Image: Puma

Following reports of a budding legal war, Rihanna, Fenty Corp., and Puma have been hit with a new lawsuit … over the letters “FU.” Clothing company Freedom United alleges that Rihanna and co. are knowingly running afoul of federal trademark law and engaging in unfair competition in connection with Fenty Puma garments and accessories adorned with the letters “F.U.”, which are confusingly similar to the “FU” emblazoned wares that Freedom United has been selling for over 10 years.

According to the 30-page lawsuit, which was filed in New York federal court on Wednesday, Los Angeles-based Freedom United claims that it has dedicated “substantial time, effort and resources, including in excess of $2 million of capital to developing, manufacturing, promoting and marketing” its products throughout the U.S. As a result, “the purchasing public has come to know, rely upon, and recognize [its] business and goods,” namely, a wide array of garments and accessories that bear the letters “FU,” exclusively by that federally-protected “FU” trademark.

(Note: Trademarks – which can be any word, name, symbol, device, or combination thereof, used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller from another – need not be earth-shatteringly unique to be protected, as indicated by Freedom United’s “FU” registrations. They simply need to be identifiable to consumers as coming from a single source, i.e., a single company).

Freedom United alleges that since 2006, it has consistently used the “FU” trademark on everything from t-shirts and hoodies to jewelry and skincare products, and in the process, its brand has found fans in no small number of famous names ranging from Demi Lovato, who featured an “FU” hoodie on her Instagram in 2013 and Kim Kardashian to “employees and/or principals of Fenty,” including Rihanna, herself, who wore an “’FU’ branded hoodie in or about February 2014, long before she launched her confusingly similar ‘F.U.’ branded goods” in connection with the since-ended partnership that she entered into with Puma in 2015.

Freedom United further claims that Fenty Corp.’s members were well aware of its brand (and its branding) long before they launched the “FU” adorned Puma sweatshirts and faux fur slides, as its owner and principal Greg Carney provided “employees and/or agents, and their family members, of some of the defendants with FU products in 2009, with the hopes that Rihanna would promote said products on her tour.”

It is against this background that Freedom United claims that it “recently learned that the defendants are using the confusingly similar trademark ‘F.U.’ for directly competitive products.” Freedom United continues on to claim that the “defendants’ physical products are confusingly similar in appearance to [its own], and were only marketed and sold after the defendants had actual knowledge of [Freedom United’s] products, and in particular, the ‘FU’ trademarks.”

Freedom United asserts that Rihanna, Fenty Corp., and Puma “adopted the confusingly similar [F.U.] trademark and trade name with full knowledge of [Freedom United’s] goods and trademarks, and with the intention that consumers would be confused into believing that [their] products were associated, or affiliated in some way, with [Freedom United’s].”

As a result of the foregoing, Freedom United sets forth claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and violations of the New York state business code, and is seeking injunctive relief, which would immediately and permanently prevent the defendants from selling any products bearing the “FU” mark, and various monetary damages, including any profits that the defendants made from selling the allegedly infringing wares.

Meanwhile, Puma is still embroiled in the lawsuit that it filed against Forever 21 in April 2017, in which the sportswear giant accused the fast fashion retailer of design patent, trade dress, and copyright infringement in connection with various footwear designs from its collection with Rihanna.

*The case is Freedom United Beverage INC., d/b/a, Freedom United Clothing, v. Robyn Rihanna Fenty, Fenty Corp., and Puma North America, Inc., 1:18-cv-09504 (SDNY).