains a powerful brand, worth $8.8 billion,” Mr. Ries said. “Visuals are helpful, but consumers buy brands.

“No consumer says, ‘I bought the purse with the interlocking G’s,’” he said. “A consumer would say, ‘I bought a Gucci.’”

Final Take

Rachel Lamb, associate reporter on Luxury Daily, New York