YETI was founded in 2006 in Austin, Texas as a small cooler company that marketed towards the outdoors lifestyle. YETI was very much marketed to the hardcore enthusiast at the time, selling their rugged high quality coolers (that are advertised as bear proof) for a whopping $300, as much as 10x more as you can buy their Wal-Mart competitors for.
Since YETI’s humble beginnings, YETI has increasing grown as a lifestyle brand thanks to their popularity on college campuses. Today they offer a wide range of products besides just their hard coolers, including soft coolers, tumblers, bottles, clothing, and even an ice bucket large enough to hold a keg. This growing popularity has led to great financial success, and they are expected to have a multi-billion dollar IPO later this year.
This popularity and success has naturally enticed many imitators and knockoffs. One of the largest premium cooler brands to spawn in the wake of YETI is RTIC Coolers. RTIC Coolers established in 2014 and have designed many of their products on a feature-by-feature basis with YETI. According to their site, they are able to offer much cheaper prices by leveraging technology, direct marketing and the company’s national network of fulfillment centers.
On the website, RTIC even markets their coolers as “half the price of the competition.” A comparison on how similar RTIC’s products looked to YETI’s can be seen here.
Not surprisingly, YETI sued RTIC for trade dress infringement and unfair competition (among other claims) on March 2, 2016in the Western District of Texas. YETI Coolers, LLC v. RTIC Coolers, LLC, Case No. 15-CV-00597
Intellectual Property Rights at Issue
Trade dress is a legal term that refers to characteristics of the visual appearance of a product or it’s packaging and is a protectable form of intellectual property.
As with other types of trademarks, trade dress can be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and is legally protected by the Lanham Act. Trade dress is intended to protect consumers from appearance of products falsy designed to fool consumers into believing that it is another product. Per the Lanham Act:
“Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container for goods, uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which
(A) is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive […] as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person, or
(B) in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person’s goods, services, or commercial activities, shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is likely to be damaged by such an act.”
On February 2nd , the companies informed the U.S. District court for the Western District of Texas, according to YETI’s press release, “Rtic Coolers and (twin brothers John and Jim Jacobsen, RTIC’s founder) are required to make a financial payment to YETI; to cease sales of all products subject to the lawsuit- this includes hard-sided coolers, soft-sided coolers and drinkware; and to redesign all products in question.”
This settlement represents a huge victory for YETI. It forces their competition to quit copying their designs that have made them famous. Now, not only will RTIC actually have to start competing with YETI with their own designs, it will place other YETI infringers on notice that YETI will aggressively compete to protect their intellectual property.
How You Can Protect Your Products
Product inventors, owners and manufacturers should protect themselves by working with their patent attorneys to ensure their products and intellectual property are fully protected from potential infringers. Different products require different levels of IP protection, and the form of protection (copyright, trademark, patents) must be tailored to the specific circumstances of the inventor/owner. Bold Patents patent attorneys are ready to assist in any intellectual property matters.
Author: Derek Clements, Patent Attorney
Want to learn more? Learn how to get a patent your idea in 13-steps!