Bebe Wins Ruling Against May

In a surprise decision, Bebe Stores Inc. on Oct. 21 won a preliminary injunction in a trademark infringement lawsuit it filed against May Department Stores Co.

The federal judge barred the St. Louisbased department store chain from selling its “Be” private label brand of clothing, saying the trademark is “confusingly similar” to Bebe. District Judge Catherine D. Perry said the retailer had until Dec. 31 to sell its current “Be” apparel inventory and had to post display signs informing shoppers that “Be” isn’t affiliated with Bebe.

“This injunction not only protects our rights, but safeguards our customers from devious corporate greed,” said Manny Mashouf, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Bebe in a statement.

Sharon Bateman, spokesperson for the department store chain, said the fight is far from over. “We’re disappointed with the decision and plan to appeal,” Bateman said.

The rule is a blow to May’s introduction of proprietary brands earlier this year. “Be” targets young women aged 19 to 30 and was launched in August. The line is now carried at 100 doors at May’s full-line stores, including Robinsons-May, Filene’s, Hecht’s and Foley’s. According to newspaper reports, the ruling could cost May about $2 million.

Key to proving trademark infringement was establishing confusion. In the suit, Bebe claimed that customers brought in “Be” merchandise to its stores for returns and customers commented to the sales staff that they saw “Be” at May stores.

“As long as they established confusion, they had a case,” said Mark Brutzkus, a Los Angeles-based attorney who specializes in the apparel industry.