An ongoing fight between Puma and Forever 21 over the latter’s alleged knock-offs of some shoe designs under Rihanna’s Fenty label is getting closer to directly ensnaring the pop star, as her level of design involvement is called into question.
The chain store late last week urged a California federal court to sign off on subpoenas for a range of information maintained by Rihanna and Roc Nation Management, the management company founded by Jay Z, and also Kendo Holdings, which handles some of Rihanna’s business matters, according to court records.
Judge Philip Gutierrez has yet to sign off on the subpoenas, but it seems there’s a good chance that he will, given his approval at the end of December of Forever 21’s petition to extend through February a deadline to add additional parties to the case.
“Good cause for this extension exists because the pleadings and Puma’s own public statements lead to the conclusion that Robyn Rihanna Fenty (‘Rihanna’) may be a necessary and indispensable party to this litigation or, at the very least, a third-party that could be joined,” the judge said.
The crux of the issue seems to be the degree to which Rihanna was involved in the designs or alleged intellectual property of the products at issue: a suede Creeper sneaker, a slide sandal with fur and a slide sandal with a knotted satin bow that Puma claims Forever 21 ripped off from its Fenty by Rihanna line. Forever 21 is also looking to determine if Rihanna “or any other entity” has an ownership interest in the intellectual property for the shoe designs.
Should Rihanna prove to have some ownership over the designs, she would need to be added as a party to the case, and it could open the door for Forever 21 to argue that Puma had no right to bring its claims of infringement in the first place, forcing a dismissal, something Judge Gutierrez said there’s already support of.
“Although Puma publicly advertises that Rihanna herself designed the shoes at-issue in this litigation, Rihanna is not named as an author on Puma’s copyright applications or as an inventor on Puma’s design patent,” the judge said in his December order. “There are only two logical conclusions to draw from these facts: Puma misrepresented material facts to the Patent Office and the Copyright Office, thereby committing fraud on those offices; or Puma has misrepresented to the consuming public that Rihanna designed the shoes at-issue in this case, thereby misrepresenting to this court that her involvement impacts the goodwill it contends is associated with the asserted trade dress.”
The subpoenas are seeking documents pertaining to the contractual relationship between Rihanna and Puma, and also between Rihanna, Puma and Kendo, revolving around the Fenty designs, along with all documentation she or Kendo holds with information about “the conception, design, development, ownership and licensing of all products branded as Fenty Puma by Rihanna.”
Forever 21 is also after information Rihanna holds regarding her social media campaign with Puma, which always referred to the singer as the designer of the line, her knowledge of Creeper-style sneakers and for information on her role as “brand ambassador” for Puma.
A representative of Puma and Rihanna could not be reached for comment.
The subpoenas came after Puma agreed to put a hold on its federal appeal of Judge Gutierrez’s decision to dismiss Puma’s accusations of trade dress infringement, copyright infringement and unfair competition, while leaving its claim of design patent infringement intact, and giving it a chance to amend its overall complaint. Forever 21 in May argued that the Fenty designs at issue are not original enough to maintain design or copyright protection.
The appeal is being held until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals comes to a decision in a lawsuit between Adidas and Skechers, where the German athleticwear giant claims its popular Stan Smith sneakers and its long-held three-stripe trademark are being infringed upon. Skechers in July appealed a ruling in favor of Adidas.
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