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Gucci lost a trademark battle in Japan against a parody brand

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

24 Aug 2022

Fashion

Image: CUGGL t-shirt

At first glance Gucci and Cuggl seems worlds away from overlapping in brand image and copyright. The former, a storied Italian luxury house with global reach, and the latter a small Japanese fashion start-up that parodies such luxury brands. They appear to have little in common until you spot the logo of the latter on a t-shirt with the bottom half cleverly obscured. It could almost be Gucci.

Cuggl was founded by Osaka-based entrepreneur Nobuaki Kurokawa, who sells t-shirts parodying famous brands. Mr Kurokawa trademarked the name CUGGL and GUANFI (both in caps) in October 2020. The latter looks like Chanel when the bottom half is obscured.

According to Marks IP, a Japanese-based law firm, Gucci opposed the mark, which also consists of a hand-painted line in pink, and was applied for use on clothing, footwear, headwear, and apparel in class 25 b. The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed Gucci's opposition against “CUGGL”, stating it found customers would not likely be confused to think it was genuine GUCCI.

GUCCI vs CUGGL

“Gucci claimed the opposed mark was sought with malicious intention to free-ride goodwill and reputation in a manner of hiding the lower part of the term CUGGL’ , said Marks IP. Gucci claims the pink paint makes the text recognisable as “GUCCI”.

Mr Kurokawa’s t-shirts, however, obscures just over half of the text, meaning most of the part of the term is hidden. Cuggl, which is pronounced ‘kyuguru’ in Japanese, is not the only brand Mr Kurokawa parodies. T-shirts which mimic the Puma logo as animal names as well as parodied tees of the logos from adidas, Nike, Prada and Balenciaga, have all been re-worked. Gucci could therefore consider itself in good company amongst his humorous take on luxury logos.

The Financial Times reports the Japanese Patent Office tends to decide that people are smarter than the parody-allergic big brands would like.

Does fashion need parody?

Furthermore, there is a value in the parody and what it says about consumerism and luxury. Simple logo t-shirts are a key revenue driver for luxury brands, and usually consist of a plain cotton t-shirt with a logo splattered on the front or back, but come with exuberant price tags for what the product actually is.

This sense of humour is not shared by fashion houses, who are fiercely protective of their marks but also of any potential revenue losses. When Gucci and Balenciaga orchestrated a tightly curated hack of each other’s brands last year, the Kering-owned companies turn litigious when the hack is on them.

These luxury houses have enormous marketing power, dominating the fashion conversation in print, billboard, social media, influencers and celebrity spheres The prestige they sell is to project an image of exclusivity, and yet with social and economic commentary from brands such as Cuggl, which subverts their message, the uncertainty of the law and sheer power of brands means parodists are vulnerable to legal action by trademark holders, argue the authors of the report The Luxury Economy and Intellectual Property: Critical Reflections.

While Gucci and other luxury houses enjoy free speech and widespread influence over global consumers – the Vetements DHL parody a key example here - they do not take kindly to the reversal of subjectivity of their marks.

Image: CUGGL trademark via JPO
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