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Logo Copyrights and Wrongs: 5 Interesting Recent Infringement Lawsuits

The nature and quality of different products is usually determined from the logos which are on them. An MP3 player, for example, is simply that unless the Apple logo is emblazoned upon it somewhere, for it is this branding which transforms an arguably ordinary product into something a little more special.

Looking at the logo design for a particular business can stir specific emotions and/or expectations in consumers. This means that many companies are eager to protect the intellectual property of their logo in an attempt to shield the image of their brand from harm.

Even logos which are only vaguely similar to those representing pre-existing businesses are easy targets for legal action.

In no particular order, here are 5 recent (and questionable!) logo design copyright infringement lawsuits which I found to be quite interesting:

Skullcandy VS Skelanimals

Extreme sports headphones brand Skullcandy has filed a federal lawsuit against Skelanimals – an accessories and apparel brand of cute but skeletal animals – it was revealed earlier this week (16/11/2011). The reason for this is that the logos of both companies comprise a skull shape which the plaintiff feels “is likely to cause confusion […] or deceive the consuming public” according to the U.S. District Court case file.

Skelanimals claims its content – including the company’s logo design – have been used since the year of the brands’ inception (2003) and that all intellectual property was successfully copyrighted back in 2008. It is interesting to note that whilst the Skelanimals logo has so far appeared on everything from T-shirts to mugs, to jewellery, soft toys and stationary, it is the fact that the logo has also recently appeared on headphones that has seemingly irked the audio manufacturer. Skullcandy claims that they are “recognized globally” for their skull, “particularly in the headphones category.”

The case continues.

Sony Ericson VS Clearwire Corporation

January 2010 saw mobile communications company Sony Ericsson filing legal action against wireless internet service provider (WISP) Clearwire Corporation for having a green swirly logo similar to their own. The action was taken shortly after Clearwire announced plans to move into the mobile phone market. The Sony mobile-division had demanded $150,000 in cash from Clearwire to cover its legal fees, in addition to three times this amount for the copyright infringement of their logo.

However, Sony Ericsson decided to drop the lawsuit earlier this year in May, once Clearwire established that they no longer had any immediate plans to launch a smartphone on to the market. Clearwire’s change of heart was no doubt a combined result of the popularity of its core technology – WiMAX – decreasing worldwide, the company’s primary customer Sprint turning to the competition and Intel selling of its Clearview shares.

Apple VS Apfelkind

The owner of a small cafe in Germany by the name of Apfelkind (meaning “apple child”) was shocked to receive a cease-and-desist letter back in October this year from computing company Apple. Apple issued the letter in a bid to prevent the eatery from using the image an apple within their logo – a red, apple-meets-child’s-face design.

Apple stated that the cafe’s logo could “confuse customers” (particularly due to the inclusion of a leaf) and see consumers assume that the cafe is somehow affiliated with the tech giant. Press accounts of the case state that the intentions of Apfelkind’s owner – Christin Roma – include applying her logo to fashion garments, toys and its services once the cafe moves into the realm of a franchised chain and this is what has Apple most concerned.

Although Roma admits to being a fan of Apple products herself, she is refusing to drop her patent application for the logo. The case continues…as does Apple’s relentless battle to sue any company which dares bear an apple fruit within their logo!

Nike VS Point 3 Basketball

The Jordan Brand-arm of the Nike Corporation released its first signature shoe for basketball-star Dwayne Wade back in April this year, marked with a logo comprising a number 3 set in cross hairs. Just a few weeks later however, basketball hoops and apparel manufacturer Point 3 Basketball filed a claim for trademark infringement of their logo, claiming that the one which appeared on Wade’s shoe was “virtually identical” to their own.

The two brands launched a joint press release last week stating that a “mutually agreeable business resolution” had now been reached (a pay-off, perhaps?) The second Wade-branded shoe meanwhile was too announced last week and displays a completely rethought logo (which resembles a “3”, “M” and “W” all at once) on the tongue of the sneakers.

Variety VS The Vandals

Back in 2004, Californian punk band The Vandals landed themselves in a spot of legal bother when they released their album Hollywood Potato Chip with the bands’ name emblazoned on the front in the style of the logo for entertainment-trade magazine Daily Variety.

The magazine took an instant dislike to the fonts’ resemblance, for the title of the release is a negative expression of the materialistic culture of Hollywood – a message Variety did not want to be associated with. The case was eventually settled with the band agreeing to redesign the cover art to include a different font.

In April 2010 however, Variety once again tried to sue to band in the wake of several images of the original cover design appearing on certain websites. The Vandals continue to claim that they are not responsible for the third-party distribution of such images and have headlined several benefit gigs in order to raise money to cover their ongoing legal fees.

Interestingly, it is the bands’ bassist and law student Joe Escalante who is representing the band in the case. Escalante says that he has been studying incredibly hard to ensure that he is prepared for court.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.