Gucci protects its IP fiercely, but plays a different game for the IP of others
With the movie House of Gucci opening this week, the Italian fashion house is in the spotlight for the passionate vendettas that occurred back when the company was a family-owned business. The current Gucci, however, is now owned by a French luxury-goods conglomerate, and it knows a good branding opportunity when it sees one. The company opened up its archives to the movie’s production team, and trailers see star Lady Gaga dressed in unmistakably Gucci wares that feature signatures like the GG monogram fabric and the brand’s green-red-green stripes.
One of the teasers released so far also sees Lady Gaga’s character – the wife of a Gucci scion – taking umbrage with Gucci knock-offs.
That’s a problem that continues to trouble the brand today. Gucci has sued fast-fashion chain Forever 21 for appropriating its signature stripes, claiming that this dilutes the value of its luxury positioning. In a 2017 lawsuit, Gucci asserted: “Forever 21’s reputation for being accused of profiting from the trademarks and copyrights of others, including Gucci, is well established. Now, in an effort to distract from its own blatant infringements, Forever 21 is attempting to attack some of Gucci’s most famous and iconic trademarks. This will not deter Gucci from pursuing its own claims against Forever 21 as port of its ongoing commitment to the vigorous protection of its valuable intellectual property rights and distinctive brand identity.” Forever 21 responded with the counter-argument that it was not reasonable for Gucci to claim a monopoly on this particular style of stripes.
Gucci has also sued fashion brand Guess for using a monogram pattern similar to Gucci’s interlocking Gs. In this suit, the luxury brand claimed that Guess had “counterfeited its products to gain an unfair advantage through trademark infringement”.
Ironically, Gucci hasn’t always accorded the same respect to others’ intellectual property. In 2019, artist Sharona Franklin – known for her botanical jelly cakes – was contacted by the brand, and invited to create works for an event.
In a phone call with a Gucci representative, “I explained my inspiration for my work, how I'm influenced by 70s aesthetics, botanicals, domestic practice and social action. I talked with them about using Gucci ribbons, belts and buckles with vintage sourced platters, recycled materials which I always use, and botanicals and baby's breath,” she told website Popdust.
Subsequently, she was told that the project wouldn’t work out due to budget and time constraints. Then, months later, Gucci posted images of jelly cakes it had used in a campaign. These had been created by another artist, and Franklin made no bones about her belief that her work had been plagiarised. The incident drew a lot of attention when it was picked up by influential Instagram account Diet Prada.
"All elements of my work were stolen by Gucci, [including] composition, color choices, the mold shapes, fabric choices, jellies including the inlays, putting items in them and with fake, dried and fresh flowers and vintage silver platters. Gucci even copied my words [from an interview] in which I talk about my jellies being inspired by the 70s aesthetics, bionic adaptations, herbal medicine, conviviality and fancy dinners," Franklin said to Popdust. "I would like to be financially compensated and apologized to by Gucci…This is intellectual property theft and plagiarism of a disabled artist. It's unjust and morally corrupt.”
So when it comes to intellectual property, it looks like Gucci is trying to have its cake and eat it too, by policing other brands for copyright infringement even as it seems to have few qualms about copying those with less power and visibility. It's yet another reminder that innovators without the resources of large conglomerates need more tools to help safeguard their original ideas.
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