Donald Judd was a minimalist furniture designer so I’ll leave it at that. His La Mansana tables and chairs now go for $90K and $9k respectively. The Judd Foundation, his successor in interest (he passed in 1994), asserts trade dress in the La Mansana table and corresponding chairs (see photos below and in complaint, link at bottom).

Kim Kardashian employed a designer for her new SKKN BY KIM offices. Knowing of Ms. Kardashian’s interest in minimalism, the designer proposed that he fabricate tables and chairs “in the style of Donald Judd.” Kardashian obtained two sets of table and chairs (price redacted in the Complaint).

Ms. Kardashian filmed herself giving a tour of her offices. She identified various artists and designers who had contributed, and, displaying the tables, stated:

“If you guys are furniture people—because I’ve really gotten into furniture lately—these Donald Judd tables are really amazing and totally blend in with the seats.” (You’ll note that the chairs fit precisely under the table. I think that’s an interesting point to remember when considering trade dress, but I digress).

The video obtained over three million views on You. Comments on the video seemed to erroneously refer to the “JUDD” furniture.

The Judd Foundation has now sued the designer and Ms. Kardashian. The first ten causes of action are against the designer. The 11th cause is against Kardashian, asserting that:

Ms. Kardashian’s unauthorized use of the DONALD JUDD trademark and Mr. Judd’s name and identity is likely to confuse consumers as to Mr. Judd’s and/or Judd Foundation’s sponsorship or approval of the SKKN BY KIM brand and products advertised in the Kardashian Video

See page 44 of the Complaint for the full allegations against Kardashian.

At least three interesting issues arise from this Complaint;

  1. The always interesting question of to what extent is the configuration of the table and chairs functional. What is not functional about a minimalist design?
  2. To what extent does Ms. Kardashian make trademark use of the Judd marks in the video? I’m reminded of some fleeting/incidental appearance cases such as Gottlieb Development v Paramount Pictures, 590 F.Supp. 2d 625 (SDNY 2008) in which the endorsement theory between plaintiff and the defendant was strained (there, it was implausible that viewers of a theatrical movie in which a pinball machine appears, would consider that the movie was somehow affiliated with/endorsed by the source of a pinball machine.
  3. However, even without trademark use – this could be a novel post-purchase confusion fact pattern. Ms. Kardashian, like the purchaser of a $20 Rolex, is possibly not confused as to source given the context of her purchase. Also, she is not selling goods that compete with those of plaintiff. But her display of the infringing item, while not trademark use, could confuse her audience as to the provenance of her tables and chairs, There are plausible allegations in the complaint that viewers of her video were confused. And that could be a problem for her co-defendant.

text of complaint in Judd v Kardashian.