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Judge Calls Kivimaki Claims ‘Scurrilous’

NEW YORK — A Manhattan federal district court judge is expected to determine shortly what form of her name bridal designer Ulla-Maija Kivimaki can use on a temporary basis to earn a living.<br><br>In a related development, Judge Allen G....

NEW YORK — A Manhattan federal district court judge is expected to determine shortly what form of her name bridal designer Ulla-Maija Kivimaki can use on a temporary basis to earn a living.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In a related development, Judge Allen G. Schwartz — who’s presiding over the ongoing trademark dispute between Kivimaki and her former employer, Ulla-Maija Inc. — verbally dressed down Kivimaki’s attorney, Raymond Dowd, for introducing a series of “scurrilous, scandalous” allegations. The allegations, which targeted Ulla-Maija Inc. president Charles Bunstine, were harshly criticized by the judge as being “incorporated in the counterclaims…to generate adverse publicity.”

According to a court hearing last week, lawyers for the designer and Ulla-Maija Inc. were to file either a joint proposal or, if they can’t agree, separate proposals, possibly by last Friday. At presstime Monday, it could not be confirmed whether the proposals had been filed. Still to be decided is the trademark dispute over who owns the right to the “Ulla-Maija” trademark. Ulla-Maija Inc. said in court papers it owns the mark in perpetuity pursuant to a valid licensing agreement.

As reported, Ulla-Maija Inc. filed a lawsuit in May against Kivimaki, alleging trademark infringement on the basis of “confusingly similar designs” when she tried to use the Ulla-Maija Kivimaki mark. Ulla-Maija Inc. is seeking $1 million in general damages, $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

The designer filed a response last month, along with counterclaims. She also filed court papers last month seeking a declaration from the court that she be allowed to manufacture bridal dresses under the label “Designed by Ulla-Maija Kivimaki for Kivimaki Inc.,” the subject of Wednesday’s hearing.

Neither Bunstine nor his attorney could be reached for comment by presstime in a story on the case that ran in WWD on Sept. 6.

In exhibits filed with the court, the holding company in which the designer has a 70 percent controlling interest, named Ulla-Maija Holding LLC, was deemed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to have “abandoned” the Ulla-Maija mark in April 2001. The mark had been registered for use in connection to “ladies’ apparel, namely wedding gowns, evening gowns, dresses, suits, skirts, undergarments, hosiery, gloves, hats, veils and wedding headwear.”

Ulla-Maija Inc., according to records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, subsequently filed an application for trademark ownership of the Ulla-Maija mark.

The designer was employed by Ulla-Maija Inc., but left the company in May 2000 when her employment agreement ended, Judge Schwartz noted in Wednesday’s hearing.

Also raised at the hearing were concerns voiced by Lawrence Fabian, counsel for Ulla-Maija Inc., over the allegations in Kivimaki’s counterclaims. Fabian classified the allegations, mostly attacks on Bunstine, as “irrelevant” and pointed out to the court that the allegations of impropriety were neither “supported by any evidence nor born out by real facts.”

In court papers filed Wednesday, Fabian took issue in particular with one allegation, which contained “innuendo of sexual harassment of employees of Ulla-Maija Inc.” Fabian wrote in the same document, “Neither is Mr. Bunstine guilty of nor has he ever been sued for sexual harassment.”

Fabian also expressed concern about quotes from Dowd that appeared in newspapers, and sought assurances from the court that opposing counsel would no longer be speaking with the press about the case.

Judge Schwartz agreed and ordered Dowd not to make any comments to the press and not to “cast any aspersions upon Mr. Bunstine or any other person.”

The judge commented further that the “matter regarding alleged sexual harassment [regarding a third person is] irrelevant in this lawsuit and, in truth, it seemed to me were incorporated in the counterclaims for the very purposes that Mr. Fabian is referring to, to be able to be used to generate adverse publicity and put pressure on the other side. It’s scandalous, scurrilous matter that has very little, if any, relevance in this lawsuit as I read it.”

The judge pointed out that Bunstine is “not a party to this lawsuit” and he is “only another individual who happens to be associated with an entity.”

Dowd declined comment on the development after the hearing, per the judge’s instructions.

Judge Schwartz also told Fabian at Wednesday’s hearing that he is amenable to a motion to strike the improper counterclaims. A motion to strike is expected to be filed by Fabian shortly.

The judge stressed to counsel that he expects to try the case on the issues of trademark infringement, unfair competition and “all of the claims that really are what this case is about.”

At the court hearing last week, Fabian told the court, “[W]e, the plaintiff, have never denied that Ulla-Maija Kivimaki can go into the marketplace. She is a bridal designer. She has the right to do that.” Fabian even told the court that she can use her own name, but “under limited circumstances.”

In an April 26, 2002 letter by Bunstine to Mara Urshel, president of Kleinfeld, the bridal emporium in Brooklyn, he wrote that his firm Global Design Holdings Inc. owns the majority of Ulla-Maija Inc. “We have been the money behind Ulla-Maija Inc. practically since its inception and for the last three years, we directly managed the company.”

Bunstine also pointed out that “no one” has the right to use the name Ulla-Maija in the bridal, bridal accessory or eveningwear industry other than Ulla-Maija Inc. He also noted in the letter that Kivimaki “cannot openly associate, or attempt to associate, merchandise created under any label to the ‘Ulla-Maija’ brand. Products with direct similarity to the designs of Ulla-Maija Inc. cannot be sold or distributed as they trade off of the brand value created in Ulla-Maija Inc.”

Separately in court documents, Ulla-Maija Inc. on April 10, 2002, sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to the designer seeking a stop to alleged infringing activities, such as the sale of competing products under the “Ulla-Maija” mark. The lawsuit filed a month later said infringing goods continued to be offered on an “ullamaija.net” Web site and elsewhere.