National Jeweler Network

Market Developments

Seeing stripes: Swatch files suit over zebra design

By Michelle Graff

March 12, 2014

New York--Add a lawsuit filed against it by the world’s largest watchmaker to Target’s growing list of problems.

In New York federal court on Monday, Swatch Group AG slapped Minneapolis-based Target Corp. and Target Brands Inc. with a lawsuit claiming the retailer is selling watches that infringe upon the trade dress of its “zebra” and “multi-color” plastic Swatch watches.

Swatch Group is asking the court to award damages in the case, including money made from the sale of the allegedly infringing timepieces, to ban Target from selling these watches, and to order the destruction of all existing watches.

A spokesman for Target, which is grappling with sliding sales and the aftermath of the November-December theft of millions of customers’ personal data, said the retailer doesn’t have additional information to share in regards to the lawsuit. The retailer, however, issued the following statement: “It always has been, and continues to be, the policy of Target to respect the intellectual property rights of others and we expect the same from our vendors and partners.”

In the lawsuit, Swatch Group claimed it “revolutionized” the watch industry in the early 1980s by creating its plastic-cased namesake watches consisting of only 51 components.

The company “has combined high-quality fashion at an affordable price with its Swatch watches,” court papers state, and has sold millions of Swatch products worldwide since debuting in the U.S. market in 1982.

Now, Target is selling watches that infringe upon Swatch Group’s zebra and multi-color trade dresses, the watch company alleges, with the lawsuit giving an in-depth description of each timepiece, including a detailed section on the black and white stripes of the zebra design.

Target watches are “of a quality substantially different than, and inferior to, that of the plaintiff’s genuine goods,” court papers state.

Swatch and Target aren’t the only retail heavyweights battling over jewelry trademark infringement. On Valentine’s Day 2013, Tiffany & Co. filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Costco claiming the warehouse retailer had been selling engagement rings falsely labeled as “Tiffany” for years.

RELATED CONTENT: Tiffany slaps Costco with trademark lawsuit

Costco fired back with a counterclaim stating that the term “Tiffany” in the context of ring settings is now a generic term used to describe any solitaire diamond ring setting with six prongs and, therefore, is no longer a trademark. 

In what legal experts called a victory for Costco, on Jan. 17 a federal judge ruled that the warehouse retailer could take its argument about the generics of the terms “Tiffany” and “Tiffany setting” to trial when the retailers square off in court this summer.