4 Years Later – Levis v.s. Japanese Repro Lawsuit Still Fair Game?

Oni Denim (Source: indigoshrimp.wordpress.com)

Have you ever wondered why certain raw denim brands have arcuates or arcs (i.e. back-pocket stitching) on their jeans, while others do not? Or that identical pairs of jeans are only differentiated by the design on the rear pocket, such as these two pairs of Samurai‘s:

So what gives?  Back in January of 2007, iconic denim brand Levi’s sued various denim brands ranging from Von Dutch to Sugar Cane for trademark infringement in North America based upon four issues:

  1. Rear pocket stitching must not resemble the Levi’s arcuate in any way, shape, or form
  2. The leather patch cannot show objects pulling jeans apart
  3. No tabs or labels on the vertical seam of a back-pocket
  4. Information cards hanging out of the back-pocket, cannot resemble Levi’s’ cards

The result was that a majority of Japanese repro brands had to pull certain models from production, and go so far as to change their arcuate design.

Some examples include:

Studio D’Artisan Patch

Studio D'Artisan Patch - Before and After

Studio D'Artisan Patch - Before and After

Studio D’Artisan Arcs

Studio D'Artisan Arcs - Before and After

Studio D'Artisan Arcs - Before and After

Skull Jeans Arcs

Skull Jeans Red Tag - Before and After

Skull Jeans Red Tag - Before and After

What are your thoughts here?  This issue happened and has settled well over 4 years ago now, but is it fair for Levi’s to lay claim to details such as these?  Is there any way these Japanese repro brands can argue their case or is Levi’s just too much of a 500 pound gorilla?

We’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment below.

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-Jian
@rawrdenim

Jian

After being introduced to the world of raw denim in 2005, Jian quickly became enthralled with the process, culture, and of course, results. As a contributor to RawrDenim.com, he shares his experiences & insights thus far.

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  • http://twitter.com/djhakujin Sean Slater

    The lawsuit only affected production of jeans designed for import into North America. As a result, one can still get pairs of Samurai jeans with red tab and yellow arcs in Japan, but the American distributions (through BIG) have no arcs and white tabs.

  • Bikefink666

    As a diehard Levi’s guy I think they were right to protect their brand property. 
    Plus it lead to more creative approaches in the design of high end denim not only in Japan but everywhere in the world. 
    So something bad (greedy lawyers earn money with something they don’t care about) created something good (look at all the creativity you can find to day in the labels)

    • http://dev.rawrdenim.com Nick Coe

      @3f45ed2017470debb7bb47b56b53baae:disqus Great contrarian perspective, even if you are partial to Levi’s ;)  You have a good and fair point – replicating details such as these stifled creativity.  In a way, the industry is a better place…

  • Jimmy

    My Skull 5010 6X6 got a red tag in the back..and i got them in 2009 winter in HK. 

    • http://twitter.com/djhakujin Sean Slater

      That’s because the lawsuit only affected the production of jeans that were meant to be imported and sold in North America. For some reason, Levi’s could care less about jeans sold in the rest of the world.

  • transient

    Maybe I’m just slow but is this way the A.P.C. x Supreme collaboration had “Fuck You” stitched on the pocket where the Levi tab would be? Pretty hilarious, I want those now.

    • http://dev.rawrdenim.com Nick

      @385513b038c4189922a017232415d312:disqus Haha, that’s true – that would explain a lot.  

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  • http://twitter.com/mneidich Matthew Neidich

    After wearing my Strike Golds for a couple months, my match/coin pocket got soft enough to where I could really feel around in it without ripping skin off my fingers, and guess what I found in there. Ready?

    A red rayon tab that said “S.Gold” in gold letters…looks like they included it, but they couldn’t put it on the jeans. I bet that the Asian market versions still have it right back where it belongs.

    • http://dev.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      @twitter-292560637:disqus Ha, that’s awesome. Way for Strike Gold to stick it to them!

  • indigoshrimp

    The SDA before-after pics are the other way round :)

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  • NCLevis

    Hi,
    I agree with bikefink. Maybe I’m just a crusty old dude, but I remember buying Levi’s 501s in the early 70s and shrinking them to fit. The back pocket, patch and red tab define jeans as far as I’m concerned and Levi’s was right to defend their brand. I’ve tried a number of newer jeans but, in my humble opinion, nothing beats a pair of broken-in Levi’s. Really glad to see so much interest and variation in raw denim today, but think the new guys need to develop their own iconography. Thanks.

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  • Robert Eames

    There was a time when the 7th floor of the Levi’s offices in SF were half filled by the legal department that kept pretty close tabs around the world on who was doing what. The anti-counterfeit devices used way back when were a joke, but there was counterfeit goods from Mexico selling at the flea markets all over the bay area.

    One of the biggest issues was real tabs and buttons, etc.,stolen from manufacturing plants and being used on counterfeits. Legally protecting the tab, arcuate stitch pattern, leather-like art, 501 flasher and guarantee card, plus button and rivet designs was a huge challenge. Trade marks and copyrights mean nothing when you’re out to make a buck. Also, take into to consideration the length of time these designs have been around…just saying. Try using a photo that includes the TransAmerica building in an advertisement and see what happens. Copyrights and trademarks are protected for a reason. It’s part of an identity, it’s an investment, and it’s valuable.

    Most of the companies these days should just know better and instead of stealing, maybe ought to step it up and try being original. it’s harder than it looks. Imitation may be the purest form of flattery, but this is based on greed and deception. Consider the idiot in FL that claimed he named a perfume Levi’s after his Jewish uncle, (that’s sexy) and used the Levi’s type design, a direct rip from the registered trademark batwing logo. D’oh!

    Interesting note about the leather-like patch currently used on Levi’s…looks counterfeit to me. There was some beautiful art, that came straight from the Levi’s Archives, that was used to restore the patch back to it’s original glory that has for some reason fallen by the wayside, and replace with what I think looks like a junior high art project.