USPTO grants trademark protection in van der Rohe designs

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted trademark registrations to Knoll Inc for five furniture designs created by the famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The five designs include the chair, stool, couch and table from the Barcelona collection, as well as the Brno chair.

The Barcelona collection was originally designed in 1929. Knoll has been the licensed manufacturer of the Barcelona chair since 1948, and has held a trademark on the Barcelona name since 1968. Knoll's registrations are for the configuration of the furniture, which should help Knoll enforce its rights against manufacturers of inexpensive and unlicensed knockoffs of the designs.

Knoll appears to have received its trade dress registrations without much argument from the USPTO. For example, in its couch registration, Knoll describes its mark broadly as "a configuration of a couch with a metal frame supporting a leather cushion". In addition, while registration for product configuration can often be difficult to obtain, no office action was issued on this application. Knoll submitted some evidence of acquired distinctiveness with its application including:

  • a declaration containing evidence of long, continuous use since 1954;

  • sales figures of in excess of $2.7 million over a five-year period;

  • examples of third-party press associating the couch design with Knoll; and

  • facts showing that the couch had been exhibited at a museum.

Knoll also submitted a declaration from the museum curator attesting that the public associated the couch design with Knoll.

Knoll is not the only furniture company that has attempted to gain protection for its designs through trade dress. Herman Miller sought and received trademark registrations for the amoeba-shaped Noguchi coffee table and an Eames lounge chair and ottoman.

Lara A Holzman and Sarah Hsia, Alston & Bird LLP, New York

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