Australia

'An Australian icon': Bootmaker seeks support to overturn loss of Ugg boot name to US company

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Australian ugg boot-maker Eddie Oygur is appealing for support from politicians and the public to launch an appeal in the US courts against California-based Deckers Outdoor.

After losing a four-day court battle in the United States, Australian ugg boot-maker Eddie Oygur has returned home to Sydney where he has asked for support to launch an appeal against the ruling.

"I am asking all political parties to get behind this so we can create more jobs," he said.

"You always talk about small business...I just want legal assistance so we can bring Ugg back home."

Mr Oygur has been ordered to pay California-based Deckers Outdoor statutory damages of $US450,000. A jury in a Chicago court found Mr Oygur's company, Australian Leather, willfully infringed a trademark registered to Deckers by selling 12 pairs of Ugg boots online to customers in the US.

Boots made by Eddie Oygur's company, Australian Leather.
Boots made by Eddie Oygur's company, Australian Leather.
SBS

The unisex classic sheepskin boot was popularised in Australia in the 1970s by surfer Shane Stedman, who began selling them among competitive surfers keen to keep their feet warm in between jumping in and out of the cold surf.

The boot was named the "Ugg", a shortened version of the word ugly. 

Mr Oygur said he also faces legal bills in excess of a million dollars. 

"I am not only devastated - that's an understatement. This is not only about me," he said.

'An Australian icon'

"It is about every Australian out there. It's about Australian jobs. And being accused of what I am not, really hurts me," he said.

"These are known as ugg boots all around the world. They're an Australian icon for God's sake. And I am being accused of being a counterfeiter, of my ugg boots - that I make in my country."

Deckers acquired the trademark UGG Australia in 1995.

The boots were worn by members of the Australian surfing community in the 1970s to keep the feet warm after coming out of the cold water.
The boots were worn by members of the Australian surfing community in the 1970s to keep the feet warm after coming out of the cold water.
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

In documents filed with the court, the company said: "Deckers' products have been widely accepted by the public and are enormously popular, as demonstrated by over $1 billion in annual UGG sales."

Mr Oygur unsuccessfully argued that "ugg" is a generic term originating in Australia from the 1960s surfing community.

'Absurd'

Australian lawyer and former senator Nick Xenophon said the Australian government should support Mr Oygur in any efforts to appeal the US court decision. 

"This is absurd," he said.

"Australian politicians ought to be ashamed of themselves for allowing the ugg name to be trademarked by an American company selling ugg boots made in other countries to the rest of the world as Australian ugg boots."

The boots manufactured in Botany, New South Wales  in the 1970s.
The boots manufactured in Botany, New South Wales in the 1970s.
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

"This has to be a political issue. This is about getting jobs back home. There are literally thousands of Australian jobs that could be created right here in Australia, if ugg boots were made here rather than in other countries.

"And to add insult to injury. This judgment is basically saying if you are an Australian Ugg-boot manufacturer you better be careful that you're ugg boots are not sold anywhere overseas because you could end up with a multi-million dollar award against you in damages. It is just devastating."

A previous petition by Mr Xenophon, which attracted 31,877 signatures, argued that European legislation sets a precedent for protecting the name of iconic products.

"If the French can protect ‘Champagne’, the Portuguese ‘Port’, the Spanish ‘Sherry’ and the Greeks ‘Feta’, then surely Australia can protect the word ‘Ugg’."

Mr Xenophon said the public should also get behind Mr Oygur.

"Right now Eddie's fate is in the hands of the Australian public. They need to get behind him, to crowdfund him, to do whatever they can, to do whatever they can to fund the appeal," the former senator said.

In Australia, trademarks that have the word 'ugg' are protected as a logo, or if included in a string of words. Outside of Australia, Deckers owns the 'UG Australia' trade mark in at least 130 countries around the world.

Attempts by Deckers to prevent Australian companies from labelling their sheepskin footwear as ugg boots in Australia encountered resistance and the trademark was de-registered in Australia. 

In 2006, members of the Australian Sheepskin Association were successful in their attempt to have Decker's trademark de-registered in Australia under the Australian Trademarks Office.

‘Ugh-boots’ were removed from the register, and the word ‘ugg boots’ and variants were deemed to be generic words referring to sheepskin boots.

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