top of page

'IP' UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS: INSIGHTS FROM KIM KARDASHIAN'S JOURNEY

By: Isheta T Batra


Intellectual Property has prevailed as the most common source of property and has greatly developed through years. This transformation has been particularly pronounced due to the proliferation of various forms of creative content, ranging from traditional mediums like books to contemporary platforms like YouTube videos. In this context, businesses scattered across the globe have collectively recognized the intrinsic value of their intellectual property – a manifestation of their unique skills, discernment, and innovative prowess – and the imperative to safeguard it. In the contemporary landscape, Intellectual Property has transcended its status as mere legal protection and has become a dynamic force that catalyzes economic growth. The progression from a conventional three-sector economic model to the more contemporary fourth pillar, characterized by a knowledge-based foundation, underscores the critical role that Intellectual Property plays in driving economic prosperity.


Protecting the intangible assets, which have increased by 29%[01] in the previous years, has become a way to boost the economy. The foray of esteemed luxury brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton into the realm of NFTs underscores the contemporary urgency surrounding the safeguarding of intellectual property. As these iconic names explore the potential of intangible assets, the imperative to ensure the security of their creative innovations becomes paramount. This imperative stretches beyond the conventional realm of business protection, assuming a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of their future growth and global expansion. In a landscape increasingly defined by digital frontiers, the strategic preservation of intellectual property emerges as a linchpin for maintaining brand integrity, fostering innovation, and seizing new avenues of success.


In the realm of modern pop culture, few figures have attained the level of fame and success achieved by Kim Kardashian. With her foray into the world of business and entrepreneurship, Kardashian has demonstrated a keen acumen for marketing and self-branding. However, her journey has not been without pitfalls, especially when it comes to intellectual property (IP) matters. Being one of the most famous public-figures, we can definitely learn a thing or two about how to protect your business from IP Pitfalls.


1. Trademark Infringement

Trademarking is one of the first steps that a business owner takes to provide protection to the brand name, logo and safeguard its trade secrets as well. Trademark holds immense importance as it not only shields the owners from unwanted lawsuits but also it provides them a unique identity which can become distinguishable. In this aspect, we can reflect on the following mistakes of Kim Kardashian:


SKKN by Kim

Kim Kardashian is about to launch her newest business venture, SKKN by Kim and the name has been allegedly infringed. A black owned business by Beauty Concepts LLC had launch their skin care line back in 2018 under the name SKKN+[02], have sued the brand for using their trademarked name stating that it is bound to cause consumer confusion especially because both the brands revolve around skin care.


A Cease and Desist Letter was sent to Kim Kardashian in 2021[03] when she filed an application to trademark the name. As of now it does not seem like any action has been taken as she is set to launch the products on 21st June 2022.


KKW Beauty and Seed Beauty Lawsuit

Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner were also sued for allegedly revealing trade secrets. Coty, the company that holds the 51% shares in Kylie Cosmetics also brought 20% in KKW Beauty[04]. KKW Beauty prior to Coty's involvement, was engaged in business with Seed Beauty and Coty is a direct competitor of the former brand. Seed Beauty has stated that in order to prevent any irreparable harm by such involvement and trading of confidential trade secrets[05], the founders believe it is necessary to bar both the brands from revealing any information to their biggest competitor.


LuMee cases endorsed by Kim Kardashian

In 2018, a suit was filed for trademark infringement by SnapLight, a California based company that produces selfie cases for the phone integrated with lighting accessories[06]. Kim Kardashian collaborated with Urban Outfitters for their LuMee phone cases for producing selfie cases that had a portable LED lighting which is deceptively similar to what SnapLight had been selling[07]. The company is demanding $100 Million for the losses caused to them.


KKW Beauty Logo infringement

When KKW Beauty had to be launched in 2017 they were also sued by Kristian Kjaer Weis, the owner of Kjaer Weis, a luxury eco-friendly makeup brand launched in 2010. The brand sued for infringing on the logo and explained in their legal statement that the KKW logo is bound to create consumer confusion and it was knowing and deliberate choice made by Kim Kardashian. She had trademarked the logo for Kjaer Weis in 2012, and pushed for permanent injunction against KKW Beauty's logo.


Kimoji Fragrance Line

KKW launched KKW fragrance under its Kimoji line. The logo of the latest perfume which was launched in 2018 called the Vibes perfume allegedly infringed the Vibes Media's logo[08], a media market company. The company filed complaint asking $5 million as damages[09]. The company has stated in its complain that the logo can create consumer confusion and can make the ordinary consumer believe that Kim Kardashian's perfume is authorized, endorsed or sponsored by them[10].


The Rip-off Clyde Bag by Sears

In 2011, Monica Botkier sued the Kardashian sisters for copying her famous "Clyde" handbag released in 2009. The trademark persisted in the design of the bag which was a knock off Clyde. Sears, the brand that collaborated with the Kardashians for this bag, was sent a cease and desist[11] letter and the collection was pulled off the shelves.


Belle Noelle Pop-Up Store

Alexis Bittar, a famous award winning jewelry designer who had been lending his pieces to Kim Kardashian found out that she was ripping off his designs to sell her new collection Belle Noelle in a pop-up store. Although he planned on not taking a legal action, he did publicly announce that he would not be lending his pieces to her anymore.


