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Licensing Law: Gibson Wins Landmark Trademark Ruling For Iconic Guitar Designs

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

Legendary guitar-maker Gibson has won a huge victory in a trademark case, aptly decided by a jury in Nashville, aka Music City.

As a result, the court has ordered an injunction permanently prohibiting Armadillo (aka Dean Guitars) from using Gibson’s classic designs and marks, including the ES, SG, the Flying V, Explorer Trademarks, and Hummingbird Wordmark.

The decision also allows Gibson to now better protect its designs from companies making lookalike knockoffs, like the copy of the Gibson SG in the photo above, or the Flying V knockoff from China in the photo below.

Photo from the Chinese ecommerce site Alibaba, showing a Chinese-made knockoff of the classic Gibsons Flying V guitar.

The jury found that Gibson’s trademarks are valid, and that the Gibson guitar shapes are not generic, meaning the defendants were guilty of both trademark and and counterfeit, the company said. “This sets a clear precedent for the future of Gibson’s intellectual property,” Gibson added

The ruling on July 28 included an injunction permanently enjoining Armadillo (known as Dean Guitars) from the manufacture, advertisement, and/or sale of its guitars that infringe on Gibson’s ES, SG, Flying V, and Explorer trademarks, and the Hummingbird wordmark.

“Gibson is once again very pleased with the outcome after years of simply trying to protect their brand and business through well recognized intellectual property rights, rights that have been Gibson’s for decades,” the company said.

“Gibson’s guitar shapes are iconic and now are firmly protected for the past, present, and future. From a broader perspective, this court decision is also a win for Gibson fans, artists, dealers, and related partners.”

In addition to the guitars themselves, Gibson has a thriving licensing business, with partners selling merchandise primarily to musicians and music fans, including the Gibsons’ branding and portrayals of Gibson guitars.

The brand is among the most valuable in the music supply industry, as Gibson is credited with building much of the early technology that kicked off rock music, and extending out to much of today’s modern music genres. Among other things, Gibson was an early builder of electric amplifiers and also designed the Gibson Les Paul, the world’s most popular and sought after guitar.

But dealing with copies of its technology has been a constant for Gibson.

The company was founded by Orville Gibson in 1894, making mandolins and later the archtop guitars that Gibson invented.

By the 1930s Gibson had developed one of the first hollow-body electric guitars, and competitors quickly copied its popular models.

The same thing happened with the Gibson Super 400, an innovative acoustic guitar that was hugely popular during the Big Band era in the 1930s, and of course the Les Paul, the world’s first solid-body electric guitar that truly kicked off the era of rock’n’roll and amplified music in general.

The ruling means that if you want to play a Gibson, you need to buy a Gibson, but the company says it’s also a victory for all companies whose innovations and trademarks have been copied illegally.

The ruling is a victory “for all of the iconic American brands that have invested in meaningful innovation and continued protection, only to see it diluted with unauthorized and often illegitimate knock-offs,” the company said. “Gibson can now focus attention on continuing to leverage its iconic past, and invest in future innovation, with confidence.

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