The Ralph Lauren Corporation submitted a letter to Southern District of New York Judge Gregory Woods on Thursday seeking to dismiss claims Hall of Fame NBA player George “Iceman” Gervin brought against the fashion company.
Gervin, 70, sued Ralph Lauren in February, arguing the company violated his civil rights, falsely implied that Gervin endorses Ralph Lauren, and infringed his trademarks.
The case centers on Ralph Lauren’s line of retro-style high-top sneakers called the “Gervin Mid.” As depicted in Gervin’s complaint, Ralph Lauren’s French-based designers insist they came up with “Gervin” on their own and claim they weren’t familiar with the 12-time ABA and NBA All-Star who, decades ago, was a prolific scorer and notable dunker. Gervin demands at least $2 million in damages and an injunction to stop continued sales.
Writing for Ralph Lauren, attorney Andrea Calvaruso of the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren argues there are several defects with Gervin’s case.
She says Gervin, a Texas resident, can’t bring a civil rights claim under New York law since he is “domiciled outside of New York.” Calvaruso adds that Gervin, who played 14 seasons for the Virginia Squires (ABA), San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, doesn’t allege he’s ever resided in New York.
Calvaruso also disputes Gervin’s allegation of trademark infringement. She argues that Gervin doesn’t assert ever using his name as a trademark to promote, market or sell any products. Gervin does say he partnered with Nike about 50 years ago to market “The Blazer” sneaker line and wore Nike sneakers bearing “Iceman” during NBA games. But Calvaruso contends those marks and nicknames are insufficient to claim trademark ownership in the word at issue: Gervin.
Calvaruso also stresses that surnames, like Gervin, are not “inherently distinctive” under the law. To establish trademark rights in a surname, the plaintiff usually must establish it has obtained “secondary meaning,” wherein consumers primarily associate the surname with a single source.
Gervin, Calvaruso contends, has not acquired secondary meaning in Gervin, which is of northern Irish origin and is shared with the late Danish cyclist and Olympic medalist Willy Gervin. The fact that Gervin contends he “is well-known as an accomplished athlete in the 1970s” isn’t enough, Calvaruso asserts, since “today’s consumer” arguably wouldn’t associate “Gervin” with George Gervin.
Calvaruso asks that Judge Woods schedule a conference to discuss her client’s contention that the civil rights and trademark claims ought to be dismissed.
Gervin’s attorneys will have the opportunity to rebut Ralph Lauren’s reasoning. Expect them to insist that Gervin, who the NBA selected for its 75 Greatest Players of All Time List in 2021, remains a famed figure in basketball. Though he played a long time ago, Gervin is arguably relevant to basketball and sneaker fans of all ages.