ZEELAND — In a new lawsuit, a West Michigan office furniture manufacturer accuses a Canadian company of producing and selling knock offs of one of the industry’s iconic designs.
Herman Miller Inc. (Nasdaq: MLHR) has sued Gold Leaf Holding Ltd. of British Columbia over the company’s intentional violation of trademark law in selling, distributing and advertising several products marketed under the Eames moniker, according to court documents.
The designs of Charles and Ray Eames for decades have been a part of the Herman Miller collection, dating back to the late 1940s.
But in the lawsuit filed in August in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, the Zeeland-based Herman Miller alleges that Gold Leaf, which does business as Rove Concepts, sold “design reproductions” of six classic Eames products, including the Eames Lounge Chair, Molded Plywood Dining Chair and two version of the designers’ Office Chair.
Herman Miller says Rove Concepts’ actions were “intentional and with knowledge of the considerable reputation, goodwill, and fame associated with and represented by Herman Miller’s registered trademarks,” according to court documents.
“Indeed, Rove Concepts’ express business model is to duplicate Herman Miller’s designs as closely as possible,” according to the filing. Prior to filing the lawsuit, Herman Miller sent cease and desist notices to the Canadian company “on numerous occasions.”
For Herman Miller, the lawsuit comes as a part of the company’s overall strategy to police and curtail unlawful use of its trademarks. The company is being represented in the case by Grand Rapids-based law firm Varnum LLP.
“We have a vigorous program in place to protect our brand,” a company representative said in an emailed statement to MiBiz declining to comment on the ongoing litigation. “By defending our intellectual property and products, we protect our customers, designers, and workers both here in America and around the globe.”
In fact, the Zeeland manufacturer has sued other companies in the past over the use of the Eames name and designs. Herman Miller filed lawsuits against California-based Modernica Inc. in 2014 and New American Inc. of Toronto in 2012 over imitation Eames products. More recently, the company settled a 2015 trademark lawsuit with New York-based Madison Seating LLC over its selling of used Herman Miller chairs without labeling them as being pre-owned.
According to the new case, Herman Miller alleges that Rove Concepts “engaged in a number of delay tactics to avoid responding to Herman Miller’s demands, including switching law firms on at least three different occasions.” The lawsuit contends that Rove Concepts did agree to remove the trademarked content from its website and marketing materials, but Herman Miller said the company failed to do so in entirety.
“Despite its repeated representations that it would remove all Herman Miller trademarked content from its website and social media materials, Rove Concepts continues to unlawfully use Herman Miller trademarks and trade dress,” according to court documents.
Rove Concepts did not respond to a request for comment at the time this story went to press.