Last week we shed some light on that curious impostor Chanel ski masks that fashion sites are labeling as Chanel. This week we are setting the record straight about the Chanel-inspired iPhone cases that are popping up just about everywhere. Derived from images of Chanel's best selling nail polishes, these appear to be yet another product that aims to profit from the name of the established French design house without being authorized to do so.
So, what's the harm in an iphone case? Well, trademark infringement is likely at issue, as Chanel has registered its mark in a class of goods that includes cell phone accessories. Maybe more interestingly, though, is the idea of infringement stemming from post sale confusion. In accordance with this theory, consumers are not confused about the source of the goods at the time they are buying a product. This describes an ordinary trademark infringement claim. Instead, what is likely at issue here is potential confusion among the general public after the initial sale. One of our go-to legal experts, Sarah Burstein says:
It's hard to see any real likelihood of confusion at the point of sale, especially when the cases are being sold for about 1/3 of the price of an actual bottle of Chanel nail polish. But Chanel could still claim infringement based on the theory of post-sale confusion. The theory is, essentially, that even if the initial consumer is not confused, people who see the consumer using the phone case might be. If that sounds like a lot of speculation and conjecture -- well, it is. But an increasing number of courts have accepted post-sale confusion as a valid theory of trademark infringement.
So, the verdict is: cute iPhone cases but probably an illegal use of Chanel's trademark.