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In Jeans Business, Trademark Suits Are in Style

Times Staff Writer

A shirt tab here. Some pocket stitching there. Names that ring a bell.

What might seem like barely noticeable details to the customers who wear the clothes are often enough to send a garment maker scurrying into court.

“People in this industry are very sensitive to their trademark rights,” said Donald A. Kaul, a Washington attorney.

Marsha Stafford, 33, and Susan Duran, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M., found that out the hard way in October, 1984, when Jordache Enterprises sued them for $4 million in damages for alleged trademark infringement. (Damages are tripled in such cases.)

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The garments in question were jeans for full-figured women that Stafford and Duran had started manufacturing under the name Lardashe. To get people’s attention, they put an appliqued pig peering over a back pocket.

“Jordache didn’t feel that a woman consumer would know the difference between a pig and a horse (the Jordache symbol),” Stafford said.

Found Not Guilty

For now, the Lardashe ladies are having the last squeal. A judge ruled last August that they were not guilty on any count--trademark infringement, confusing the public or tarnishment of image or name. The jeans are selling briskly at $34 to $60 in such stores as J. C. Penney, Stafford said.

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Kaul has been hired to handle Jordache’s appeal.

“The basis for Jordache’s complaint is that the term Lardashe, which everybody understands to be lard ass, is kind of an offensive, insensitive term to use to apply to overweight women,” he said. Jordache feared that potential customers of its own large-size line might take Lardashe jeans to be a Jordache product--and take offense.

Stafford can’t wait until it’s over once and for all. The hazards are too great. In the course of the legal battle, she acquired an ulcer and lost 60 of her 190 pounds--angering her size 16 partner and making her too svelte for her own products.

The solution? A new line of junior sizes.

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In 1983, Jordache took K mart to task in a dispute in Los Angeles over some allegedly counterfeit jeans. Jordache sued the retailer for $100 million, accusing it of trademark infringement and unfair competition. The parties settled for undisclosed terms.

Jordache has also been on the receiving end of lawsuits. In 1981, Levi Strauss charged that Jordache infringed on the rear-pocket stitching design used on Levi’s jeans since 1873 and on the pocket tab trademark used by the company since 1936. The suit was settled.

Decade of Litigation

Earlier this year, Kaul successfully wrapped up a decade of litigation involving the use by his client, Wrangler, of a name tab on its shirt pockets. Levi Strauss said the tabs infringed, but Wrangler won out. What’s interesting, Levi earlier had won a similar suit involving Wrangler’s tabs on its Blue Bell jeans.

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Then there’s Guess, which has vigorously protected its high-fashion formula over the years. In a Newsweek story in 1984, Georges Marciano, the founder, cited about 20 cases against knockoff artists. “We are suing everybody,” he boasted.

The company is now embroiled in a case against a former licensee that is set for trial July 15.

In 1983, Guess licensed Jeff Bohbot, a Moroccan-born Frenchman who now uses the name Jeff Hamilton, to produce its menswear. The company would receive a 7% royalty on Hamilton’s sales--which went to $30 million in 1985 from about $2 million in the first year. According to Gary Freedman, an attorney for Guess, the legal action arose because Marciano felt that Hamilton was not weeding out older styles and therefore was not “presenting a line consistent with Guess’ trend-setting image.”

When Marciano attempted to terminate the license, Hamilton sued and won an injunction against Guess.

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“Since that time, we have been involved in what I would characterize as World War VIII,” says William Masterson, Hamilton’s attorney. Although the license has now expired, the case continues, with Hamilton claiming damages of between $60 million and $80 million, charging that Guess interfered with his performance.

Filed Cross-Complaint

Guess is seeking a similar amount in a cross-complaint. The company alleges that Hamilton infringed on Guess trademarks by using them improperly, defrauded Guess by making sales that were not reflected on books and made sales to customers, primarily wholesalers, that were not permitted under terms of the license agreement.

Last month, Hamilton was ordered to show why he should not be held in contempt for alleged violations of a preliminary injunction prohibiting him from selling the Guess lines to anyone other than men’s specialty stores or men’s departments at other retailers.

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Meanwhile, in a separate suit filed last September in U.S. District Court here, a judge temporarily restrained K mart and the retailer’s Designer Depot subsidiary from selling men’s Guess jeans that Guess said were falsely represented as women’s jeans. Guess alleged that Designer Depot, an off-price unit of K mart, advertised the garments as jeans for women when, in fact, they were jeans for men with altered labels. Hamilton was named as a defendant.


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