Fifteen months ago, a small business owner named Mickey Gutier got a call from a lawyer in New York City. The lawyer represented a company seeking permission to use some names that Gutier had trademarked for his Phoenix-based startup men's cosmetic's company in 2005: XY Skin Care and XY Cosmetics.
The lawyer wouldn't name her client. And, though Gutier refused to give away his trademark for free, his Scottsdale-based lawyer, Roger Strassburg, says he agreed to consider "any reasonable proposal."
But what Gutier didn't realize is he was dealing with Nazi thugs ... and (as any Hollywood buff can tell you, in a terrible German accent) they haff ways of making you cooperate.
We now know that the lawyer who called Gutier, Strassburg says, was working for Hugo Boss. We also know, sadly, the chic German-based fashion house clearly had no interest in forking over big bucks to an Arizona entrepreneur. The lawyer never followed up with a proposal, reasonable or otherwise -- and yet, just weeks after the phone call, Hugo Boss launched a major marketing campaign for the cleverly titled Hugo XY, a new scent for men.
That puts Hugo Boss directly in competition with Gutier's company, Strassburg says. Both are marketing cosmetics to men. Both are using "XY" to do it. And who do you think comes up first on google?
Strassburg filed suit on Gutier's behalf in U.S. District Court in August. As he notes in the complaint, it's not just that Gutier's trademark could be confused with a bigger fashion player -- it's that Gutier's trademark could be confused with a company that (drum roll...) designed uniforms for Hitler!
According to the complaint, "Due to published reports in the media about Defendants’ affiliates’ purported past history as a manufacturer of Nazi SS soldiers’ uniforms, any association of Plaintiffs with Defendants may connote to many in the buying public the most negative symbols of death and oppression. Such confusion will damage the reputation of Plaintiffs."
Of course, Hugo Boss is also known these days for some really nicely tailored men's pants. But we can still see why Mickey Gutier still isn't happy.
Hugo Boss has since filed a counterclaim, claiming Gutier's trademark isn't valid. "Hugo Boss has plenty of money," Strassburg says. "They figure they can stomp this little guy into the ground, and they figure they can make plenty of money by infringing on my client's trademark."
But the entrepreneur and his lawyer have vowed to fight the German company. "If they want to market products in our country, they should abide by our laws," Strassburg says. -- Sarah Fenske