Kim Kardashian West’s fragrance company, KKW Fragrance LLC, is the target of a reverse confusion trademark infringement suit launched by Chicago-based mobile marketing company, Vibes Media, LLC. According to Vibes’ complaint, KKW Fragrance intentionally copied Vibes’ name and speech bubble logo in a new perfume also called “Vibes” that Kardashian launched as part of her new fragrance line, “Kimoji.” The bottle is shaped like a speech bubble, and has the word “VIBES” on its side in “a close facsimile” of Vibes’ registered trademark, which is also a speech bubble and the word “VIBES.” Vibes’ registered trademark is incontestable as of July 2018, according to the suit.
Vibes seeks to recover for trademark infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin, and Illinois common law unfair competition. It requests a permanent injunction barring the sale of the perfume and the destruction or turnover of any allegedly-infringing material, as well as treble damages for willful infringement, disgorgement of KKW’s profits, compensation for corrective advertising, and attorneys’ fees. The Northern District of Illinois issued the summons as to KKW earlier this month, and KKW has yet to answer suit.
Takeaway: Reverse confusion occurs when a junior user of a trademark uses its superior brand power and market strength to overwhelm the senior user and confuse consumers into thinking the products are affiliated. Advertisers for high-profile companies and celebrities may be at risk for trademark infringement suits on theories of reverse confusion from smaller or inconspicuous senior users, even when the products may not appear to be identical or related.