Tory Burch sues another copycat

Susan Scafidi in Crain's New York Business, March 26, 2013

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 Tory Burch is developing quite a reputation for cracking down on counterfeiters. The fashion designer sued New York-based wholesaler Bluebell Accessories Inc. for counterfeiting and trademark infringement late last week. The move comes after filing two trademark infringement lawsuits late last year—one against ex-husband Chris Burch.

"She's been very aggressive in going after counterfeiters," said Randy Lipsitz, a partner at law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel. "There have been several lawsuits."

Policing such copycats has become a cornerstone of the nine-year-old company's business agenda. Along with its popular ballet flats, blouses and accessories, Ms. Burch's e-commerce site also boasts a "Counterfeit FAQs" section, alerting consumers to the possibilities of fakes. In addition, insiders say, the design house has been looking to other, more established retailers such as Coach Inc. for anti-counterfeiting cues—even hiring a legal advisor from the handbag seller to helm its policing department.

Coach also offers a "Counterfeit Education" section on its website. Such consumer-based efforts are still rare, though they may be on the rise.

"It makes sense for brands to not ignore the giant pink elephant in the room and to reach out to their customers," said Susan Scafidi, director of Fordham Law School's Fashion Law Institute, noting that yoga retailer Lululemon employs a similar strategy by showing side-by-side fake and real photos of products on its site. "If Tory's loyal followers are aware that there are Tory counterfeits out there, and empowered to spot them, they become the first line of defense."

Representatives from Tory Burch did not return calls requesting comment on the current lawsuit, which was filed in the Southern District of New York Friday. The suit alleges that Broadway-based Bluebell Accessories Inc., an accessories wholesaler, is selling pendant necklaces and snap-closure bracelets sporting what appears to be the Tory Burch trademark. The retailer discovered the alleged infringement during an investigation in November.

"Defendants are blatantly exploiting the TT designs [Tory Burch trademarks] for their own commercial gain, intending to confuse and deceive the public by drawing on Tory Burch's goodwill in the marketplace," according to the lawsuit, which is demanding a jury trial.

Bluebell did not return calls requesting comment.

Maintaining its brand integrity may be more important now than ever for the popular fashion house, which is rumored to be exploring an initial public offering. Tory Burch reportedly generated $800 million in revenue last year, and Ms. Burch was listed for the first time on Forbes' global billionaires list earlier this month.