In late February, Swatch Group filed a complaint against Samsung Electronics, saying the company infringed on Swatch’s trademarks for various watch designs. A number of Swatch Group subsidiaries, including Blancpain, Breguet, Jaquet Droz, Omega, Tissot are named as plaintiffs in the suit.
Reuters first reported on the complaint filed by Samsung in the Southern District of New York:
“This unabashed copying of the Trademarks can have only one purpose – to trade off the fame, reputation, and goodwill of the Swatch Group Companies’ products and marks built painstakingly over decades,” Swatch Group said in a filing to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Samsung is seeking more than $100 million in damages, also alleging unfair competition and unfair business practices. In the complaint, Samsung says it reached out to Samsung in late 2018, sharing a list of downloadable smartwatch faces that looked remarkable similar to Swatch’s designs. Samsung then removed the watch faces, but it didn’t agree to review the app store or admit to copying the faces from Swatch. Even after Samsung made efforts to remove watch faces, Swatch alleges it still found infringing watch faces in the Samsung app store.
“In view of Samsung’s inadequate response, it is reasonable to conclude that Defendants will continue to infringe the Trademarks, and thereby cause further loss and damage to the Swatch Group Companies,” Swatch wrote. Swatch Group is seeking $100 million in damages.
Swatch has a history of taking legal action, having sued Target for allegedly copying watch designs, Tiffany & Co for failing to honor a business deal, and even Bloomberg for allegedly recording an earnings call. And in 2015, reports surfaced that Swatch had filed 173 smartwatch-related patents, many since 2012 (we reported as recently as October 2018 that Swatch was still working on its own smartwatch operating system, Swatch OS).
Samsung runs the appstore for its smart watches, but third parties develop the apps that can be bought and/or downloaded from the store and onto Samsung’s watches. Check out some of the images from the complain, below, and see what you think.
I tend to have a pretty soft stance on intellectual property: copy away, I say. I’ve pointed out before how the Apple Watch takes elements of classic sports watches like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Phillipe Nautilus (the Patek being a blatant imitation of the Royal Oak itself, albeit if it’s the same designer copying himself a few years later is it really copying?). In addition, “homage” watches are a good business: just ask Invicta, or Gevril, who makes perhaps the most blatant rip off of all rip offs, imitating vintage Rolex Paul Newman Daytonas, no less. The homage business continues to exist despite some liberal borrowing of designs from established watch brands.
Take the above design copied from Glashutte Original. It’s not like Glashutte’s design itself was anything original. It’s an imitation of A Lange’s Lange 1 design. Sure, the Samsung watch face also copies the registered trademark name “Glashutte Original” which is bad, but is taking the watch face design also bad? There are only so many ways to design a watch to begin with. Additionally, it’s not like these two things are in competition with each other (though most forward-thinking traditional watch companies will file their trademarks in both the class that covers watches/jewelry and the class that covers wearables/smart watches).
That said, I look at some of the designs below and I do find myself saying, “yep, that’s pretty bad.”