Just when Burberry was about to bring back the check plaid wool scarves that put them on the world map, big-box retailer Target started selling scarves with the same pattern at a fraction of the price. The British heritage fashion brand filed a suit last week in New York, accusing Target of “repeated, willful, and egregious misappropriation” of their famous trademark.
According to the lawsuit, Target’s copycat scarves are of inferior quality, but are visually indistinguishable from the genuine Burberry product. Burberry’s suit notes that “Target’s misuse of the Burberry Check Trademark…has significantly injured Burberry’s hard-earned reputation and goodwill, and has diluted the distinctiveness.”
This is not the first time that Target has tried to rip off Burberry’s plaid pattern. In 2017, Target sold products such as luggage, water bottles, and eyeglasses with the same pattern and Burberry sent them a cease-and-desist letter. Burberry has also had to sue J.C. Penney when they tried to use the pattern.
While fashion brands frequently copycat other brand’s designs, this is an unusual case as Burberry owns the trademark of the check pattern. Even though American copyright laws do not protect fashion, Burberry also has a trade dress with the pattern. This means their design is seen as so recognizable that any shopper would associate it with the Burberry name. Over time, the brand became associated with the British upper class.
The iconic brand started in the 1920s selling their famous water-resistant trench coats lined in the check pattern. Resembling the Scottish tartan design, Burberry trademarked the check design in 1921. Starting 1967, Burberry used the design in their scarves and umbrellas. In the 1990s era of logomania, the company used the check pattern in all their items, and by the 2000s, sold licenses to others to manufacture the pattern.
Even though fashion brands constantly sue each other over copyright infringement, it makes sense that Burberry is aggressively coming after Target now, as the fashion brand is starting to cash in once again on the pattern following a decade of using it in moderation. The pattern was so overused, it fell out of favour, and was only used in 10% of its products. With 1990s fashion making a comeback, Burberry reintroduced the classic pattern in 2017 in its fall ready-to-wear coats, vests, pants, and shoes.
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