Updated Aug. 30: A judge on Friday rejected The North Face’s motion to dismiss an Unfair Competition claim from renowned street artist Futura. With this ruling Futura will be able to move forward with its lawsuit filed against the North Face, which alleges copyright infringement.
Futura — whose real name is Leonard McGurr — claimed in a lawsuit filed in January in a California Central District Court that the outdoor brand ripped off a design depicting an atom that has appeared in his artwork for years. The allegedly infringing logo was spotted in the designs of The North Face’s “Futurelight” collection of waterproof apparel, footwear. The atom design mentioned in the complaint is a signature element in the work of Futura, which the complaint said has been used for the past 50 years.
The North Face publicly responded to the ongoing legal battle in July. While it denied claims of infringement, the brand stated it would move on from the logo it uses for its Futurelight apparel tech.
The North Face and its parent company, VF Corp., filed a motion on April 26 to dismiss McGurr’s complaint, stating his use of an atom design “are merely ornamental and fail to function as a trademark,” that his designs are “artwork, not source indicators,” and his “inconsistent use” and “lack of use” of the designs “undercuts the claim that the designs function as a trademark.”
A federal judge granted the dismissal on April 26.
“Our Futurelight apparel technology launched Oct. 1, 2019, and its logo was conceived and designed by our internal creative team to represent the nanospinning technology used to make Futurelight products. The logo was also inspired by the shape of the geodesic dome tent, which has been a key icon of The North Face brand for nearly 50 years,” the company wrote in a statement titled “Our Deep Respect for Artists,” which is published on its website. “Any resemblance to Futura’s signature atomic element design was entirely coincidental and not part of our internal design team’s inspiration.”
It continued, “While The North Face is confident there has been no infringement in this case, we are committed to supporting creative artists and their communities. As a sign of that commitment and a sincere gesture of goodwill, we will begin to phase out and discontinue the use of the Futurelight circular nanospinning logo design out of deep respect for Futura and his work.”
After the dismissal, Futura filed an amended complaint, which further specifies “distinctive” characteristics of the atom design that has come to be associated with Futura and therefore constitute a distinctive mark worthy of trademark protection. Based on this revised complaint, the lawsuit will carry on as initially planned.
An exhibit from the case Leonard McGurr v. The North Face Apparel Corp., VF Corp. and DOES 1-10 inclusive.Futura — who has collaborated The North Face in the past, as well as other industry giants including Nike and Vans — released a statement on June 21, which he shared on social media, expressing his frustrations with the ongoing legal battle. “We reached out to TNF to try to connect. Instead, they hid behind lawyers, refused to talk and effectively told us to get lost. So, we sued them,” the artist wrote. “Since then, they have done things that have caused me to fundamentally rethink what TNF is, and the values it claims to have as a brand and a company.”
To date, Futura’s post on Instagram has received over 25,000 likes.
The North Face concluded its public statement by saying: “We have clarified the original intent behind our Futurelight logo with Futura and his legal representatives many times and worked to find amicable solutions to reconcile this matter outside of a court for nearly two years. Unfortunately, these conversations have not proven successful, but we remain hopeful that we can reach a place of mutual understanding and agreement.”