Furniture Maker Herman Miller Claims Trademark Infringement

Furniture maker Herman Miller, Inc. has sued furniture company Modernica Inc. for allegedly infringing Herman Miller’s trademarks.

Herman Miller accused Modernica of infringing its design trademarks for “Eames” and “M” and for false advertising, breach of contract, and violating the publicity rights of the late designer Charles Eames.

Charles Eames and his wife Ray Eames were American designers associated with a style now known as “mid-century modern.”  Their work was popular and widely copied.

The Eameses’ furniture designs are considered pioneering for their use of molded plywood, fiberglass and plastic resin, and wire mesh.  They designed chairs for Herman Miller starting in the 1940s.

Herman Miller has been using the Eames trademark since at least 1951, according to the plaintiff’s complaint.  The US Patent and Trademark office issued a federal trademark for the Eames name to Herman Miller in 1982.

The complaint charges that Modernica sells imitation Eames products, including chairs, and uses the “Eames” mark to sell these products.  The complaint also charges that Modernica uses the names and photos of Charles and Ray Eames to sell its chairs.

Herman Miller first learned of Modernica’s infringement of its trademarks in 1996, and the companies later entered into an agreement under which Modernica agreed to stop its alleged trademark infringement.

Herman Miller alleges that Modernica is continuing to use Eames and Herman Miller trademarks as metatags on its website.

Metatags are words in the hypertext markup language (HTML) on a website and are not visible to users in a site’s normal mode.  However, they are detected by search engines such as Google and can be used to direct traffic to a site when someone searches for a word in a metatag.

For example, a Google search for “Eames style chair” will produce a link to Modernica’s site on the first page of results, even though the word “Eames” does not visibly appear on the Modernica page.

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.

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