GREENSBORO, NC—The entire furniture industry will be closely watching an IP and marketing dispute between retail giants Williams-Sonoma and Amazon. Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Jack Hicks, a veteran intellectual property attorney who has long served the home furnishings industry, provided insights on the federal lawsuit in an interview with Furniture, Lighting & Décor.

Williams-Sonoma recently sued Amazon, claiming among other things that the online retailer copied Williams-Sonoma’s design patent and trademark rights for a particular style of chair sold under Williams-Sonoma’s West Elm Furniture line. In addition, the company claims that Amazon’s online marketing promotions create confusion among customers as to which products are genuine Williams-Sonoma articles.

“Furniture designs are protectable if they meet the rules governing protections of all inventions, furniture or otherwise,” Hicks tells Furniture, Lighting & Décor. He said patent protections for furniture designs come in “baby steps, not big leaps,” meaning important but sometimes small design details are what USPTO officials consider when granting patent protections.

So in this particular case, Hicks said the court could determine that the two designs aren’t similar enough. Or it could decide Williams-Sonoma received the initial patent in error. Or it could determine that the patent is valid and Amazon’s actions infringed upon it.

Likewise, he said online advertising occupies a gray area in the law. Some courts have allowed companies to buy keyword ad space for competitors, as long as the content is clearly identified as an advertisement. But will Amazon’s use of the Williams-Sonoma mark fit in that category of legally allowed competition? That will be up to the courts as well, Hicks said.

Click here to read “Why the Williams-Sonoma Lawsuit Against Amazon is Worth Watching” at Furniture, Lighting & Décor.

Jack Hicks has more than 30 years of experience guiding home furnishing and design companies through all stages of the intellectual property process. He has written and prosecuted patents, trademarks, and copyrights on literally hundreds of furniture-related designs. Hicks’ proximity to High Point, N.C., the capital of the U.S. furniture industry, helps him better serve U.S. and international manufacturers and distributors for the home furnishings industry. Hicks is a frequent author and speaker on furniture- and design-related intellectual property issues.