Lessons to be Learned

  • What can be learned and understood here is that thorough research is essential when launching a product in the market.

  • Researching in terms of the logo, the name, design etc., can go a long way and prevent any unwarranted suits.

  • This not only allows dodging of the lawsuits but allows to create a distinct character of the brand.

2. Copyright Infringement

Copyright helps a business to protect its rights vested in works including musical, literary, cinematographic, sound recordings and artistic works. It allows a business owner to put out original work and protect the integrity of the same.


Kim Kardashian Sued over a photograph posted on Instagram

Kim Kardashian was sued by the photographer Saeed Bolden who took a photo of her and her former husband, Kanye West[12], stating that she never asked him for his permission to post the same on the social media platform Instagram. He filed a suit against her and her brand Skims as well.


Lessons to be learned

  • It's common knowledge in the IP world that the photographer or the person who takes the photograph by default becomes the first owner of the same.

  • Although, to a layman it might sound ambiguous that a person cannot post a photograph of themselves without the permission of the photographer, to any person who understands the IP laws the same seems quite necessary. The reason behind this logic is that any person who puts in their time and effort, their own skill and judgment in the work, such work is ought to be protected.

  • Therefore, to protect the time and effort alongside with livelihood of a business owner, it’s of utmost importance to understand if copyright exists in their work or not.

3. Cultural Appropriation

Many cultures across the world take pride in themselves for being ethnically attractive and find deep rooted meaning of their attire in their respective history. Geographical Indication is a kind of protection provided to such materials, attires etc. that stem from a culture and are unique to that culture. Infringing on such rights does not only impact them from the purview of intellectual property but also is considered to be extremely disrespectful to such culture.


Kim Kardashian seeking for trademarking Japanese traditional wear Kimono

Kardashians have a long history of appropriating cultures all across the world. In 2019, Kim Kardashian's beauty brand KKW Beauty launched body foundation and a shapewear called "Kimono"[13]. She also filed for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for trademarking "Kimono Intimates" and “Kimono World” [14]. The word has immense importance for Japanese culture.


The word hence cannot be trademark by her since it exploits the Japanese culture. The Japanese Government also intervened and stated that the trademark application was offensive and demanded a public apology as well. Hiroshige Seko, Japanese trade minister, also expressed his dislike for the same and also confirmed that the Japanese Patent Office would send a delegation to the USA[15] for discussing the application. After the immense backlash she changed the name to SKIMS Solutionwear.


The appropriation of the Indian culture

She has also appropriated the South East Asian culture especially the Indian traditional jewelry called the “maang tika” [16]. She was seen wearing the same in some of her Instagram posts which led to an outcry from the South East Asian community asking her to publicly apologize for appropriating their culture as it is not an aesthetic or style[17].


Continuous Black-fishing

If there is one culture that Kim Kardashian has appropriated on several occasions it has to be the Black culture. Black people are known to wear box braids in order to protect the integrity of their hair and have been demeaned for the same for years. However, Kim Kardashian has on several occasions won this hairstyle without understanding the repercussions that a black person has to face that she doesn't have to since she is white.


On a specific occasion, she stated that the only reason she wrote the brakes was because her daughter wanted her to match their hairstyles. However, the public pointed out several instances where she wrote the hairstyle and also ask her to rather educate her children about such sensitive topics [18].


Lessons to be learned

  • The very reason that a culture is an essential part of a country makes it extremely essential for any business dealing in the same to protect it. To protect and preserve the culture, especially those which are in the end-stages of vanishing, a business owner has to make sure the same is not appropriated.

  • The originating country benefits highly in terms of promoting tourism and their culture and making it economically viable for business owners as well.

Conclusion

The abovementioned instances are perfect examples of the price a business owner will have to pay if intellectual property rights are not taken into consideration. Especially for the companies owned by small business owners or by the POCs (people of color) have been a target for such infringements. From small Insta-Boutiques like Lonely Ghost suffering after not trademarking its slogan “I love you say it back” and having big brands like Item Beauty use it [19], the skill and labor spent on the work can definitely go to waste and bring whopping losses.


In cases where a big brand infringes the rights of a smaller brand, it has been observed that former put such materials out for mere cash grabs. This puts business of original intellectual property rights holder's business at risk since they provide quality products whereas the lesser quality of the rival product can lower its market reputation. Therefore, if there is any consumer confusion caused in the market it leads to the downfall if the reputation of the small business owners and businesses of the POCs.


On several occasions, no action has been taken against such infringements because of the wide popularity of the a public-figure or reputation of a larger company. However, this puts the businesses that are infringed at risk for future infringement as well. It also can be understood that the knowledge of intellectual property rights is not as wide spread because of which many creators tend to suffer.


Its quintessential to not only protect your rights under the law but to also involve the judicial system when such instances of infringement take place. Even as small business owners, reaching out to legal counsels for legal advice on protection and infringement can go a long way.


(Assisted by Ms. Kanika Goswamy, legal intern at TrailBlazer)


REFERENCES:

  1. Ibid.

  2. Ibid.


13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page