Back in 2019, Gibson sued Armadillo Enterprises (opens in new tab), the manufacturer of Dean and Luna Guitars, for trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and engaging in unfair competition.
The following month, Armadillo, in turn, countersued Gibson (opens in new tab), seeking to dismiss the case and alleging “tortious interference with Armadillo’s business relationships and/or contracts” on part of Gibson.
Now, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas' Sherman Division has finally returned with its verdict on both cases. The jury concluded (opens in new tab) that Dean had indeed infringed on Gibson's trademarks for the Flying V, Explorer, ES, and SG body shapes, the Hummingbird, and the Dove Wing headstock design.
Furthermore, the jury found (opens in new tab) that Dean had willfully sold what legally constituted counterfeits of the Hummingbird, and of the Flying V, Explorer, and SG body shapes, and that – in regards to the countersuit – Gibson had not interfered with Armadillo’s own business, and owes no money to the company.
In what might be the most notable part of the verdict, the court also ruled (opens in new tab) that none of the Gibson trademark registrations in question are "generic," nor should they be cancelled, as Armadillo called for in its countersuit.
In one small victory for Armadillo though, the court ruled that Gibson had not suffered any financial damage as a result of the infringements, and that Armadillo owed only $4,000 in restitution to Gibson, rather than the $7 million the latter company called for in its original suit.
Following the ruling, both sides essentially claimed victory.
"The court’s decision by jury today, to uphold Gibson’s long-established and well-recognized trademarks for Gibson’s innovative and iconic guitar shapes is a win for Gibson and the music community at large," read a statement issued by Gibson following the verdict.
"The court found that the Gibson trademarks are valid, the Gibson shapes are not generic, and the defendants were guilty of both infringement and counterfeiting. Gibson is very pleased with the outcome after years of simply trying to protect its brand and business through well recognized intellectual property rights, rights that have been Gibson’s for decades.
"Gibson’s guitar shapes are iconic and now are firmly protected for the past, present, and future," it continued. "From a broader perspective, this court decision is also a win for Gibson fans, artists, dealers, and related partners who expect and deserve authenticity. Not to mention for all of the iconic American brands that have invested in meaningful innovation and continued protection, only to see it diluted with unauthorized and often illegitimate knock-offs.
"Gibson can now focus attention on continuing to leverage its iconic past, and invest in future innovation, with confidence."
In its own statement, Armadillo cited the small mandated payout as evidence of its own triumph.
"We are thrilled that a Texas jury has vindicated Armadillo in ruling for Armadillo on its defense to Gibson’s trademark claims on our Dean V guitar, Dean Z guitar, and Evo headstock," a statement from the company's CEO, Evan Rubinson, said.
"The jury found that Armadillo is not liable to Gibson for our long use of those guitars and headstock. The jury issued a judgment in the amount of $4,000, a mere fraction of the $7 million plus originally sought by Gibson.”
Beyond the mandated $4,000 payment to Gibson, it's unclear what the verdict will mean for Dean, and the future of its V, Z, and Colt lines.
The implications of the court's verdict that Gibson's trademarked designs are not "generic," and belong solely to Gibson, are significant though, and could also potentially affect the company's similar ongoing legal battles with Heritage Guitars (opens in new tab) and Kiesel (opens in new tab).
Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.
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