Italian Clothing Company Tries to Protect its “Jesus Jeans” Trademark
In 2007, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted ownership of the word “Jesus” to Jesus Jeans, owned by a publicly-traded Italian company, BasicNet. Since then, BasicNet has been crusading against other clothing companies that use the name “Jesus.” BasicNet has filed objections to clothing-lines named “Jesus First,” “Sweet Jesus,” and “Jesus Couture,” and has threatened to sue for damages when met with resistance. More recently, Jesus Jeans filed an objection to a start-up apparel company called “Jesus Surfed.”
Jesus Jeans was originally developed in the 1970’s by Italian entrepreneur, Maurizio Vitale. BasicNet’s counsel told the Wall Street Journal that Vitale “decided Jesus could be used in a nonreligious context by representing the will to rebel and refusal to conform.” This rebranding did not stop the company from playing on the name’s obvious religious connotations to sell products. A controversial advertisement for Jesus Jeans in Italy featured a scantily clad model with the slogan, “he who loves me follows me.” The ad stayed on the air despite being denounced by the Catholic Church.
BasicNet filed a trademark in the United States in 1999 that was eventually granted eight years later. Other countries have been less accepting of Jesus Jeans. The company’s trademark applications have been rejected in China, Switzerland, Australia, Norway, Cuba, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The United Kingdom’s patent and trademark office rejected the application on grounds that it was morally offensive to the public. The Jesus Jeans trademark applies to clothing articles including jackets, vests, shirts, pants, and belts.
Perhaps BasicNet is taking action against other clothing lines because it plans to relaunch the brand in Italy and increase U.S. distribution in the near future. Jesus Jeans is allegedly in the works of launching an ad campaign linking Jesus Jeans to concepts of solidarity and a peaceful society. Attorneys for BasicNet claim their use of the trademark is merely secular, and compare their efforts to protect Jesus Jeans’ brand value to Nike’s ownership over the Greek Goddess of victory. They further claim that the company has no intentions of holding a monopoly over religion. In the same interview, general counsel explains that ”[if] somebody—small church or even a big church—wants to use ‘Jesus’ for printing a few T-shirts, we don’t care.” Still, this creates a problem for religious themed clothing companies, like “Jesus Surfed,” where 20% of the proceeds go to Christian organizations.
It is unlikely that BasicNet has a lawful monopoly over “Jesus.” The name “Jesus” itself is quite popular among Hispanic Christians in the United States, and could only be trademarked if it established secondary meaning, that is, came to be “associated in the minds of the public with the products or services offered by the proprietor of the mark.” Even though the public probably won’t be associating the name “Jesus” with blue jeans anytime soon, small businesses still face a challenge when threatened with infringement litigation by a large corporation like BasicNet.