Barbour launches preemptive strike in legal battle with Levi's over flag tabs

After Levi's targeted the British brand over its use of tab labels, Barbour has asked the court to preemptively declare it is not infringing on what the denim brand says is its "famous Tab Device Trademark".


The "Barbour flag", the source of the trademark dispute with Levi Strauss & Co. - Barbour

Barbour filed the lawsuit in New York federal court on Friday in an effort to get a court order preventing Levi's from engaging in what it says is the San Francisco denim company's routine practice as "one of the world's biggest trademark 'bullies'."

The lawsuit stems from branded tabs sewn into garment seams which the British label calls the "Barbour flag." Levi's owns a trademark for red, white and blue tabs which it designed in the 1930s to be a "sight identification of its products in a crowded denim market.”

According to the lawsuit, Barbour has been using its own branded tab for twenty years. Barbour received a cease and desist letter from Levi's last month arguing that "all garments with the Barbour flag were ‘infringing products'" and that the British heritage label needed to stop selling the garments within 10 days.

Barbour opted to head straight to court on the offensive, citing numerous other brands, including Volcom, Carhartt, Vans, and H&M, which use tabs as part of their design and product identification strategy.

Barbour therefore argues that there is no likelihood that consumers would be confused, claiming that Barbour is clearly written on its garment tab, while Levi's is clearly on the denim garment tabs. Barbour adds in its complaint that Levi's, “is one of the most litigious apparel companies in the United States, if not the world. It has a well-deserved reputation as a trademark “bully,” having filed more than 300 trademark lawsuits since 1989.”

While Barbour may be right in pointing out that Levi's is litigious, unlike in other countries, apparel manufacturers must actively defend their intellectual property in the US. The burden therefore falls on Levi's to protect its trademarks, which it clearly does.

Last fall Levi's sued Vineyard Vines over a similar use of garment tabs, a case which settled out of court in January.

Levi's has yet to respond to Barbour's lawsuit. 

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