An association representing makers of bridal and prom gowns has launched a litigation attack on more than a thousand websites that allegedly violate their trademarks and sell cheap knockoffs of their products.
The latest salvo, American Bridal & Prom Industry Association v. Loversbridal.com, filed this week in federal court in Trenton, names as defendants 250 sites, with names like bridalshoppingmall.com and 4eveningdresses.com, and asserts claims of trademark counterfeiting and infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin, and violation of the New Jersey Fair Trade Act.
The plaintiff, American Bridal & Prom Industry Association of Trenton, seeks damages of $2 million for each mark that has been infringed.
The association’s lawyer, Craig Hilliard of Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, says the rogue sites mislead consumers by falsely identifying their products with the plaintiffs’ trade names, and some include product photos taken directly from plaintiffs’ sites.
Hilliard has brought six such suits in the past year and in some cases has obtained injunctions shutting down defendant sites and freezing their PayPal accounts.
“Ultimately, our goal is to send a message to those who want to engage in this type of activity that the industry is serious about protecting its rights and is serious about pursuing relief for violation of those rights,” says Hilliard.
The gown manufacturers have been plagued in recent years with the onset of overseas entities that use their trademarks and goodwill to sell cheap counterfeit versions of their dresses, Hilliard says in court papers.
Some of the knock-off dresses have the same six-digit style numbers as the higher-cost versions, and a few of the defendant websites even include photos of plaintiff’s stores, to create a false impression that they have a bricks-and-mortar presence in the U.S., Hilliard says.
The plaintiffs ordered wedding gowns from some of the defendants and found them to be “nothing like the genuine dress,” with no country of origin label, no care instructions and no fiber content labeling, Hilliard said in court papers. The defendants’ dresses cost $300 each while the plaintiffs’ dresses that inspired their designs cost $1,500 each.
Most of the defendant websites are registered to addresses in China. They are served with the complaints via e-mails sent to addresses on their websites, Hilliard says.
The association was founded in 2012, in part, to investigate and confront such competition, he says.
Counterfeiters such as defendants are “notoriously difficult to stop,” he says. If one of their websites is shut down they lose no goods or profits but can merely move their business to another site.
But the litigation is intended to chill the defendants’ activities at the very least, Hilliard says.
The plaintiffs seek to enjoin defendants and their officers and employees from using plaintiffs’ marks, passing off any counterfeit goods as genuine products of the plaintiffs, selling any goods falsely bearing the plaintiffs’ marks, and registering domain names that use or incorporate plaintiffs’ marks.
They further want the defendants’ domain names disabled by registrars of such names, such as VeriSign, NeuStar and the Public Internet Registry, and to have the registrars turn control of those domain names over to the plaintiffs.
Preliminary injunctions have been issued in some of the prior suits filed over the past year and a half.
Only two defendants have responded to the complaints—dressespro.com in the first suit and trendress.com in the fourth case—and both entered into confidential settlements. Each was represented by Mark Ingber, who heads a firm in Millburn, N.J.
Ingber says the plaintiffs are “not really interested in working to resolve their dispute with the particular defendants. The plaintiffs are aggressive in using the law to get the full judgments. When I get involved I’m always behind the eight-ball.”
“There certainly can be meritorious defenses against these plaintiffs,” he adds. “Some of their trademarks are questionable to say the least. It seems to me to be an effort, at least in part, to stop competition, which is legitimate here.”
In addition to filing suits on behalf of his clients, Hilliard has contacted Google and asked it to take a more active role in guarding against sale of counterfeit goods by busineses using its Sponsored Ads, Sponsored Images and AdWords programs to generate traffic on their websites. The company replied that it would look into the matter, he says.