01 June 2005

Ugly is not Unique, but it is Distinctive

The Trademark Blog explains how close knock-off handbag designers can get to the original without running afoul of trademark and trade dress rights. Nevertheless, while the post is an outstanding review of the relevant laws and trends in legal protections, it fails to note the most salient fact about these bags -- they're ugly. As the "ugly ass" Bruno Magli shoes made famous during the O.J. Simpson trial demonstrate, ugliness is by no means limited just to handbags, although those overpaid folks at Dooney & Bourke have certainly mastered the art of the ugly.

It's a common instinct to try to bring order and beauty to our surroundings: Given the opportunity to do so, we usually select color combinations that are complementary and visually-pleasing; we tend to choose ornamentation which enhances, rather than distracts from, an ornamented object. In the counter-intuitive world of high fashion, however, it's distinction which is sought by designers, fashionistas, and intellectual property attorneys. Only something that is different than the rest can be protected; thus, when the natural trend is toward the beautiful, it's the ugly which has value.

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