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Apple Sued by Artist for Trade Dress Infringement

Posted by Rebecca Blake on April 20, 2015

It’s a case that puts a twist on the familiar David vs Goliath, artist-suing-major-corporation-for-copyright-infringement story. As has been widely reported, Miami-based Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto is suing Apple, Inc. and the designers known as Craig & Karl for trade dress infringement and unfair competition. At issue is a brightly patterned piece of artwork created by Craig & Karl, and featured prominently on Apple’s “Start Something New” webpage, as well as in Apple stores. The “Start Something New” campaign features works created by well-known artists using Apple products; the offering by Craig & Karl is purported to have been made on an iPad Air 2 with iOS apps.

Romero’s lawsuit is unusual, in that he’s not making the common charge of copyright infringement. An excellent article by Steve Schlackman in Art Law Journal points out that the offending image does not appear to be derived from an existing Britto work. Instead, Britto is claiming infringement of trade dress, the distinctive visual appearance of a product or packaging (such as Britto’s use of brightly colored geometric patterns and heavy black outlines). According to Schlackman, to prevail Britto must establish both that his work is distinctive, and that consumers are likely to be confuse the Craig & Karl work with his.

According to the complaint filed by Britto, such confusion has already occurred; Britto’s business partners and collectors confused the Craig & Karl artwork with his. According to the Miami Herald, Britto’s own lawyer, Robert Zarco, first saw the artwork at an Apple store in China and assumed it was Britto’s. However, Britto appears to have a steep slope to climb in proving infringement; bright patterns and thick outlines have been utilized by numerous artists (Keith Haring and Walter De Morais come to mind). As Schlackman states, the true test of whether Britto’s work merits trade dress protection may occur should he ever submit it to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Below: Screenshots from the Britto’s gallery (top) and the Apple “Start Something New” webpage.

Romero Britto screenshotApple Start Something New screenshot

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