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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Jeans giant in trademark battle
The Howies and Levi jean labels
Levi accuses the Cardigan company of infringing its logo

A small clothes company in west Wales is facing a legal battle after being served a writ by one of the biggest jeans manufacturers in the world.

Cardigan-based Howies, which has just five staff, has been challenged by Levi Strauss and Co which employs 12,000 people and last year had a turnover of $4.1bn.

The American giant is accusing the Welsh firm of infringing the famous Levi trademark red label by placing a grey label on the rear back pocket of its jeans.

The San Francisco company first patented its right to place its logo on the right back pocket in America in 1938.

Now it has written to the Welsh firm saying that the alleged infringement could cause customer confusion, even though the Howies' logo is on the left back jeans' pocket.

We will take a deep breath and talk to our advisers about our next step
David Hieatt

It has instructed Howies to stop the infringement and provide details of the total number of garments produced or sold bearing their logo.

The American giant added that it may seek monetary damages in the case.

Howies director, David Hieatt, said he resented the writ because he believed it was the fundamental right of every business to brand its own products.

"We will take a deep breath and talk to our advisers about our next step but it is odd that someone can patent the placement of a label," he said.

"What would happen if Honda weren't allowed to put Honda on the boot of a car or The Daily Mirror couldn't put its name on the masthead because the Times held the patent?"

Mr Hieatt has contacted Oscar winning documentary film-maker and satirist Michael Moore about helping the company in the battle.

Michael Moore
Howies would like Oscar-winner Michael Moore to defend them

"We had a catalogue request from Michael Moore a few months back an we have contacted him about this matter," said Mr Hieatt.

"If we did have to go to court I think Michael Moore would be the ideal person to defend us."

Mr Hieatt believes that Levi Strauss became aware of the possible infringement as a result of Howies winning several design awards over the last year.

Howies was set up by David and Clare Hieatt in 1995 and moved to its current base in a business park outside Cardigan two years ago.

The company makes about 15,000 organic T-shirts and 2,000 pairs of jeans a year.

The firm intends to increase its staff to eight by the end of the month and hopes to move to the centre of Cardigan next year.

A Levi Strauss and Co spokesman confirmed a writ had been sent to Howies.

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31 Oct 02  |  Business

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