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Walmart says it will move away from shirts similar to those designed by Calgary shop

Multinational giant Walmart says it will move away from a design after clashing with a Calgary company over “confusingly similar” T-shirts and hoodies.

Local Laundry, a Calgary store which designs and produces its clothing in Canada, was alerted by a customer in March that Walmart was selling a product similar to their own. 

Dustin Paisley, chief operating officer at Local Laundry, said the only difference between the two designs is that Walmart’s has a moose, while theirs has a maple leaf. 

Paisley said they reached out to Walmart three times and were told by the company that they were going to continue selling the product. 

When CBC reached out to Walmart for comment, Stephanie Fusco, senior manager of corporate affairs, said in an emailed statement that “despite our position that we have not infringed Local Laundry’s intellectual property rights, we have decided to move away from this design for future collections.” 

“We respect the intellectual property rights of others and take allegations of this nature seriously. We can confirm that we were in touch with Local Laundry earlier this year to discuss their concerns.” 

Two men sit with their hands clasped. They are wearing matching sweaters.
Local Laundry co-owners Dustin Paisley, left, and Connor Curran said Walmart has been selling a design similar to their own. (Supplied by Local Laundry)

Paisley said that news isn’t much relief as Walmart has been selling the shirts for months. 

“It’s disappointing. It’s really challenging. It’s frustrating. You get a little bit angry because we’re trying to do the right thing. All of our clothes are manufactured responsibly here in Canada,” he said. 

He also wants to know what can be done to protect small businesses who have had their work duplicated by big companies. 

He said this has happened to the company before, and “all too often” to other small businesses. 

“We’ve been told in the fashion industry ‘don’t expect a design to ever be exclusively yours.’ And  we’ve been challenged in that,” Paisley said, adding that it took the company three years to trademark the design. 

A screen grab of an online shopping page. There are two children wearing grey T-shirts on the page.
A screenshot of the T-shirts from the Walmart website. (Supplied by Local Laundry)

“We can do everything right. We can even trademark, we can own the intellectual property, but it’s up to another company to come in and choose whether or not they want to adhere to that.”

Paisley’s business partner Connor Curran said they’re a small team with limited resources. 

“We feel that we have to share [what happened] because there are so many other small businesses that have experienced the exact same thing.”

Trademark and patents lawyer Rhiannon Adams said the scope of trademark rights often comes down to how distinctive a design is and how well it is known by the public. 

She added that a trademark is meant to protect customers. 

“If a customer saw a particular trademark and thought that the goods and the services was another company’s ā€” then that’s what causes confusion in the marketplace and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.” 

She said trademarks must be enforced by the trademark holder.

“If you have a registered trademark, you have rights across Canada to prevent anyone from using any confusingly similar marks.”

Adams says when cases like these arise, affected companies can file a cease and desist letter, and if that doesn’t work it would have to go to a federal court. 

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