Victoria's Secret, the upscale lingerie and loungewear retailer, is asking a federal agency to cancel the trademark of an Elkhorn-area online retailer, thepinkstore.com.
The store's owner, Rebekah Doolittle, received a trademark registration last May for the name The Pink Store from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Doolittle's e-commerce store, founded in 2011, features a variety of pink-colored items: from children's tricycles to handbags, cuff links and dog accessories, but does not offer any Victoria's Secret products. She's well known locally as a successful founder of a startup.
However, Victoria's Secret is challenging Doolittle's trademark for several reasons, including the chain's concern that Doolittle's trademark could cause consumers to confuse her online store with the chain's Pink-branded apparel.
Doolittle declined to comment this week, but on her Facebook page she posted this response to the retailer's petition: “My Dear Victoria, The Secret is out, Neither bras nor panties are what pink's all about! Keep 'Pink' on your clothing we don't really mind. But going after our trademark is rude and unkind. So find in your heart this Valentine's Day — if you truly 'Love Pink' make this mess go away.”
The Chicago law firm that filed the petition for cancellation on behalf of Victoria's Secret said it could not comment on pending petitions.
Such petitions that cite consumer confusion aren't unusual, said Robert C. Denicola, professor of intellectual property law at the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln.
And if the trademark office were to find in Victoria's Secret's favor, Doolittle would be able to continue using the name and operating her online business under thepinkstore.com. “Even if their trademark is canceled that doesn't mean they have to stop using the name,” he said.
Michael Breazeale, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said that after perusing Doolittle's online store, he did not believe she was trying to benefit from an association with Victoria's Secret. “She defines herself by pink, but not by their pink.”
Victoria's Secret holds an array of trademarks associated with its pink-branded lines, including “Pink is Life” and “Pink Nation,” the company said in its petition filed in December with the trademark office. Victoria's Secret has filed similar petitions involving the use of “pink” against a handful of other businesses. Among the benefits of holding a registered trademark: the right to use the trademark nationwide and to help obtain registration in foreign countries.
The pink product line, which the company launched nationwide in 2004, is available in Victoria's Secret stores and about more than 50 stand-alone Pink stores. “Sales of products bearing the Pink brand now exceed $1.5 billion annually,” the petition said.
But Victoria's Secret could be making a mistake by going after the “little guy,” Breazeale said. “A brand is a very valuable asset, and you should protect it. But given how quickly news travels on social media, he said, the company could risk its reputation if customers start to associate Victoria's Secret with being a “pink bully — the nasty girl on the playground.”