The Atlantic Station resident is founder and CEO of LVL XIII Brands Inc. (Level 13), a New York-based, high-end footwear company with a second office in Atlanta. The On the Road shoe, Brown said, is very similar to his own brand of shoes, with both having metal plates on the front and back.
“I was shocked because I've always valued Louis Vuitton as a brand even before [LVL XIII] became a brand,” he said. “I would have assumed a brand that is built on integrity and protecting intellectual property, that they would have researched the market to ensure there is nothing else in the market similar to this new style of shoe you’re building. I would have made sure no other brand had done it before, like the name plate. I would check to see who brands the entire collection of shoes with metal plates.”
June 30, Brown sued Paris-based Louis Vuitton and its parent company, Paris-based LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, claiming the On the Road sneaker infringes on LVL XIII’s brand’s trademark. Louis Vuitton’s North American headquarters is in New York. The lawsuit alleges “the defendant’s actions are part of a deliberate attempt to divert sales away from LVL XIII.”
LVMH was removed from the lawsuit Tuesday because it does not operate in America and “had no liability within the merits of the claim,” Brown said. “ Also, Louis Vuitton's attorneys requested an extension from Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, my legal team had no objections and it was granted two days ago in federal court.”
Brown said he and his New York-based patent attorney, Ronald Coleman of Goetz Fitzpatrick, talked to Louis Vuitton representatives to settle the issue outside of court, but Louis Vuitton refused.
In a statement emailed to a reporter by Molly Morse, a spokeswoman for Louis Vuitton, the company said, “The lawsuit is entirely without merit, and the company will vigorously defend itself.”
Though LVL XIII has had success, the lawsuit is a classic case of David vs. Goliath.
In November Louis Vuitton was worth $28.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine’s 2013 rankings of the world’s most valuable brands.
Brown, an ex-accountant, started his company in October 2012 after being laid off from the Madame Alexander Doll Co., a New York-based luxury doll maker.
Brown also developed his own trademark, a distinctive metal plate with “LVL XIII” engraved on it, submitting it to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The company’s shoe sales took off after singer/dancer Jason Derulo wore a pair on ABC's “Good Morning America” in June 2013. The patent was approved in August 2013, and after the brand was launched in stores in November, it had shoe sales of $500,000 in its first two months.
Buoyed by its debut party hosted by model Tyson Beckford, LVL XIII also was boosted by several celebrities including rappers Nas and Jim Jones and actors Tracy Morgan and Jason Sudeikis wearing and/or endorsing its shoes. But the On the Road shoe, Brown said, has hurt his business and caused confusion in the industry.
“I guess at times it gets a little discouraging because I’ve worked so hard to build what I have now. … I put the last of the money I have in this brand to build it to what it is today,” Brown said. “For someone to come in and take everything that your brand is built on, it makes you say, “Damn.’ It’s definitely a disappointment and a discernment.
“[Louis Vuitton’s shoe entering the market] didn’t halt our production but it has slowed down a bit. The reason being is this is a trademarked plate. It affected the market with the buyers and consumers because there was an overwhelming confusing about whether I was collaborating with Louis Vuitton or if I had copied Louis Vuitton, with their shoes being in the market as well.”
Brown said he hopes to win the battle.
“The true message here is I just want justice,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that follow my career and there’s a lot of people that believe in me. I want to be an example that you can build a successful business and make your dreams come true. Just because a Goliath of the world comes around, you don’t have to let them take things from you. You can fight them. It’s not about the suing and the money. It’s about the point and the principle.”