Is it illegal to purchase handbags that are a replica of designer coach handbags?

Full Question:

Somebody recently sold me some purses and they were exact replicas of coach handbags. I was told later that these were illegal. What is the law regarding selling or having these purses?
03/12/2007   |   Category: Personal Property   |   State: Florida   |   #1021

Answer:

A trademark or trade mark is a distinctive sign of some kind which is used by an individual, business organization or other legal entity to uniquely identify the source of its products and/or services to consumers, and to distinguish its products or services from those of other entities. A trademark is a type of industrial property, and typically comprises a name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, image, or a combination of these elements.

The extent to which a trademark owner may prevent unauthorized use of trademarks which are the same as or similar to its trademark depends on various factors such as whether its trademark is registered, the similarity of the trademarks involved, the similarity of the products and/or services involved, and whether the owner’s trademark is well known.

If a trademark has not been registered, some jurisdictions offer protection for the business reputation or goodwill which attaches to unregistered trademarks through the tort of passing off. Passing off may provide a remedy in a scenario where a business has been trading under an unregistered trademark for many years, and a rival business starts using the same or a similar mark.

If a trademark has been registered, then it is much easier for the trademark owner to demonstrate its trademark rights and to enforce these rights through an infringement action. Unauthorized use of a registered trademark need not be intentional in order for infringement to occur, although damages in an infringement lawsuit will generally be greater if there was an intention to deceive.