By Todd C. Frankel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The international apparel maker filed a federal lawsuit in St. Louis late last week alleging trademark infringement by The South Butt, a Ladue-based company started by a teenager to make fun of The North Face name.
The South Butt does not appear to be backing down from the fight. "We embrace the litigation," said St. Louis attorney Al Watkins, who represents The South Butt.
This long-simmering dispute between the two companies first made a splash two months ago. An attorney for The North Face sent a letter to The South Butt demanding it stop selling its T-shirts, fleeces and shorts. The South Butt refused — and then publicized the letter. Attention followed, and sales spiked, Watkins said.
Watkins now hopes the lawsuit will goose sales some more.
The South Butt was started in 2007 by Jimmy Winkelmann, now 18 and attending the University of Missouri at Columbia.
He said he wanted to spoof a status symbol — The North Face logo — crowding the hallways of his school, Chaminade College Prep.
The South Butt clothing can be purchased online and at Ladue Pharmacy on Clayton Road.
The 84-page lawsuit, filed Thursday, notes that, "Unfortunately, and inevitably, The North Face's success attracts opportunists seeking to pirate its famous trademarks for their inferior knockoffs."
"While defendants may try to legitimize their piracy under the banner of parody, their own conduct belies that claim," the lawsuit says, noting that Winkelmann offered to sell his company to The North Face for $1 million. The offer was rescinded by Winkelmann as The South Butt grew. Watkins, The South Butt attorney, acknowledged the offer to sell.
The lawsuit names Winkelmann, The South Butt LLC and the Ladue Pharmacy, which handles the products' marketing and manufacturing details.
In October, trademark attorney Annette Heller of Town and Country, who had no connection to the case, told the Post-Dispatch she suspected The South Butt can prevail.
"If they can present it as a good case of parody, they will win, " Heller said.
Watkins said no consumer is confusing The South Butt with The North Face. He compared it to the Lacoste crocodile on polo shirts and shirts with tiger or turtle logos.
"Nobody buys a turtle shirt and thinks they're getting a Lacoste," he said.
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