A primary concern in an intellectual property dispute is that infringement will cause consumer confusion. This confusion can result in brand dilution, loss of profits and other costly damages. Thus, parties enforce intellectual property rights to ensure their brand, products and services remain distinctive.
But could being too distinctive be a defense to infringement claims?
Peloton versus Lululemon
This claim is part of the response exercise equipment company Peloton Interactive Inc. made after retailer Lululemon Athletica Canada Inc. accused it of patent infringement.
The two companies were partners at one time but ultimately cut ties. Since then, Peloton has released a line of athleisure clothing similar to those made by Lululemon. Now, Lululemon claims that at least six products infringe on design patents they hold.
However, Peloton points to several differences in the products. They also say that the brands are individually so recognizable that consumers are unlikely to confuse one brand for the other.
Imitation or inspiration?
Design patent disputes are complicated, even when they do not involve two high-profile companies. Often, a patent holder argues that the other party copied their protected work while the alleged infringer claims their products are inspirations, not imitations.
Something as seemingly insignificant as the cut or materials of a product could be enough to defend against infringement claims.
However, any time a party copies extremely specific patterns and styles that others have a design patent for, it can trigger patent enforcement actions.
In this case, Peloton filed legal papers requesting that courts confirm that they are not infringing on Lululemon’s design patents.
Likelihood of confusion
Pelton’s assertion that the two companies are individually recognizable enough that consumers are not likely to confuse them is interesting. Each company has distinct branding, logos and other intellectual property.
However, there could still be some confusion because of the companies’ previous partnerships and the similarity of their offerings.
It will be interesting to see which side prevails in this case.