One small step for Alexander Wang, one giant leap for the war on counterfeits.
After suing 459 websites for infringing on his trademark, the New York-based designer was awarded $90 million in damages.
Sites like alexanderwangshoessale.com and cheapalexanderwangbags.com broke the law when they used the designer’s brand name without permission. What’s more, the sites hocked counterfeit goods and went so far as to mimic the design layout of Wang’s e-commerce site in order to convince consumers they were legitimate.
The designer’s lawsuit named 50 offenders (though none appeared in court) for cybersquatting and trademark counterfeiting. Understandably, the judge came down on his side in a default judgment that awarded Wang the $90 million. But as the defendants were no-shows and probably used pseudonyms or other deceptive information to set up the sites, it will be hard for the designer to get a hold of his dough. While he might not see much monetary gain, the action does send a message.
“The court system regularly awards very large amounts for the symbolic significance, as a means of deterring other individuals and parties,” a spokesman for the company told WWD. But for chief principal officer Dennis Wang, it meant a lot more than that. “The company takes its intellectual property rights very seriously,” he said. “Protecting our brand requires maintaining constant vigilance on a global scale as well as taking proactive measures such as sending cease-and-desist orders directly to domestic and foreign counterfeiters, as well as contacting website servers that host counterfeit sites. The creativity and originality of our designs are the foundation upon which the company is based.”
Wang and his company started protecting his designs early in the business’s history. In 2012, the designer heavily invested time in obtaining patents as he began to introduce hardware onto his bags and shoes. As evidenced by this suit, he has no problems in going after those who have wronged him. But knockoffs aren’t just a problem for Wang. They are a global issue with no real end in sight.
Design copying is not only a longstanding problem for the industry but also for all of big business. In 2013, it was pegged at being a market of more than $524 billion. That’s a lot of money, and designers want their fair share. Chanel went after the spunky upstart ShopJeen for selling cellphone cases that looked like perfume bottles; Gucci went after Beyond the Rack for counterfeit bags; and Birkenstock recently completely pulled its products from Amazon because of all the fake merchandise being sold. Those are just a few examples.
Wins like Wang’s will give all these brands even more leverage in court because of precedence.