Saturday, January 16, 2010

Making a Federal Case of the David vs. Goliath Narrative

Long-time friend of Cincinnati Social Media’s old friend Jack Greiner has been all over the saga of the South Butt. If you haven’t been following along, this titanic legal battle pits The North Face, a division of VF Corporation, (NYSE: VFC) a $7 billion maker and importer of branded apparel, and Jimmy Winkelmann, a teenager from Missouri with a Web site.

Goliath v. Winkelmann

I am not making that name up. If you were writing this story you’d kick yourself if you forgot to name the kid Jimmy Winkelmann.

What it boils down to that Jimmy fired up this Web site where he sells hoodies and hats and such with a logo that is an obvious parody of the North Face’s familiar trademark. While I don’t have the benefit of a J.D. (from an accredited institution) I have been around the block enough times to know that trademarks are not like copyrights, that is the owner MUST enforce it or risk losing it. Special permissions need not apply.

So maybe it’s less about the gigantic maker of Wranglers and Lee Jeans and JanSport backpacks wanting to step on a teenager’s entrepreneurial spirit than it’s about preventing an avalanche of parodies of those brands as well.

Maybe the company had no choice but to take some sort of action.


But is a lawsuit all they had in the quiver?


Parody is, in many senses, praise. North Face has managed to sell technical gear to people who never get any closer to Denali than the bunny hill at a state park. North Face knows that. The people who buy the stuff know that. Jimmy Winkelmann obviously knows it, too.

He just figured out how to make it fun.

Granted, many patent and trademark suits end in some sort of settlement anyway, and this one may very well go that route as well. But the geometry of this conflict makes it seem there could have been some interim step before the first public knowledge of the conflict was the VERY-BIG-CORPORATION-OF-AMERICA making, well, a Federal case out of it.

And before the Dominant Narrative in play became David and Goliath.


jack greiner said...

Dan, thanks for the shout out. I think you are right on target (to continue the "arrow in the quiver" metaphor from your post). There is a copy of South Butt's court answer on a more recent post. It is actually very funny.

Mike said...

Dan, this is great stuff! I seem to recall that Mad Magazine was repeatedly sued for their profit making parodies, but they did not lose, either, did they? Seems applicable to me. I agree = parody is often praise.