Mind the Gap: What’s really behind Gap Inc.’s trademark dispute with Indian accessories company?

August 2, 2013

Mind the GapEverybody loves to rag on Gap Inc. for hawking blanddated and plebian clothes, but the San Francisco-based retailer can cry itself all the way to the bank: It has annual sales of more than $15 billion and Wall Street seems to like the changes it’s made recently.*

I bring this all up to emphasize what a closet powerhouse Gap Inc. is.  Keep that in mind as we discuss its legal efforts against a much smaller company.

Recently, Gap allegedly sent cease and-desist letters to Green the Gap, and India-based company that sells trinkets and accessories made from thrown-away material. According to the founder of Green the Gap, Gap Inc. wants it to stop using the term “Gap” in connection with the sale of clothing and accessories.

At last count, Gap had 3,400 stores in the U.S. Green the Gap has three. The founder of Green the Gap thinks Gap Inc. is overreacting.

I don’t give that complaint too much credit. Smart lawyers address things before they become a problem, so Gap is just being proactive.

Beyond that, though, is there any reason why Gap might want to stifle Green the Gap? Maybe.

  • Gap recently bought INTERMIX, which has carved out a niche in selling handbags, jewelry and other accessories.  The Valentino totes and Fendi pumps INTERMIX sells aren’t exactly in direct competition with Green the Gap’s “upcycled” earrings and satchels, but hey, when it comes to retail, turf is turf.
  • Green the Gap promotes itself as being environmentally sustainable and supportive of living-wage jobs. Those are still pretty trendy themes. Gap has tried before to get in on the social justice scene, but thanks to incidents like the Bangladeshi garment factory fire this spring, it’s taken a beating in the PR arena. Maybe Gap doesn’t want to give anybody else the opportunity to corral some ethical goodwill?
  • Lastly, let’s not rule out that Green the Gap isn’t being more crafty than it lets on. The founder has a great sob story (the David v. Goliath angle always works well) but let’s not forget he didn’t need to incorporate the term “Gap” in the first place. A healthy dose of suspicion is rarely a bad thing in matters like this.

*(Sure, challenges remain, but that’s life.)