NEWELL, W.Va.-Just two months after taking legal action to protect its valued Fiesta trademark, the Homer Laughlin China Co. has settled its lawsuit against two American retailers that were accused of selling counterfeit Fiesta dinnerware, an attorney said Friday.
In exchange for Homer Laughlin dismissing the lawsuit, the two defendants-the Fayetteville, Ark.-based Hanna's Candle Co. and The Bazaar Inc., of River Grove, Ill. -have agreed to stop selling what Homer Laughlin characterized as cheap Chinese knockoffs of Fiesta, said Pittsburgh attorney Charles B. Gibbons.
The 2,334 dinnerware sets, which bore a close resemblance to Fiesta and were sold under the name Carnaval, will be recalled and donated to homeless shelters and food banks in the Fayetteville, Ark., area, said Gibbons, legal counsel to Homer Laughlin.
"Usually, the remedy in these cases is the destruction of the illicit goods, but, in this case, Homer Laughlin is donating the goods that have been called back, to food kitchens and other agencies that provide assistance to the poor," Gibbons said. "I think it's a pretty good insight into the nature of the company."
Gibbons said the settlement brought an unusually quick resolution to the federal case, partly because of the retailers' cooperation and partly because it accomplished Homer Laughlin's goals for its popular Fiesta brand.
"It takes what we charged was a copycat product and gets it out of the marketplace. It provides for the recall of the product. ... It's not available anywhere now, to the best of our knowledge," Gibbons said.
In the course of pursuing the lawsuit, Homer Laughlin learned that the imitation Fiesta dinnerware was entering the United States through a Chinese importing company operating in California, he said. It was then being sold online and in retail outlets such as Boscov's department stores in the Pittsburgh area.
Gibbons said Homer Laughlin will send a "cease and desist" letter to the importing company and continue its efforts to determine the Chinese source of the imitation product.
"We do not know where the product is being made in China," Gibbons said. "Homer Laughlin does historically police the market and will be on the lookout for this product in other places. If we can trace it back to this importing company in California, then we will take direct action against them. They'll be hearing from us."
Homer Laughlin, the last major dinnerware manufacturer in the United States and one of the largest employers in the East Liverpool area, filed the trademark infringement lawsuit in May in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit charged the companies with violating 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.
The lawsuit accused the companies of exploiting the popularity of Fiesta dinnerware by selling cheap imitations that mimicked everything from Fiesta's Art Deco design features and bright colors to its packaging and product offerings.
The Carnaval brand, although "strikingly similar" to Fiesta, lacked the Homer Laughlin brand quality, led to confusion in the marketplace and deceived the buying public, the lawsuit said.
The Bazaar Inc.'s website (TheBazaarInc.com) featured four-piece Carnaval dinnerware sets in lime, orange and yellow-at a price of $27 per case. Those offerings were no longer available a day after the lawsuit was filed.
Gibbons said the Carnaval line, unlike some products that claim to be as good as certain name brands, was a violation of trademark law because it clearly was made and marketed to look like Fiesta. "When you copy a product and then pass it off (as that product), that's where you're running afoul of the Lanham Act," he said.
The settlement was announced on the same day that members of the Homer Laughlin China Collectors Association were in East Liverpool for sightseeing and shopping. Members, who are in Coraopolis, Pa., for their annual convention and who toured the Homer Laughlin plant in Newell on Friday, were happy with the news of the settlement.
"It's their brand, and they have to protect their brand," said member Sean Harper, of Dallas, Texas.
Harper said trademark infringement also hurts the consumer and collector. "It's a big thing. We want to buy in confidence. We want to know that's what we're getting," he said.
Harper said some collectors like to buy products that complement Fiesta dinnerware, "but they won't buy fake Fiesta." Collectors are especially attuned to the potential presence of Fiesta knockoffs in stores and online, he said, naming one major U.S. retailer where Fiesta imitations have been spotted.
Gibbons said Homer Laughlin will continue to do what it has to to protect its trademarks, especially Fiesta.
"We protected our product (and) the intellectual capital in our product," he said. "That's what a company has to do. You've got to take action to protect your own intellectual property and do it quickly."
Homer Laughlin spokesman Dan Williams could not be reached for comment.