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Levi’s, Welsh Co. in Trademark Dispute

May 3, 2003

LONDON (AP) _ The U.S. company that invented blue jeans and a distinctive cloth tab to go with them has accused a British clothing company of violating its 65-year-old trademark.

Levi Strauss & Co., the 150-year-old San Francisco maker of all things denim, has warned Wales-based Howies to stop selling jeans with a gray, cloth tab label bearing its brand name.

In a letter, Levis warned Howies that it might create ``customer confusion,″ with its own red tab and that it might seek damages if the smaller company doesn’t alter the design of its pants.

``For us it’s very important,″ Levi’s European spokesman, Cedric Jungpeter, said Friday. ``We were the first company to use a tab on the back of our jeans. It’s part of our history.″

The small Welsh company, which has just five employees and annual sales of less than $500,000, feels it’s being picked on by a giant with a global staff of 12,000 and sales of $4 billion.

``At first we thought it was a spoof from a mate,″ said David Hieatt, the founder of Howies. ``Never in our wildest dreams did we think you could patent the location of a tab on a pair of jeans.″

Hieatt said he has not yet decided what to do about the tab in the long term, but for now plans to put a patch over it that says ``Do not remove for legal reasons.″

In the letter sent last week, a lawyer for Levi’s said the smaller company’s gray tab ``is confusingly similar″ to the Levi’s tab, which has been a registered trademark since 1938.

Hieatt said consumers ``would have to be color blind and illiterate″ to confuse the two logos.

``It’s quite flattering they think we’re a threat,″ Hieatt said. ``We’re Cardigan Bay’s third-largest clothing company. Yesterday we sold 10 pairs of jeans.″

But Levi’s says the legal issue is clear.

``The tab is registered under trademark laws,″ Jungpeter said. ``We are the only company that can use a tab on the back pocket of our jeans.″

Jungpeter said Levi’s hoped to resolve the issue amicably but would take legal action if necessary.

Hieatt, a former London advertising executive, runs the 8-year-old firm with his wife in the small town of Cardigan on the west coast of Wales. Their clothes are sold by mail order and in skateboard and snowboard shops.

__

On the Net:

wwww.howies.co.uk

www.levistrauss.com

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