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Cartier Sues Amazon.com Over Alleged Counterfeit Watches

Luxury giant Cartier named Amazon.com as a co-defendant in a case against an online retailer selling counterfeit goods in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

NEW YORK — Cartier, keeping up the pressure to stop counterfeit goods from being sold on the Internet, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Amazon.com knowingly profited from selling knockoffs of popular watches.

Cartier is seeking to hold the online giant accountable for “contributory infringement” of its trademark, based on what the French luxury goods company alleged were Amazon.com’s actions as a “broker” for the sale of bogus Cartier watches.

The lawsuit came as Tiffany & Co. announced on Thursday that it had been awarded a $600,000 judgment by a federal court in Philadelphia against a counterfeiter selling his wares via eBay.

In its complaint filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Cartier, a division of Richemont North America Inc. and Cartier International B.V., also named as defendants New York-based retailer Geneve Gold; its owner, Nathan Gross, and five unidentified persons, or John Does.

Responding to the accusations, an Amazon.com spokesman said: “Amazon.com respects the intellectual property rights of others and we are working cooperatively with all parties involved in the matter.”

With this lawsuit, Cartier joins Tiffany in taking legal action against third parties that are said to provide platforms for the sale of allegedly phony trademark products. Amazon.com sells millions of books, CDs, DVDs, toys, gourmet foods, tools and other goods.

Trademark infringement and counterfeiting in the U.S. exceeds $200 billion annually, with the sale of counterfeit goods over the Internet amounting to more than $30 billion worldwide, according to a lawsuit Tiffany filed in June.

“It’s significant in that it is yet another suit that seeks to hold a third party liable for providing an Internet forum for the sale of the infringing product,’’ said Brian Brokate, a partner in the law firm of Gibney Anthony & Flaherty who is an expert in trademark and copyright enforcement and anticounterfeiting.

The Cartier lawsuit alleged that Geneve Gold sold knockoffs of Cartier’s popular Tank Francaise, Tank Americaine and Panthere watches through Amazon.com and its own genevegold.com. While not taking part in the actual counterfeiting, Cartier asserted that Amazon.com, which receives a percentage of each sale, knowingly profited from the sale of the counterfeit goods.

Amazon.com has continued to provide space on its Web site for the defendants, “despite plaintiffs protests,’’ according to the suit, “and has acted either knowing that such activity constitutes infringement or in reckless disregard.’’

Geneve Gold owner Gross could not be reached for comment.

Cartier seeks judicial relief for trademark infringement and trademark dilution and a permanent injunction against selling all counterfeit goods as well as their destruction and an unspecified amount in damages.

In the separate case, Tiffany achieved victory after a two-year battle against Philadelphia-based online retailer Katz Imports Inc. and its owners, Todd, Howard and Stanley Katz.

Tiffany alleged that Katz had sold counterfeit Tiffany products on eBay as well as through its own Web site, pennsylvaniadiamondexchange.com.

A day after filing its original complaint on Nov. 13, 2002, Tiffany obtained an order to seize from the shop all jewelry with Tiffany trademarks and any machines used to make the trademarks. The court order also allowed any documents and sales receipts to be seized.

By mid-December, Judge Petrese B. Tucker ordered an indefinite extension of a temporary restraining order and ordered the Katzes to disclose the names and contact information of those who had purchased the counterfeit products.

Subsequent seizures and restraining orders were granted against several other named defendants.

Unlike most counterfeit cases involving large awards, Tiffany has been able to collect. “The $600,000 fine has been paid in full,” Michael Kowalski, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “It will go directly into the continuing efforts to thwart counterfeiters so that we can protect the public as well as our famous name and mark.”

Tiffany filed a separate lawsuit against eBay in Manhattan federal court in June. In a statement released at the time of the filing, Tiffany said eBay “should bear responsibility for the sale of counterfeit merchandise on its site, since it openly promotes ‘Tiffany’ counterfeits by using the Tiffany name as a sponsored link, provides a forum for such sales and profits handsomely from the sale of bogus merchandise and packaging.”

“We take these kinds of concerns very seriously,’’ Chris Donlay, an eBay spokesman, said in June. “We’ve been working very closely with Tiffany and thousands of other rights owners for many years through our VeRO [Verified Rights Owner] program to help them address these types of issues.”

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