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The Australian federal government should put its foot down in a trademark dispute about popular sheepskin boots, a lawmaker in Australia’s most populous state said Thursday. New South Wales state Small Business Minister David Campbell accused an American company of “stomping” on small Australian manufacturers of the sheepskin footwear known in Australia as “ugg” boots. California-based Deckers Outdoor Corp. has registered the name UGG as a trademark and its branded footwear’s popularity is soaring along with company profits. Once worn only by Australian farmers, by the 1970s, the surfing crowd had popularized ugg boots and they quickly became a fashion item with teens. Sheepskin boots are now sold all over the world in various forms and by many companies. According to Deckers’ Web site, its UGG range of sheepskin footwear ranges from slippers to snow boots selling from US$50 – US$275. Campbell said Deckers has begun demanding that Australian companies making the boots stop using the name Ugg or derivatives like Ug and Ugh. “The Australian government should change the trademark laws, the intellectual property laws in Australia, to ensure that all the small manufacturers … can continue to make their product and continue to sell their product,” Campbell told reporters in Sydney. He said he would ask federal Trade Minister Mark Vaile to take up the issue with the U.S. government and Deckers Outdoor Corp. Campbell said Westhaven, a small ugg boot manufacturer in the Outback town of Dubbo which employs intellectually disabled workers, had been threatened by Deckers, which demanded the bootmaker surrender all brochures and advertising material using the word ugg, or face prosecution. “It’s galling that a big American company is allowed to stomp all over our ugg boot manufacturers,” he said. “The federal government should be protecting these people, not turning its back on them.” Deckers Outdoor Corp. could not immediately be contacted for comment Thursday and nobody was immediately available for comment at the Australian law firm Middletons, which represents Deckers in Australia. Westhaven’s Gordon Tindall argues the name ugg boot is a generic term and one company should not have exclusive rights to it. “We’ve been making them for 30 years,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “An ugg boot will always be an ugg boot, you can’t change them. It’s like a meat pie — a meat pie’s a meat pie, not a mince and gravy sandwich.” Tindall confirmed that Deckers had threatened Westhaven with legal action in a letter in January if Westhaven did not stop using the name ugg or derivatives of it. “We panicked for a bit and then said ‘well … we own the name ugg in terms of it’s a generic name,” he said. There’s even a Web site aimed at drumming up support for a possible class-action lawsuit by Australian manufacturers. Tindall estimated that at least a dozen companies make the boots in Australia along with many more “cottage industry” manufacturers working out of their garages. Campbell wore his boots outside state parliament in downtown Sydney on Thursday, saying he was a fan because they are “comfortable, they’re warm and they’re Australian made.” Earlier this month Deckers said its first quarter, net sales increased 22.6 percent to US$44.3 million versus US$36.1 million in the same period last year. Net earnings for the quarter increased 28.1 percent to a record US$5.382 million compared to earnings of US$4.203 million last year. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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