According to the The Fashion Law, Coach filed an action in a Manhattan federal court in February 2017 against various defendants for creating and distributing products that allegedly infringe upon its intellectual property. Interestingly, and rather unusually, Coach is not only seeking trademark protection, but also protection of trade dress of its hangtag design. Trade dress refers to the total image of a product, including its design and shape, which serves as an indicator of the product’s source and of the brand even when the brand’s name is not present. In order for trade dress to be protectable, it must be non-functional and distinctive. Coach owns various federal trade dress rights related to its hangtag design, some with, and without, the word “COACH” on the hangtag. The hangtag is clearly non-functional as it does not affect the quality and usage of the handbag and therefore serves no functional purpose, but the design of a rectangular hangtag attached to the bag by a small metal chain seems to be quite common and not inherently distinctive.

However, even if the design is not inherently distinctive, Coach can claim trade dress protection by proving that its hangtag design has acquired secondary meaning among its consumers and the public, and it attempts to do exactly that. In its complaint, Coach argues that through its widespread advertising and distribution of merchandise that bears the Coach hangtag since 1973, its hangtag has acquired secondary meaning because it “has become instantly recognizable as exclusively denoting Coach and its high quality merchandise.” The fashion company is requesting both damages and injunctive relief prohibiting the defendants from using the hangtag design.

Prudence Ng is a Sports and Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2019).