Can you tell which is which? Hint: The one on the left is a lot more expensive
Photographs Courtesy Stella McCartney and Steve Madden
By Lydia Dishman
October 24, 2015

Designer Stella McCartney recently called footwear mogul Steve Madden (SHOO) to the carpet over a handbag, accusing him in a suit filed in New York of peddling a cheap knockoff of her popular Falabella bag.

The suit claims that the manufacture and sale of Madden’s BTotally bag ($108 vs. $1,100 for the Falabella) is a “blatant attempt to trade off the renown of the Falabella line and to confuse consumers” because McCartney owns common law trade dress rights in the bag’s look, as well as two patents for the continuous chain attached to the body of the bag.

This isn’t Madden’s first legal rodeo. In addition to his landing in prison for stock fraud, his company has been sued by numerous brands in the past. And now, says Susan Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, lawsuits between designers and brands are becoming just as trendy as a midi-length hemline or 4.5” heel.

“The Internet allows design pirates to be quicker and more accurate than ever, since runway shows are live-streamed and detail shots of accessories are posted within minutes,” she says. Especially in an era of “fast fashion,” where megastores like Forever21 and H&M advance new trends faster than the industry’s traditional six months, U.S. intellectual property law doesn’t fit very well. “Unlike in Europe, Japan, and a number of other countries, we generally don’t have protection for fashion designs, and the industry’s most recent efforts to update U.S. law have stalled,” says Scafaldi, leaving lawyers to pick up the slack to protect against copycats.

Some of fashion’s perennial legal tools are trade dress (a legal term for a form of intellectual property that refers to the overall look and feel of a product or its packaging that identifies the source of the product to consumers) and design patent, according to Scafidi, Here are five labels that have tried them on for size—and won.


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