Friday, The North Face clothing company followed through on its threat to sue The South Butt clothing line. The trademark infringement lawsuit filed in federal court lays out The North Face company's complaints: mainly that The South Butt's logo and slogan dilute The North Face's brand and confuse customers who may assume The South Butt is a North Face product.
The 18-year-old founder of The South Butt says he started the company when he was in high school as a way to mock those that wore the pricier brand's clothing. In August, Jimmy Winkelmann's company got the attention of North Face lawyers when they became aware of Winkelmann's application to register The South Butt brand. Lawyers for The North Face sent Winkelmann a letter asking the start up to stop selling The South Butt products under Winkelmann's logo and slogan: "Never Stop Relaxing" (clearly a swipe at Northface's "Never Stop Exploring").
Winkelmann refused and offered to sell his company to The North Face for one million dollars. Later, Winkelmann retracted the offer after he saw sales of his clothing climb in the wake of publicity around the case.
Winkelmann's attorney, Al Watkins, says the publicity around the case continues to drive sales for The South Butt. Since September, the upstart has launched a new website and hired three more employees.
When I talked to Winkelmann in September, he told me that his company made about $5,000 a year ago. In the lawsuit, The North Face writes that The South Butt claims to have sold over $100,000 in merchandise in November. Winkelmann's attorney says he does not know how much sales of increased but that it was a substantial number.
Winkelmann plans to fight the lawsuit in court. Watkins is apparently representing him for free.
Winkelmann is now a freshman at The University of Missouri in Colombia, studying biomedical engineering.
The North Face did not return our calls for comment when we first did a story in September and did not return my call again today. I can tell you: large companies are vigilant about protecting trademarks. There is a lot of value in a name and recognizable logo. In court, these kinds of cases typically come down to the likelihood of confusion and whether those buying The South Butt may be confused into believing the items are The North Face products.
See for yourself, check out the logos and slogans of both companies on their websites:
The North Face: www.thenorthface.com/catalog/index.html
The South Butt: www.thesouthbutt.com/