July 11, 2022
In May 2019, Gibson filed a lawsuit against Armadillo Enterprises Inc. (“Armadillo”), the parent company of Dean Guitars (“Dean”), accusing the instrument manufacturer of infringing on its guitar body shape and headstock design trademarks. Gibson also alleged that Armadillo engaged in trademark counterfeiting – specifically, that Armadillo was attempting to pass off guitars with a similar design that it manufactured as being affiliated with Gibson.
Armadillo denied the accusations, arguing that Gibson was trying to claim exclusive rights to commonplace guitar shapes. Armadillo also countersued Gibson for tortious interference with Armadillo's contracts.
On May 27, 2022, a Texas jury rejected Armadillo's claims that Gibson's designs in question were “generic” and “unprotectable,” and found Armadillo infringed on Gibson's body shape trademarks for four different models of guitar, the Dove Wing headstock and the name of the Hummingbird acoustic guitar. However, the court also found that Gibson’s “inexcusable” delay in asserting its trademark rights caused undue prejudice to Armadillo. As a result, the court held that Gibson had suffered no actual damages, and awarded Gibson only $4,000 in statutory damages.
The parties involved have different interpretations about the implications of this ruling. Gibson claims their “iconic” guitar shapes are now “firmly protected”, while Armadillo CEO Evan Rubinson praised the jury for issuing a judgement in the amount of $4,000, a “mere fraction of the $7 million-plus originally sought by Gibson.”
As Gibson is in the midst of trademark disputes with other brands, such as Heritage Guitars and Kiesel, this verdict could potentially have broader implications for other companies producing instruments with the popular Gibson outline.
Authors: Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu and Mark Leonard