Last year, Kurokawa received a trademark from the Japan Patent Office to use his brand name “Cuggl” on clothes. In 2022, when Cuggl began selling its t-shirts for $18, they showed the brand’s logo front and center but with a stroke of pink paint covering its lower half. The partially hidden logo looked identical to the top of half of Gucci’s logo, which is printed in similar fonts on the luxury brand’s t-shirts.
Cuggl’s t-shirts soon caught the attention of Gucci’s lawyers, who filed a motion to revoke the indie brand’s trademarks. Gucci argued that consumers would get confused because Cuggl’s t-shirts are similar to the ones it produces. It also claimed that the trademark was filed with malicious intent to get a free ride on Gucci’s goodwill and reputation, FastCompany reported.
According to Alexandra J. Roberts, professor of law and media at Northeastern University School of Law, Gucci’s argument was not without merit.
“There have been studies showing that people can read words when only their top half is visible,” Roberts said. “Our brains extrapolate from what we can see and fill in the rest. When the bottom half of Cuggl is concealed, there’s a good chance that many consumers will mistake it for the famous and far more widely-known brand Gucci, and that misconception could lead to a different purchasing decision. That’s likely to be enough for trademark infringement.”
However, Gucci’s argument failed to persuade the Japan Patent Office, which reportedly did not find enough visual, conceptual, or phonetic resemblance that consumers would think they were buying a Gucci product when shopping for a Cuggl t-shirt.
It is worth noting that Gucci’s previous collections have themselves embraced the aesthetic and style of its knockoff products. In 2017, the brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele reportedly launched a resort collection that included pieces with the “Guccy” written on them. Later in 2020, the brand released a set of bags with “Fake” painted on its logo in bright yellow — a nod to designers and other brands ripping off Gucci’s work.
While Gucci has lost its battle against Kurokawa, other luxury brands such as Chanel, Balenciaga, and adidas will be well advised to gear up for a fight. Kurokawa has several patent applications pending for other parody brand names that imitate legitimate brand names — with a splash of paint, of course.