Occasionally we read about a lawsuit which causes us to question the business acumen of the plaintiff. In other words, what the heck were they thinking when they filed the suit? One such suit is North Face Apparel Corp. v. James Winkleman et al.
North Face is a purveyor of outdoor clothing. Winkleman – referred to by his own attorney as “little Jimmy Winkleman” – is a 19-year old university freshman. Jimmy noted that many of his acquaintances were buying North Face clothing items despite the fact that none of them was a mountain climber (university students traditionally get high in other ways). Determined to get a laugh out of this observation – and perhaps make a few bucks in the process – he created his own clothing line, “South Butt” (motto “Never Stop Relaxing”). He sold his goods on the internet and through a local drugstore, enjoying sales - $5,000.00 – which can best be described as “very modest.” Likely, the clothing line would have disappeared when the laughter died down, if North Face had simply kept their cool. But they didn’t!
Apparently, the folks at North Face have no sense of humor and even less understanding of human – at least student – nature. They sent a cease-and-desist letter to little Jimmy, which he predictably ignored. They then sued him, and the drugstore, for trademark infringement and dilution. Not unexpectedly, the story of the lawsuit was picked up by the wire services, appearing in newspapers as far away as South Africa. Notoriety, of course, brought increased sales of the South Butt line.
At some point, common sense prevailed, and the parties reached a settlement at a court-ordered mediation. The terms of the settlement are confidential. At last word, little Jimmy was in Panama City, celebrating spring break in the manner expected of an affluent, temporarily notorious college kid. And, he’s handing out South Butt t-shirts.
THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED: Sometimes, it’s wise to turn a blind eye to matters – the best response being no response.