About a year after Thaddeus O’Neil launched a menswear line inspired by the surf culture he grew around on Eastern Long Island, the independent designer received a cease-and-desist letter from a law firm representing Sisco Textiles owner of the famous “O’Neill” sports apparel trademark.
This was the beginning of legal dispute between the surfwear brand founded in 1952, O’Neill, and the independent New York designer who is gaining more and more popularity after winning several fashion contests.
In their dispute with the New York fashion designer, O’Neill argues that the brand has been using its name since the 1950s, and that Thaddeus O’Neil’s marks are “confusingly similar”. According to O’Neill this could of course lead consumers to be deceived and think that the companies are related.
Trademark disputes involving patronymics (i.e. the trademark equivalent to the founder’s name) are quite common in fashion. In 2012, Tod’s — which was operating the Roger Vivier label under a license at the time — took Los Angeles handbag designer Clare Vivier to court for trademark infringement. She eventually settled and re-branded as Clare V. In 2016, Elio Fiorucci lost his case in Italy against the new owners of the brand he founded in the trademark case that involved the use of the “Love Therapy by Elio Fiorucci” trademark.
But what is the position of Italian Courts when use of patronymics could be confusing with other trademarks? In the end of the 80’s the Supreme Court stated that the use of a patronymic as a trademark is a legitimate use of a sign conflicting with a previous registered trademark so long that the previous trademark does not become a famous mark.
This principle has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2016 in the cited Fiorucci vs. Elio Fiorucci case.
Our tip? Carry out a preliminary trademark search before launching your brand bearing your name.