Rihanna; Puma’s Bad News is Forever 21’s Win; Preliminary Injunction Denied

Via The Phoenix Mag

Fast-fashion giant Forever 21 claimed a big win on Friday in a copyright infringement lawsuit and preliminary injunction filed by Puma. U.S. District Judge Phillip S. Gutierrez refused to grant the plaintiff’s request to immediately prevent Forever 21 Inc. from selling shoes that Puma claims are knockoff versions of their shoe collaboration with Rihanna.  A preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary and drastic remedy” said Judge Gutierrez in a ruling on Friday. He found that Puma fell short of meeting the evidentiary requirement for a preliminary injunction. This ruling follows another victory for the retailer which won the first round of proceedings in April.

As GCE previously reported, Puma filed suit in late March alleging that Forever 21 infringed its copyrights, protected trade dress, and infringement of design patents. The protected items are a suede creeper sneaker, a slide sandal with fur, and a slide with a knotted satin bow that Puma claims Forever 21 copied. The designs were created as a part of the Rihanna Fenty line. Puma argues that Forever 21 “blatantly copied” the “the ridged vertical tooling and grainy texture encompassing the thick rubber outer sole.”  The athletic brand said Forever 21’s business model operates by using the “established goodwill of reputable, name-brand companies.”

“Creepers” made by Plaintiff (L) and Defendant (R)

Forever 21, fought back hard in May arguing that Puma’s allegations are undergirded by “thinly veiled anticompetitive intent.” The retailer demanded that the court dismiss Puma’s infringement claims since the brand offers “classic shoe designs” that are one of “dozens.” The court has not yet ruled on Forever 21’s dismissal motion.

On Friday, Judge Gutierrez took action and flatly refused to grant Puma’s motion for a preliminary injunction. “Other than some exhibits containing website printouts and news articles concerning Forever 21, Puma submits no additional evidence of harm,” he ruled. He was unconvinced by Puma’s global director of brand and marketing’s declaration “[a]s it relies solely on . . . unsupported and largely speculative assertions of harm, Puma has failed to meet its burden of showing that it will likely suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction is not issued.”

Judge Gutierrez said Puma’s efforts to prove the harm required to get the offending items to be pulled from Forever 21’s shelves — “a mere two and a half pages” of its briefing and single declaration — did not present the evidence required.

The court ruled that Puma’s “declaration claims that the presence of knockoff products on the market ‘diminishes the brand value for Puma’s consumers’ and that ‘the prestige of the Puma brand is diminished’” but “these statements are not tied to the actual evidence”, and constitute little more that “pronouncements that are grounded in platitudes rather than evidence.”  The judge found that evidence of harm to Puma’s reputation was absent from the record.

Law 360 reports that Puma said it was “disappointed” and “frustrated” by the court’s decision.

“Intellectual property holders should be able to rely on U.S. courts to enforce their rights immediately when there has been harm and clear infringement . . .This is especially necessary in the fashion industry where trends are most valuable in the short term and infringers take advantage of this time frame.”

Puma’s point here is that the pace of fashion’s offerings is based on trends which are necessarily fast-paced. Trends are only relevant for a short time. A preliminary injunction would be among a very small number of legal tools that, if successful, could be employed to get illegal knockoffs out of the marketplace. The court’s ruling on Friday makes that remedy unavailable to Puma.  

Will the current products even be relevant by the time the case is heard in court?  Who knows?  What is clear, is that Fast-fashion retailers like Forever 21 are “lawyered up” and armed to ensure the continued existence of their product design and go-to-market strategy.

According to reports, Forever 21 has a long history of legal troubles and has faced over 50 copyright violation lawsuits. Gwen Stefani, Adidas, Anna Sui, Trovata, and Diane von Fürstenberg, are some well-known brands who previously filed suit. Forever 21 has filed copyright suits against brands as well.


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