Homer Laughlin sues copycat firms

NEWELL – Claiming that it is suffering “irreparable injury,” the Homer Laughlin China Co. filed suit Monday against two out-of-state companies it says are selling counterfeit Fiesta dinnerware to an unsuspecting public.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, accuses the Fayetteville, Ark.-based Hanna’s Candle Co. and the River Grove, Ill.-based Bazaar Inc. of marketing and selling cheap Chinese knockoffs bearing the name Carnaval.

Pittsburgh attorney Charles B. Gibbons, who is representing Homer Laughlin, said the lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania because that’s where the goods are being sold.

“As we go along, we may learn of other places where they’re being sold,” he said.

The lawsuit charges the companies with violations of the Lanham Act, the federal trademark law passed by Congress in 1946. The law prohibits, among other things, trademark infringement, trademark dilution and false advertising.

Gibbons said the act of copying other companies’ products is illegal and creates confusion in the marketplace.

“Defendants are deliberately attempting to trade upon the goodwill of Homer Laughlin by selling and advertising … their goods as the goods of Homer Laughlin,” the lawsuit said.

Such conduct “constitutes fraud and deceit upon the consuming public of the United States,” the lawsuit said, and will result in “losses of sales, profits, business, reputation and goodwill” for Homer Laughlin, the largest domestic manufacturer of dinnerware for the residential, hospitality and food service markets.

The lawsuit claims the Carnaval products, which are made in China, are manufactured and marketed in such a way as to trade upon the popularity of Homer Laughlin’s Fiesta dinnerware line, which was introduced at a Pittsburgh trade show in 1936 and reintroduced in 1986.

“Fiesta dinnerware has an iconic status and claims thousands of collectors, dealers, students and historians from around the world. It is also the most collected dinnerware in the United States,” the lawsuit said.

The two companies named as defendants exploit that popularity, the lawsuit said, by marketing and selling Carnaval products that, while “strikingly similar” to Fiesta, “are inferior copies that do not come close to meeting the standards of Fiesta dinnerware. … The goods … do not satisfy the rigorous testing and quality control efforts which ensure the high quality of Fiesta dinnerware and packaging, and are not the equivalent of Homer Laughlin products.”

The Carnaval products mimic everything from Fiesta’s Art Deco design features and bright colors to its packaging and product offerings, the lawsuit said.

“The cardboard box in which Carnaval dinnerware is sold is a clear knockoff of the Fiesta dinnerware packaging,” the lawsuit said.

A review of The Bazaar Inc.’s website (TheBazaarInc.com) shows four-piece dinnerware sets in lime, orange and yellow at a price of $27 per case. Distributed by Hanna’s Candle Co., Carnaval also is available for sale at Boscov’s department stores in the Pittsburgh area, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, three of the Carnaval colors offered by The Bazaar “target or mimic” three of the four most popular colors of Fiesta dinnerware, while the fourth Carnaval color “targets or mimics” the sixth most popular Fiesta color. The lawsuit does not specify which colors.

Such practices cause “irreparable harm” and other damages to Homer Laughlin in six ways, including confusion of customers, damage to customer goodwill, trust and confidence, and damage to Homer Laughlin’s business reputation, the lawsuit said.

“Through the sale of their Carnaval products in their strikingly similar packaging, defendants are engaging in a systematic effort to deceive the public by unfairly competing with Homer Laughlin and its efforts to sell Fiesta dinnerware,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants’ copycat activities, both with respect to the products themselves and their packaging, are willful and intentional.”

By filing suit, Homer Laughlin is asking for injunctive relief and money damages, including the destruction of all Carnaval products not yet sold, the recall of any and all advertisements, product catalogs or marketing materials, and the removal of all references to Carnaval products on The Bazaar’s website.

The lawsuit asks for money damages in the amount of the companies’ profits and gains from selling Carnaval dinnerware. It also asks that the companies be required to contact customers and let them know that they do not represent Homer Laughlin.

The two companies could not be reached for comment.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)