Plaid fight: Burberry sues Target over that trademark check

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The traditional Burberry plaid.
The traditional Burberry plaid. Credit: Staton R. Winter/Bloomberg News

Burberry's signature scarves are showing up on the wrong shelves—or at least copies of them are, and without the storied U.K. brand's permission, the retailer alleged in a recent lawsuit. Filed by Burberry against Minneapolis-based retailer Target, the suit claims the company copied its trademarked plaid on eyewear, luggage, stainless-steel bottles and scarves.

"Despite being aware of Burberry's exclusive trademark rights, Target nevertheless has repeatedly infringed these rights by selling a variety of products bearing close imitations and counterfeits of the Burberry Check trademark," reads the suit, filed in the Southern District of New York court earlier this month. "Target's conduct is willful, intentional and represents a conscious disregard for Burberry's rights in the Burberry Check trademark and a calculated decision to misappropriate the enormous goodwill represented by the Burberry Check trademark," the suit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, Burberry first sent Target a cease-and-desist letter in early 2017. By December of last year, the high-end brand was still finding the copycat wares on the lower-end retailer's shelves. Burberry's checked pattern is a federally registered trademark in red, camel and black-and-white, and has been in circulation since the 1920s. The company said it has "invested significant time, energy and money advertising, promoting and selling merchandise featuring the Burberry Check trademark."

A Target spokeswoman says the company is aware of the lawsuit.

"At Target, we have great respect for design rights," she says. "We are aware of the filing by Burberry and hope to address the matter in a reasonable manner."

Target's plaid, photographed in the filing, and Burberry's are "substantially indistinguishable, likely rising to the levels of counterfeits rather than mere trademark infringements," says Susan Scafidi, academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School. She adds that the Burberry pattern is one of fashion's most recognizable.

"It's been years since Burberry copies that convincing were widely available on every street corner, never mind legitimate channels of sale, so it's no wonder that the company is mad about Target's purloined plaid," she says.

Burberry is suing for damages of around $8 million for each trademark violation, according to the filing.

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