22 October 2018Trademarks

Balenciaga keychain designs ‘replicate’ Little Trees freshener IP

A line of car freshener-inspired keychains produced by luxury fashion brand Balenciaga is at the centre of a lawsuit filed last week.

New York-based Car-Freshner, the company behind the Little Trees brand of air fresheners, filed its complaint at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Friday, October 19.

Julius Sämann Ltd—associated with the late German chemist of the same name who invented Little Trees in 1952—is also listed as a plaintiff.

Little Trees, which are disposable air fresheners shaped like trees, are marketed for use in vehicles and come in a range of different colours and scents.

Sämann Ltd owns a number of trademarks and designs covering Little Trees, covering a range of goods including air fresheners, luggage tags, key rings, t-shirts, backpacks, watches, toys, and water bottles.

For example, the shape of the tree was registered as a trademark in 1961 (719,498), to cover “absorbent body impregnated with a perfumed air deodorant, in class 5”. The same shape was registered in 2003 to cover travel bags in class 18, and shirts and caps in class 25.

Car-Freshner is the exclusive licensee of the IP protecting these products, which are sold worldwide, the complaint said.

According to the lawsuit, Balenciaga, originally a Spanish fashion brand but now based in Paris, has been selling tree-shaped keychains “that are deliberately designed to replicate” the trade dress of the Little Trees design.

Balenciaga’s keychains are sold in-store and via the brand’s e-commerce site (see here), where they currently retail at $228.

The complaint said that the product details listed online indicate that the keychain was inspired by car freshener goods, “leaving little doubt about the source of Balenciaga’s infringing design”.

Balenciaga’s keychains allegedly have exactly the same shape, dimensions, and overall appearance of a Little Trees air freshener. The complaint added that the chains are available in the specific colours associated with some of the most popular scents.

The suit said that Car-Freshner has never given Balenciaga permission to use the Little Trees design or trademarks.

It added that consumers are likely to be misled over the source or affiliation of Balenciaga’s products, given that Little Trees products are now “staples of American culture, familiar to millions of consumers who encounter these products”.

Car-Freshner asked the court to find Balenciaga liable for claims of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition, among others.

The Little Trees manufacturer requested injunctive relief and triple the “amount of its profits flowing from the infringement and dilution” of the Little Trees marks, as well as attorneys’ costs.

This is not the first time Balenciaga has been accused of infringing another company’s designs.

In July, a New York souvenir shop accused Balenciaga of copying the design of a tote bag. City Merchandise claimed that Balenciaga sold handbags and purses which bear “a design that is a flagrant knock off” of the souvenir shop’s copyright-protected design of the New York skyline with an airbrushed hot pink sky.

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More on this story

30 July 2018   Luxury brand Balenciaga has “copied” a design from a tote bag sold by a New York City souvenir shop, according to a copyright lawsuit filed last week.
20 March 2019   The company behind the Little Trees brand of air fresheners and fashion company Balenciaga have agreed to dismiss their dispute, one month after taking part in mediation.