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Purveyor of exquisite jewels and luxury timepieces Cartier is going a bit downmarket these days, or at least that is the implication they are concerned about. Cartier is suing designer discount site HauteLook.com for false claims regarding advertising and trademark infringement over the website's sale of Cartier watches. Cartier is not suing HauteLook for selling fake watches, but for selling real watches and doing it incorrectly.
According to the Complaint filed by Cartier and provided by Fashionista.com, the company spends time, money and effort in building and maintaining its luxury brand and image in the marketplace. Indeed, if your product is worth thousands of dollars for the simplest design, you should ensure your client is getting everything they dream of, and more. This effort includes the product branding, packaging, warranties and even repair -- if necessary, Cartier is careful to say. The company claims that HauteLook falsely claims they have "partnered" with Cartier to bring the luxury goods to customers at a great savings, something Cartier maintains never happened. The Complaint also says the packaging and warranties are inconsistent with the Cartier trademarks. In fact, the company claims that they purchased a Cartier watch from HauteLook and it arrived in a Baume & Mercier box. Quelle horreur!
Humor aside, trademarks and branding are valuable commodities in an economy where businesses are fighting for every rare consumer dollar. Business owners selling multiple brands should be aware of false advertising and trademark infringement pitfalls. It is not enough to sell a product that is "real" as opposed to a counterfeit or even a gray market good. Businesses should ensure they are not leaving themselves open to false advertising claims by misrepresenting the origin of the product, or to infringement claims by not respecting the trade dress and branding aspects of the various companies' products they may sell. Laws in every state protect against these types of actions. If a company attempts to deceive consumers with false claims, the punishment might be more than monetary, the business reputation could suffer.
When in doubt, businesses should work with the originator of any goods they would like to retail to the public. This may hit the bottom line up front, but will most likely save lawyer's fees, court costs and damages claims later. Cartier is seeking $2 million in damages from HauteLook. That is no bargain.