Fresh on the heels of announcing that Tomas Maier will no longer serve as creative director of Bottega Veneta after a 17-year tenure, Kering announced on Monday that it “will end its partnership with the Tomas Maier brand and the activities of the Tomas Maier House will cease.” The announcement comes five years after Kering – which owns Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, and Bottega Veneta, among other brands – entered into a joint venture with Maier to develop his eponymous label while he continued in the top role at Bottega Veneta.
Now, Maier is out on both fronts amidst what many are calling larger, luxury-centric changes at Kering, including the sale of Puma and ongoing talks with Christopher Kane regarding the sale of his brand, which also falls under Kering’s umbrella.
While the 61-year old German creative may be out of not one job but two, he is not walking away empty-handed: Maier is now the sole owner of the trademark rights in his now-defunct eponymous label, according to a statement from Kering. Given that Kering owned 50 percent of the Tomas Maier label, the fact that Maier maintains rights in the name – i.e., his name – (which he may have had to pay for) is significant for a number of reasons.
Primarily, Maier’s ownership of the trademark rights gives him the exclusive ability to use his name in a commercial capacity, including on garments and accessories, going forth. This means that, among other things, he has the option to re-launch his label – with its current name and branding – at some point down the road, save for any agreement between himself and Kering. It also means that sans his approval, Kering cannot revamp the label he founded in 1997.
The ownership status also ensures that Maier will be able to put his name on a new brand – say, Maier by Tomas Maier, for instance – without fear of a trademark infringement lawsuit from Kering. It also means that he can continue to collaborate with other brands, such as Uniqlo, with which he maintains a partnership, using his name.
Even though “Tomas Maier” is, in fact, Mr. Maier’s birth name, if Kering had held onto the rights in the trademark, Mr. Maier would have been significantly limited in terms of using his name commercially speaking. Why? Well, because Kering would have been able to pursue him for trademark infringement.
Discussions over trademark rights in names have been a topic of increased discussion since designer Kate Spade died last month. Twelve years prior to her death, Ms. Spade sold her brand to Liz Claiborne. That sale saw Spade transfer the intellectual property rights associated with the Kate Spade brand, including the “Kate Spade” name for use on fashion, home goods, and various other classes of products and services. Trademark rights are easily some of brands’ most valuable assets, after all, and are often at the center of any acquisition deal.
The implications of the Kate Spade sale were quite significant for Ms. Spade personally, as it meant she could no longer use her name in a commercial capacity. It is important to note that commercial use is different from using her name in a personal capacity (i.e., at home, in her daily life, etc.). In order to continue designing, she ended up launching a new brand under the name Frances Valentine.
Ms. Spade went so far as to legally change her own name to Frances Valentine, which – although not required by law following the sale – gave her quite a bit more freedom to actually use her name to promote her new brand than she would have otherwise had. Trademark law is notoriously strict in asserting that individuals do not have unfettered rights to use their personal name for commercial purposes, and not only do people not have such an unencumbered right, they will be held to agreements in which they sell such rights to another as part of a business transaction.
With this in mind, it is likely that even using Frances Valentine by Kate Spade would have run afoul of trademark law, which prohibits anyone but the holder of a trademark from using that name, logo, or other branding element in a way that might confuse consumers as to the source of the products at issue.
And the same could have been said for Maier should Kering have maintained the legal right to use the Tomas Maier brand name. Luckily for him – and Kering, really – some potential legal qualms have been removed from the equation from the outset.
There is no word on what he will do next, though.