[Editor’s note: When this was first posted, I — not Matthew, I, Ron Coleman — failed to utilize the drop-down box and make sure that MDB showed as the author of this piece, probably thinking that the picture at left would do the trick. Based on some blog posts, um, it didn’t. Sorry to all concerned!]
On Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough perhaps, Tiffany (the jeweler, not the singer) filed a complaint against Costco in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, asserting a variety of trademark-related causes of action. The lawsuit is not extraordinary by any means. The alleged facts, summarized below, are not scandalous, even if they describe an underhanded practice:
A woman complained to Tiffany & Co. about something she had seen at a Costco warehouse in Huntington Beach, California—to wit: diamond rings for sale, described in signage at the display case as “Tiffany” rings. (The woman was reportedly “disappointed” by her “observ[ation].”) Costco investigated and confirmed what the woman had described: Costco was selling jewelry (mis)labeled as Tiffany items. (A saleswoman referred to the rings as “Tiffany” rings, and said that the store generally carries only one of each at a time.)
But Tiffany has never permitted its merchandise to be sold by Costco; apparently, something was amiss. The items sold by Costco were not in fact Tiffany items—not even in the way that other higher-end watches, for instance, sold by Costco are the real things (even if not every higher-end watchmaker is happy about it; see Omega S.A. v. Costco Wholesale Corp., the Ninth Circuit matter addressing whether the first-sale doctrine is a defense against claims of infringing distribution and importation for unauthorized sale of authentic items incorporating designs protected by copyright.) Tiffany found that Costco was selling the items in question online as well, but not labeled “Tiffany” there.
Tiffany confronted Costco with its discovery, and Costco immediately removed all misleading signage. The damage had been done, however. The complaint alleges (or at least suggests) that the offending practice was not limited to the Huntington Beach warehouse, but rather was widespread throughout Costco’s locations nationwide, for many years. “There are now,” according to the complaint, “hundreds if not thousands of people who mistakenly believe they purchased and own a Tiffany engagement ring from Costco.”
So what makes this case interesting? A few minor things, to my mind, and one more significant. Read More…