Michael Kors is suing online retailer Barbados Leather over an upside-down “MK” logo. The fashion house, started by designer Michael Kors in 1981, alleges the e-commerce shop has been capitalizing off its trademark block letters by selling look-alike bags and wallets with “WK” logos on them in an attempt to “exploit Michael Kors’ reputation in the market.”
The company filed the suit for trademark infringement and unfair competition earlier this month in a New York federal court and asked the indie shop to discontinue its “WK” products immediately.
According to the complaint, Michael Kors has been using its “MK” letters as early as 2003 and said the letters have a “strong secondary meaning” that could confuse shoppers if seen on non-Michael Kors goods.
“Merchandise utilizing Michael Kors’ MK trade dress has a unique ‘look,’ which distinguishes it from other women’s accessories, and puts potential second comers and users of confusingly similar trade dress, such as found on defendant’s accused products,” the complaint reads.
Under U.S. trademark law, functional goods are not eligible for trademark protection. But logos, especially ones that consumers associate with a specific brand, are, according to Alexandra Roberts, a trademark lawyer and associate professor of law at the University of New Hampshire.
“Trademark rights are based on how consumers understand something,” Roberts said. “Whether it’s a word or a phrase or a logo; whether it tells them, this is from a certain brand.”
The court will need to decide if the two logos are close enough to mislead shoppers into buying the wrong thing, Roberts said.
Barbados Leather, which sells leather goods and other accessories under the domain BarbadosLeather.net, would not respond to a request for comment. But the website boasts that the family-owned business is run by three generations of leather workers.
“WK” bags and wallets by “Wendy Keen” are available on the site for $39.99 and $12.99 respectively, compared with Michael Kors wallets that start at more than $100.
“The Michael Kors collection…reflects the pinnacle of luxury,” and the use of the letters “is especially damaging to the good-will established in the MK trade dress and the associated reputation for high quality luxury products,” the court documents continue.
Michael Kors would not respond to a request for comment.