Alibaba and Kering have managed to settle their differences out of court and before trial, despite Alibaba chairman Jack Ma swearing in November 2015 that his company would “rather lose money than settle” the parties’ lawsuit. On a related note, China is coming under fire — again — for what the White House is calling intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices. And the Kardashians/Jenners are being targeted with a slew of new lawsuits, at least some of which may be of questionable merit.
Alibaba, Kering Make Nice: Part II
In big news this past week, Kering and Alibaba have managed to settle their latest legal battle centering on the Chinese e-commerce giant’s alleged willingness to provide a platform for the sale of counterfeit goods. As a result of what the parties are calling “a groundbreaking agreement to cooperate in their efforts to protect intellectual property and take joint enforcement actions online and offline against infringers in order to provide the best consumer experience and a trusted environment,” Kering says it will voluntarily dismiss the suit it filed in May 2015.
This is not the first time the parent company of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and other luxury brands has waged war against Alibaba. It filed an almost identical suit against the Chinese web giant in July 2014 — which the parties settled a month later. Arguing that Alibaba was failing to hold up its end of the bargain, Kering filed suit again in May 2015.
The recent settlement — which is largely confidential in nature — comes after Alibaba has made a significant push, at least press-wise, to distance itself from the perception that its platforms are havens for counterfeit goods. The group’s chairman Jack Ma now very notoriously spoke out in June 2016, saying, “The problem is the fake products today are of better quality and better price than the real names. They are exactly the [same] factories, exactly the same raw materials but they do not use the names.”
In that same instance, Ma — who holds the title of the richest man in Asia — called on brands to accept that the “way of doing business has changed” because of the Internet. His comments were deemed by luxury brands and legal experts alike to be praising counterfeit goods, no small portion of which bring in revenue for Alibaba.
Since then, the company has tried to clean up its act, at least on paper. It made a key hire — tapping ex-Apple employee Matthew Bassiur as its head of global intellectual property enforcement. The firm also filed a handful of lawsuits against sellers of fake goods — not fashion-related ones — on its platforms, and launched the “Alibaba Big Data Anticounterfeiting Alliance” in partnership with 20 brands, trade associations, intellectual property experts and regulators to fight fakes.
As for whether Kering and Alibaba’s second try at a settlement will prove long-standing, it certainly seems more likely this time around, at least in theory.
Trump Said to Be Readying to Take on China
Speaking of China, President Donald Trump is said to be preparing to act on what he considers to be unfair trade practices coming out of that country. The president has what is being described as “a long list of grievances about China” on trade, including theft of U.S. intellectual property. As a result, a White House official, speaking anonymously, said this week that Trump is considering initiating a formal investigation of Chinese trade practices, particularly in regards to how they burden the U.S. economy and domestic rights holders.
Such a move would not be too far out of left field as the Trump administration singled out China in its first “Special 301” Report, a yearly report released by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, that sheds light on how U.S.-held intellectual property is being protected on a worldwide basis.
The 2017 report, which categorized China as a “Priority Watch List” country, paid special attention to the nation, as a result of both “long-standing and new IP concerns.” As set forth in the report, “China is home to widespread infringing activity, including trade secret theft, rampant online piracy and counterfeiting, and high levels of physical pirated and counterfeit exports to markets around the globe. China imposes requirements that U.S. firms develop their IP in China or transfer their IP to Chinese entities as a condition to accessing the Chinese market.”
Interestingly, on the heels of reports that Trump is considering readying a formal trade investigation, three top Democratic senators spoke out on Wednesday urging him to take action. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer was joined by Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio calling for drastic measures, suggesting that Trump skip the investigation entirely and immediately take trade-specific action against China.
A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce responded on Thursday, saying that the country “puts a strong emphasis on intellectual property rights.”
While you may have thought you saw the last of the recent influx of lawsuits against the Kardashian/Jenner family, think again. Kim Kardashian has been slapped with a second lawsuit in a month. Snap Light LLC has filed a lawsuit against Kardashian’s company, Kimsaprincess Inc., for promoting LuMee, the light-up phone case, which the suit alleges infringes on Snap Light’s own patent-protected iPhone case.
According to the lawsuit, while Kardashian is not being tied to the actual patent infringement claims, both she and Urban Outfitters are being accused of “benefitting financially from [the] sales of the LuMee selfie cases.”
California-based Snap Light is asking the court to immediately and permanently order the reality star to refrain from promoting the LuMee cases. The company is also seeking $100 million in damages.
A spokesman for Kardashian called the suit nothing more than a “shakedown.” The notion that some of the recently lodged copying call-outs and also the lawsuits filed against America’s most famous television family are in some way aimed at garnering a quick paycheck may be not completely off base. While the merits of the Kardashian/Snap Light suit are to be determined, it is safe to say that at least some of the prior accusations — from others — appear to be a bit of a stretch at best. This suggests that the acting individuals are either seeking press mentions because they’re speaking out against the wildly famous family or they are looking to grab quick monetary settlements. More to come on this front, for sure.
Julie Zerbo is the founder of The Fashion Law.