On Sept. 8, a federal judge in New York ruled that the giant retailer Costco Wholesale intentionally misled consumers by placing "Tiffany" signs over display cases with diamond engagement rings. Tiffany & Co. sued the retail giant in 2013 after someone informed them of a "Tiffany" display at a Costco store in Huntington Beach, California.
According to Tiffany, the warehouse club retailer sold several styles of rings under the name "Tiffany" for many years, though the rings were not actually made by the 180-year-old jeweler. In a statement, the company said it would never distribute its products through warehouse retailers like Costco.
Costco argued that "Tiffany" is a generic term for a type of gem setting popularized by Charles Lewis Tiffany, the New York-based jeweler's founder, in 1886. The wholesaler noted that the term "Tiffany setting" is so common it appears in the dictionary. However, the judge found Costco liable for trademark counterfeiting and trademark infringement, saying that Costco had not acted in good faith.
A spokesperson for Costco said it has sent a letter to warehouse members offering to let them return fake Tiffany jewelry for a refund. An attorney for Tiffany said the company looks forward to the trial on damages, which the court has ruled may allow punitive damages.
California business owners who believe that they have been the victim oftrademark infringement may benefit by retaining an intellectual property attorney. Legal counsel could go over all the options available to protect a company's logo, symbol, jingle, phrase or sound from trademark dilution.