Image: Chanel

Look beyond Chanel’s staple flap bags with their quilted leather bodies and leather-and-chain woven straps, and its various top-handle offerings and logo-adorned backpacks, and you will see that the Paris-based brand routinely introduces buzzy new styles, which it trots out on the runway on a season basis to coincide with the theme of the oft-over-the-top runway show. These range from the cigar box-inspired clutches that it showed as part of its Resort 2016 collection, which it staged in Havana, Cuba, and a chain-fringe adorned spaceship-esque bags that appeared on the runway alongside a life-size Chanel rocket to its upscale take on a metal shopping basket, which models famously carried on the supermarket-centric runway in 2014. 

Beyond those gimmicky offerings, which attract media and Instagram attention each-and-every season, but rarely transition in any meaningful quantity to the sidewalk, Chanel introduced a similar, seasonal bag for Spring/Summer 2013. Under the creative control of the late Karl Lagerfeld, models carried small rectangular-shaped plexiglass and plastic bags in bright hues, such as a sunny yellow, an orangey-red, grass green, bright pink, and royal purple.

What initially appeared to be the latest in a long line of one-off statement bags, these offerings – known as Lego bags, which set consumers back upwards of $9,000 – proved to have staying power as some of the top sellers for the Paris-based brand.  Enduring consumer demand was met with widespread media attention that came with these pricey little bags, as there was nary a fashion site that did not dedicate an article to Chanel’s striking new bags at the time, particularly as they were swiftly snapped up by celebrities.

If the shape of the popularly coined Lego bags looked familiar, it was likely because Chanel seemed to have had a bit more inspiration than just the popular children’s toys. The shape of the bags, themselves, actually mirrors that of the closure that appears on the “Boy” collection of bags that Lagerfeld had introduced a couple of years prior. That very shape was the focus of a trademark application that counsel for Chanel filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) in the fall of 2018, seeking a registration for “a horizontal rectangle with smaller squares on each corner and smaller vertical rectangles on each side and back-to-back interlocking ‘C’s in the center with a circle between the ‘C’s” for use on handbags.

Despite the marked similarities between the Lego bag and the “Boy” bag clasp, Chanel was seeking a registration for the latter based on the specimen it provided with the USPTO.

Chanel’s existing TM drawing (left) & its new TM application drawing (right)

In filing a trademark application for registration for the configuration of the metal handbag closure, itself, Chanel was essentially asserting that the appearance of it acts as an indicator of its source, or in other words, when consumers see the closure, they know that it comes from a single source: Chanel. As far as trade dress goes, this is a relatively obvious example given that Chanel’s famed double “C” logo is emblazoned on the clasp, and integral to the mark that Chanel was seeking a registration for (as indicated by the brand’s description of the mark, as stated above). 

Without any significant pushback from the USPTO (save for a request for a new drawing), Chanel received a registration for the handbag closure in November 2019. 

With that registration in hand, Chanel has since set out to go a step further and expand the breadth of its rights in the design. In a new trademark application filed on April 30, 2020, Chanel is seeking a registration for the configuration of the same closure, only this time, the description of the mark notably does not include the double “C” logo. This means that Chanel is claiming rights in a broader mark, one that “consists of a horizontal rectangle with smaller squares on each corner and smaller vertical rectangles on each side.” 

As distinct from the earlier-claimed mark, the rights at hand would enable Chanel to take on copycats that make, market, and sell bags that make use of a closure with the same shape and design, but that do not go so far as to include the Chanel logo. 

Chances are, this application might face a bit of pushback compared to the earlier one, meaning that the USPTO might make Chanel show that the rectangular design is, in fact, an indicator of source in the same way as a brand name or logo. As for whether Chanel will be able to establish the acquired distinctiveness necessary to claim rights in the design, it may not be impossible given that Chanel can almost certainly point to years of exclusive use of the design in connection with its “Boy” bags (which it has marketed and sold since 2012), no shortage of third-party media attention in connection with bags that make use of the design, sales success, and advertising expenditures to make its case. 

It will be interesting to see if Chanel’s plan is two-pronged here. There is a chance that it is not only working to amass rights in the closure, itself, but also seeking to lay the foundation for potentially claiming even more significant rights in the future: trade dress rights in the shape of the Lego bag. After all, the shape of the closure and the Lego bag, itself, as depicted in the brand’s trademark drawings, and the class of goods/services in which it is used are identical.

*This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Chanel’s trademark application claims rights in the handbag closure, not the handbag design as a whole.