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Santa Cruz—Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the competitive skateboarding market where original art design has illustrated four decades of the sport, NHS Inc./Santa Cruz Skateboards takes a strong defensive stance to protect its unique brand.
Earlier this month, the company announced the settlement of a copyright and trademark infringement dispute with Bravo Sports, which paid NHS an undisclosed sum for apparently co-opting numerous NHS designs for its own line of boards, and selling them under the brand Kryptonics in big box retailers such as Wal-Mart.
“It’s unfortunate but we have quite a few trademark and copyright issues on a weekly basis,” said Robert A. Denike, chief executive officer of NHS, Inc./Santa Cruz Skateboards. “We just put them in a file and our legal team deals with them one by one.”
With 12 brands that ship to 72 countries, an aggressive defense is necessary to protect the brand, Denike says.
“It runs the gamut of straight up ripping off our artwork and putting their logos and trademarks on it or restyling in their own way to make what they feel is a parody,” Denike said. “A lot of people say they’re paying homage to Santa Cruz Skateboards or to Jim Phillips (the company’s original art designer) but if you don’t protect it, it can dilute your trademarks and you can eventually lose them.”
Over the years, NHS has created a significant artistic legacy that dates back to the early days of the skateboard movement in the ’70s when Phillips created the iconic Screaming Hand logo, the Santa Cruz logo and particularly stylized illustrations and color palettes.
“We have to protect our marks,” Denike said. “It’s our brand equity and the true value of our company.”
In the most recent case settled last month, NHS asserted that the artwork on Kryptonics boards mimicked artwork on Santa Cruz Skateboards and NHS boards.
Calls to Bravo’s attorney Joseph A. Maleki in Newport Beach were not returned, but according to a joint press release, Kryptonics agreed to discontinue production of the infringing skateboards and pay NHS to settle the case.
It doesn’t always go as smoothly. It took almost a year to settle a similar case when celebrity fashion designer Jeremy Scott debuted a line of clothes with strong similarities to NHS art designs in 2012. Other offenders include small mom and pop stores that lift the images to publicize an event and an Arizona fraternity that used NHS art for a pledge drive.
The internet has made patrolling violations easier and customers often report trademark and copyright concerns.
“I always ask infringers ‘What were you thinking?'” Denike said. “They usually say, ‘I just thought it would be cool.'”