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Company Sued for Copying ‘Look’ of Competitor’s Website

September 17, 2015

 

If you've put a lot of time and money into designing a distinctive website or online store, and a competitor comes along and copies your site's look, can you sue?

 

Yes, according to a federal court in California. The "look and feel" of a website is protected by the trademark laws. Surprisingly, this is one of the first court rulings ever on this question.

 

Of course, a website is different from a trademark. But a website can still be protected by the law, because it can amount to a company's "trade dress."

 

"Trade dress" refers to the distinctive way that a product is packaged or presented. Examples include the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle or the color of Tiffany's blue boxes. You obviously can't trademark the general idea of putting soda in a bottle or jewelry in a box, but if the color and shape are distinctive enough and are separate from the functionality of the product, then they're protected, and a competitor can't simply copy them.

 

The California case involved two websites that sold maternity products. A company called Ingrid & Isabel claimed that a competitor called Baby Be Mine had illegally copied its website design. Specifically, Ingrid & Isabel claimed that Baby Be Mine had copied: 

 

  1. the idea of putting its logo in pink-orange pastel feminine lettering,

  2. the use of models with long wavy hair, shown from head to mid-thigh, wearing white tank tops and jeans, 

  3. the general colors, patterns, fonts and wallpaper of Ingrid & Isabel's site.

 

In the past, courts have ruled that the design of a physical store can amount to trade dress - such as the color scheme of 7-11 markets, or the distinctive décor of a Mexican restaurant chain. But this is one of the very first times that a court has protected the design of online stores as well. 

 

Contact us today if we can help you with this or other related matters.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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