North Van entrepreneur's struggle with Kardashian empire a cautionary tale
She’s living up to her company’s “strong as a mother” slogan, but a North Vancouver mother and businesswoman speaking up against a famous fashion empire knows she’s got an uphill battle to protect her brand.
Tamara Komuniecki has been selling shirts with the empowerment statement in bold typeface for two years at local retailers and her own boutique, the Delish General Store in Edgemont Village, and recently saw U.S. retailer, Good American, selling a shirt with the same phrase, but a different font. Good American is co-owned by pop culture celebrity Khloe Kardashian.
"I don't want to get a lawyer involved. I don't want to face their legal team because they have money I will never have to be able to defend themselves,” said Komuniecki.
The journalist-turned-entrepreneur said she bought the rights from an Edmonton mother who was the first person she saw selling the shirts. Komuniecki then filed a Canadian trademark on the design but has been constantly battling knockoffs from online sellers on websites like Etsy.
"It's very complicated when you deal with these things,” intellectual property lawyer Ryan Black told CTV News Vancouver at McMillan LLP’s Vancouver offices.
"Intellectual property issues are kind of territorial. We do have treaties that go across different countries that allow a party in one country to enforce against a party in another country, but fundamentally you can have a very strong Canadian trademark that will prevent anybody from trading on your brand in Canada, but it may not be of any value in the United States or India or China or other place."
Most importantly, Black says even when a businessowner is in the right, fighting a costly legal battle to enforce their intellectual property rights may not get them very far when their winnings may not be worth the expense and time to wage a fight in the courts. It’s something he’s often seen in a world where artwork, designs and fashions are widely marketed through social media – and therefore easy to copycat.
"Having great IP is one aspect of protecting yourself, but having the means to actually enforce that IP is the other aspect and that can be incredibly difficult," said Black. “Ultimately there are practical effects and practical benefits and disadvantages to IP protection.”
Further complicating matters, Black points out while Komuniecki holds the Canadian trademark, a different company owns the U.S. trademark on a similar slogan (“strong like a mother”) that is not only too similar to her own to trademark there – it also creates grounds for that company to go after Komuniecki if she sells her wares south of the border. Add that to the plethora of small-time retailers selling similar or identical shirts on Etsy, and it’s hard to parse out who really owns what.
“It's tough to tell who's really right and it's a big fight to get there," said Black.
CTV News reached out to Good American for comment on this story. The company has not responded.
"I don't think I have a lot of options, I don't think I have legal recourse and I wouldn't even go down that avenue if I did,” said Komuniecki.
“But I can certainly get the word out about my brand. It's caught people's interest. Behind my brand is a mom who's spent over two years and hours and hours and hours, into the wee hours of the morning at the warehouse pulling orders. So I would just like people to look at who's authentic behind the brands and just support that person and that movement."