Does Armorina look and sound a bit too much like Under Armour?
That was a core question for Baltimore jurors who last week sided with Under Armour in the sports clothing and accessories company’s trademark lawsuit against Armorina, a women’s activewear and lifestyle brand.
Four years ago, Under Armour sued Armorina in Maryland’s federal district court for infringement, dilution and unfair competition. Under Armour, launched as a brand in 1996 and headquartered in Baltimore, argued that the Armorina name/mark “misappropriates a core of Under Armour’s branding and combines it with the feminine suffix INA.” Under Armour also pointed out Armour used branding such as “Gameday Armour,” “Baby Armour” and “Armour Stretch” in products and services.
As Under Armour saw it, consumers were “likely to confuse” Armorina with Under Armour, in part because consumers “have come to associate the Armour portion of the marks with Under Armour.” To that end, Under Armour stressed that it has long “offered a variety of apparel and accessories for women under its Armour marks,” such as the HeatGear Armour Shorty and the Armour Bra Breathe. The company has also secured celebrity endorsements with prominent women athletes and entertainers, such as Gisele Bündchen, Misty Copeland and Lindsey Vonn, to boost the brand. Not only are consumers likely to be confused, Under Armour maintained, but Armorina’s actions “are likely to dilute the distinctive quality of Under Armour’s famous” marks.
Armorina offered a starkly different account. The company’s motion for summary judgment, filed in 2021, asserted that founder Juliet Huang “started her company Armorina [in 2018] as a way to empower and inspire modern women.” She crafted a line of athleisure clothing, namely leggings and bras, so that “customers could feel good wearing both in the gym and in their everyday lives.”
Armorina explained that Huang was “inspired by seeing suits of armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while in school.” She then “creatively combined the words ‘armor’ and ‘ballerina’ to form the unique name for her nascent company, Armorina.”
Huang, who said in sworn testimony that she was only vaguely aware of Under Armour before the company sued her, took steps to suggest she intended to abide by the law and act ethically. She retained a trademark attorney to ensure appropriate applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office were filed. She also hired a logo company to craft Armorina’s logo, with the instruction that the logo design resemble Kate Spade’s so that “it has a logo with a name underneath it.” In court documents, Armorina also claimed that Under Armour hadn’t shown any specific instances of actual consumer confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of products.
Under Armour prevailed in a four-day trial, led by Douglas “Chip” Rettew, Laura Masurovsky and other attorneys from Finnegan. By a preponderance of the evidence, jurors found that Armorina was liable for infringement and dilution. They also, however, concluded that Armorina had not willfully broken the law, and jurors awarded only nominal damages of $1 for infringement and $1 for dilution. But as trademark law expert Alexandra Roberts told Sportico, Under Armour should be pleased with the outcome.
Roberts, a professor of law and media at Northeastern University School of Law and author of Athlete Trademarks: Names, Nicknames, & Catchphrases in the Oxford University Press’s Handbook of American Sports Law, explained that the primary remedy sought by plaintiffs in infringement and dilution cases is injunctive relief.
“They want,” she said, “the use that infringes or dilutes their trademark rights to be halted immediately before further harm is done to their brand. Here, Under Armour successfully convinced a jury that the use of Armorina for women’s athleisure apparel and accessories created a likelihood of confusion among consumers that the Armorina brand was sold by or connected in some way with Under Armour.”
Roberts added that Under Armour “also successfully established that [their trademark] is famous among consumers nationwide and that the use of the similar mark Armorina creates a likelihood of dilution by blurring—that it would undermine the distinctiveness of the Under Armour mark even if consumers are not misled about any relationship between the two brands.” Roberts was surprised by the jury’s finding of dilution given that Armorina is not “identical or nearly identical,” and case precedent suggests greater similarity is needed.
But the absence of compensatory damages didn’t surprise Roberts. She emphasized that a trademark defendant’s “mental state” is crucial in determining damages. While Under Armour alleged willful misconduct, “it did not allege specific facts to demonstrate willfulness.”