When a particular product is popular in Florida, or elsewhere in the country, other manufacturers may try to copy it in an attempt to capitalize on another’s success. If the copy is too close, however, it can result in an intellectual property dispute. Such a dispute recently arose between rival boot manufacturers in a case that went to trial over the summer.
Deckers Outdoor Corporation, owners of the popular UGG boot brand, brought a lawsuit against Romeo & Juliette, a competing company with a history of manufacturing boots that Deckers alleges infringe upon their intellectual property. Because copyright law does not protect certain aspects of fashion items, such as the silhouette and shape, the recent lawsuit claimed that R&J’s boot styles violated Deckers design patent.
R&J argued in its defense that the obviousness of Deckers’ boot design, based on the similarity of many boot models, made the patents invalid. However, the burden of proving obviousness to invalidate a design patent is on the accused infringer, or in this case, R&J.
According to a Supreme Court opinion, if two designs are essentially the same in the eyes of an ordinary observer, the patent holder can make a valid claim of infringement. Ultimately, in the opinion of the jury in the case, R&J failed to prove its claim that the UGG boot was obvious and that, therefore, Deckers’ design patents were invalid. However, it seems that R&J remains dissatisfied with the decision and has already filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court.
Disputes over intellectual property can be very complicated, and those involved in such a dispute may find it helpful to consult an attorney.