L.L. Bean is arguably the apparel brand most widely associated with the outdoors, but when the plaid-clad company dared to use the term “outsider” in a marketing campaign, it put its duck boot into a bit of a legal mess, according to The Consumerist.
Alfwear Inc. is the corporate name of outdoor apparel company KÜHL. In Aug. 2017, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted Alfwear’s trademark for “The Outsider,” a brand to be used on “Rugged outdoor clothing, namely, belts, bottoms, hats, jackets, pants, shirts, shorts, T-shirts, tops.”
KÜHL says it has been selling “The Outsider” pants since June 2015:
Having the registered trademark would preclude competitors from using “The Outsider” brand for their apparel items, but can the trademark be used to stop L.L. Bean and others from simply using the term “Outsider” in a marketing campaign that doesn’t sell any specific clothing item?
Alfwear thinks so, and has sued [PDF] L.L. Bean in a federal court in Utah, alleging trademark violation for Bean’s “Be an Outsider” (get it? “Bean Outsider”?) ad campaign.
This is also a matter of competing trademark applications. In June 2017, L.L. Bean applied for the mark “Be An Outsider,” for the purpose of retail store services and apparel. It’s used the phrase in ads and as part of a new company manifesto, as well as on its gimmicky full-page ad in The New York Times.
According to KÜHL’s lawsuit, this could be confusing to people, and they may be led “to incorrectly conclude” that L.L. Bean’s “goods or services originate with, or are authorized by” the company, which would damage both KÜHL’s business and the public.
The complaint alleges that L.L. Bean used this phrase to intentionally mislead, deceive, or confuse customers, “while trading on Alfwear’s reputation and good will.” KÜHL notes that it requested in writing that L.L. Bean cease and desist from its allegedly infringing actions.
The apparel company claims it has suffered as a result of the alleged trade trademark infringement, and will continue to “suffer loss of income, profits and good will,” while its competitor “has and will continue to unfairly acquire income profits and good will.”
The lawsuit accuses L.L. Bean of violating the Lanham Act, and claims that its actions constitute federal unfair competition. It’s seeking a court order requiring L.L. Bean stop using the line “Be An Outsider” in any publications, ads, or websites; damages, and all profits the Maine company made as a result of its alleged infringement.
L.L. Bean declined to comment, citing pending litigation, but a spokesperson told The Bangor Daily News that the company firmly believes it is “well within” its legal rights to “use the call to action Be An Outsider,” and that it looks forward to resolving the issue.