This 6 minute read contains three major marketing lawsuits from 2018 that offer valuable insights into originality, infringement and honesty. When it comes to federal lawsuits, it’s probably best to learn from the mistakes of others.
Adidas vs. Skechers
The Story: On May 10th of 2018, Adidas filed a lawsuit against Skechers. It claimed that Skechers produced a sneaker that looked too much like its Sam Smith line.
Our advertising agency consists of marketing experts, not fashionistas. But we don’t have to be to recognize that there was likely some foul play involved with Sketchers’ shoe design. According to the appeal, Adidas announced that over 40 million pairs of its Stan Smith shoe
(pictured above on the right) had sold worldwide, making it its most successful shoe in the company’s history. It was likely no coincidence that once Adidas began to generate so much positive publicity, Skechers came out with its Onix shoe, (pictured above to the right). Four days before going to court, the companies eventually agreed on a settlement not released to the public– but we can comfortably assume it wasn’t cheap. And this was in addition to all of the time, money, and other resources spent by both companies in this lawsuit.
The Lesson: Jim Carrey said it best: “Originality is really important.” There is a fine line between responding to competitors respectfully and waging war against them. In this specific instance, Skechers put resources towards copying someone else’s success when they could have used them to generate their own. What you should take away from this lawsuit is that it’s important to build your business off of authenticity. This will take more time and effort. But, it will pay off when you create a successful product or service that you can take complete credit for. (And, it will help you avoid a federal lawsuit.)
Rentmeester vs. Nike
The Story: 34 years ago, a man named Jacobus Rentmeester “planned and executed a photo shoot with then North Carolina student Michael Jordan.” (US District Court) You can view that photo below on the top left hand side. Now, compare it to the photo on the top right hand side, which was an image photographed by Nike and eventually turned into the Jumpman logo for Jordan’s personal sub-brand. Notice any similarities between the two?
Rentmeester did, and decided to sue the international sportswear brand for intellectual rights to the photo. Spoiler alert, the multi-million dollar corporation won the lawsuit on the basis that the two images did not look enough alike. This is a questionable conclusion by the federal court, and many believe Jordan brand got away with intellectual copyright infringement.
The Lesson: You can never be too careful when it comes to claiming your work. Had Rentmeester won his lawsuit against Nike, it likely would have been the victory of his life. But because he was not proactive in protecting his work, he lost out on an amazing opportunity and likely early retirement.
Nathan vs. Vitamin Shoppe
The Story: Andrea Nathan fell victim to sly marketing by the weight loss industry. She purchased Garcinia Cambogia Extract from the Vitamin Shoppe for $20 because it claimed to be a weight loss product. Or so she thought. The label read that it assisted with weight management. Due to the marketing diction, though, Nathan read this to mean weight loss.
In reality, the product never promised weight loss as a direct cause of consumption. When she did not see the results she wanted, she decided to take the Vitamin Shoppe to court. Her argument was that she was intentionally tricked into believing her purchase would cause weight loss. In the end, the court dismissed the case on the basis that their label never technically lied. However, the lawsuit still wasted money and caused unnecessary headaches. And Nathan has reapplied for a trial, so the definite outcome is still up in the air.
The Lesson: While there was legally no issue with the marketing of the weight control product, morally, we think there was. If your product or service is worth selling, you should be able to advertise it exactly how it is. Your marketing goal should never be to confuse a customer enough to buy it. It should be to tell a customer exactly what it does so they see its value and purchase it. Honesty truly is the most important quality when it comes to the business world. Otherwise, the probability of finding yourself tangled up in a lawsuit is high. And if you’re a small business without pockets as deep as Vitamin Shoppe’s, you could be in over your head.
Know Your Rights
If you’ve never read them before, it might be a good idea to take a look at your country’s marketing and advertising laws, since every location will be different. If you are U.S. based, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has a free database here that you should search through before offering a product or service to customers. Their website also has plenty of learning resources if you would like to study up on patent and copyright policies. If by learning about copyrights and patents, you realize that you are in need of one, you can apply for one on their website as well.
It’s also important to know your rights, and take action immediately if you suspect infringement. For example, “in the United States, copyright protection automatically extends to any appropriate material. This is the case whether you file for a copyright notice or not. However, if it is at all practical, you should spend the small fee to formally register your copyright if the material is of significant value to you. This will increase both the legal protection of your work and the likely value of any rewards you might recover in an infringement of copyright lawsuit.” (BusinessTown) If your company is not located in the U.S., you should find out what your automatic rights are, and make sure you are taking advantage of them.
Court is a battlefield that can get messy for even the most educated of lawyers. Straightforward and clean marketing and advertising is the only way to guarantee you’ll stay out of trouble with the law. Your company has enough expenses to begin with– the last thing you need is to allocate millions to legal fees. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to subscribe to our newsletters! You also may want to check out our article about marketing automation.
Written by: Victoria Kline