Since the beginning of time, smaller, lesser-known brands have found themselves falling victim to larger corporations and their predatory practices when it comes to trademarking and protecting their brand identity. This has especially been the case when it comes to fashion. Larger clothing brands such as Fashion Nova and Pretty Little Things have had several complaints filed against them from smaller, designers, specifically Black-owned, of them stealing their designs, further putting them at a disadvantage. This has also been the case with high-profile celebrities and how they oftentimes copy other designers’ work for their own profitable gain. The problem is that most, smaller brands lack the financial means and knowledge needed to protect themselves, which in turn causes the larger corporations to exhaust them of all of their resources putting them in a position where the smaller brand has no choice but to settle.
Black Jockey Clothing, a cultural brand founded by Lamont Cooper, aims to celebrate and shed light on the forgotten history of Black jockeys, has found themselves having to go before the United States Patent and Trademark Office against international clothing brand, Jockey International. And what started as a civil cease and desist has turned into a years-long legal battle with Black Jockey Clothing refusing to back down.
Racquel Coral (RC): How long has the legal battle between Black Jockey Clothing and Jockey International been going on and what exactly prompted it?
Dayna Cooper (DC), legal counsel for Black Jockey Clothing: This legal battle began back in February of 2010. Jockey International instituted an opposition proceeding, which is a proceeding before the Trademark Office, challenging Lamont Cooper’s rights to register his trademark. Unbeknownst to him, it looks like Jockey then commissioned to institute a scheme to misappropriate his other trademarks outside of the first trademark that he tried to register. After the initial proceeding, Mr. Cooper didn’t fight because he was a startup and didn’t have the funds to fight such a large corporation. And because he didn’t fight it, there was a default judgment against him. Through the discovery of this case, which was instituted back in September of 2020, it looks like when Jockey International first learned of him in 2010, they then continued to either monitor or investigate Mr. Cooper. And then began creating new trademarks that looked like all of his.
Lamont Cooper (LC): The initial trademark, or logo that I tried to register was an image that I created inside of a crest that had the words “Black Jockey” on there. And from my understanding, Jockey International had a problem with the word “jockey” in itself. So because I didn’t have the funds to fight, I kind of fell back. When I came back to register my logo minus the word “jockey”, just simply the artwork itself, that’s when the opposition came. And then we found out through discovery that they went into my initial website in 2010, and saw some of our other artwork and materials, and began to copy those and move it into a more sports or urban type of line. It was something that they hadn’t done before and wanted to dip their toe in. And that’s when we discovered that they really went in and tried to do a number on us.
RC: Since the start of the battle, what are some ways in which Black Jockey Clothing has begun to protect themselves and their brand?
DC: So first, Mr. Cooper has to fight it, because if he doesn’t, he would lose rights to the mark. As a trademark owner, you have the obligation and responsibility to police your brand. Policing your brand means to monitor whether or not other people are using it. And if they are using it, then you should be protecting your brand by either instituting oppositions or cancellation proceedings or sending cease and desists, and ensuring that people aren’t using your trademark without your rights. So number one, Mr. Cooper is fighting this so that he has all rights entitled to his mark and then policing his brand.
RC: In addition to taking advantage of the fact that most smaller businesses lack the financial means to fight back, what are some other predatory or bullying tactics commonly used by larger corporations?
DC: What people don’t realize, is that if you’re an entrepreneur, your intellectual property is getting your copyright or trademark. Those are the essence of your business. Those are your revenue generators. So if you’re an artist, your artwork is what’s generating revenue for your business, or if you apply that artwork to clothing, that’s how you make your money. So if someone takes that, they’re pretty much taking your business. Because now, and especially if they have the resources to market it in a way that you don’t, they can come in and take your business. So I can’t think of anything worse than that, because you don’t have a business outside of it. The only other thing that is commonly used, but is not necessarily illegal or unlawful, is unfair contracts. Typically, what will happen if you’re a small business that doesn’t have the business acumen or legal knowledge and foundation of what it requires for you to propel your business successfully, then a bigger corporation may take advantage of the terms and conditions in that agreement. That’s not necessarily unlawful, but that unequal bargaining power puts you at a distinct disadvantage in negotiating whatever it is that you’re trying to negotiate. So that’s very common.
RC: What are some ways small businesses can protect themselves and their brand identity?
DC: So the first thing that I would say is that you need to get a lawyer. Most small businesses try to avoid getting legal counsel in the beginning, because they think that they can’t afford it. Or just like in any business, they’re trying to reduce overhead costs. But that’s an overhead cost that you should not try to avoid because you can afford a lawyer. If you can afford $500 worth of inventory, you can use that money to talk to a lawyer before you launch that business. And have either a strategy session or an initial console to help you to avoid making some of the mistakes that are common amongst startups or small business owners. That’s a small price to pay, to avoid having to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in losses that you’re trying to clean up or having to start all over. There are also available free resources. So there are partnerships with SBA, the Small Business Administration. Most states have a score office that will pair you with a mentor for free. Many states also have volunteer lawyers that will offer pro bono services for startups.
RC: What advice would you give to smaller businesses to avoid finding themselves in the same predicament as you?
LC: I will say that there definitely needs to be more due diligence in our upfront and engaging in our business. I see a lot of that in different businesses, not so much intellectually protected, but just business in general. And we really need to engage in gathering the information so that we can be successful in business overall. As far as the fashion industry, it’s been going on for a long time. But we’re gaining more knowledge, more momentum, and finding ourselves in a stronger position, but the fight continues. Big corporate America is a capitalistic society. They’re always going to be sharks that are looking to take what doesn’t belong to them.
For more information on Black Jockey Clothing, please visit https://blackjockeyclothing.com/.
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a national lifestyle writer and journalist based in Charlotte, NC. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.