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Novus Inc. faces $1.2M suit for selling knock-off purses

Nicole Lee's distinctive handbag designs were allegedly replicated in accessories Novus Inc. sold.

Nicole Lee’s distinctive handbag designs were allegedly replicated in accessories Novus Inc. sold.

California-based handbags retailer Nicole Lee filed a civic complaint against Novus Inc. and Grupo Novus Inc. for allegedly “importing, distributing, offering for sale and/or selling” knock-off merchandise in Puerto Rico.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico on Mar. 24 seeks $1.2 million in damages from the local retailer that operates several shoe and handbag stores under the names of Novus, Bakers, La Favorita, Galería, Kazual, Naturalizer and Wild Pair.

On Monday, U.S. Marshals hit the Bakers store in Plaza Las Américas to seize more than three-dozen handbags that allegedly violate Nicole Lee’s copyrighted designs. A total of about 900 pirated bags are expected to be collected from many of the local retailer’s 29 locations islandwide.

According to the lawsuit, for at least three years, Novus Inc. and Grupo Novus Inc. has not been not among the stateside firm’s authorized resellers.

“From 2010 to 2012, defendants purchased from Nicole Lee original Nicole Lee Products,” the lawsuit states. “However, after 2012, defendants have not purchased original Nicole Lee Products from Nicole Lee. Plaintiffs recently learned that defendants are importing, distributing, offering for sale, and/or selling to customers in Puerto Rico, through their retail stores, Facebook page, and [their website], copies and/or colorable imitations of the Nicole Lee Products.”

Legitimate Nicole Lee Products range in price from $89 to $99, but the local retailer is selling their knock-off versions at between $20.99 and $44.99 each, the lawsuit states.

Several hours after the raid, Novus Inc. issued a statement describing the situation as “isolated and atypical” for the company.

Novus said the lawsuit is not over counterfeit products but alleged copyright violations and violation to trade dress, referring to features of the visual appearance of a product or packaging.

“There is no precedent like this in the history of Novus Inc. or its affiliates. The company has always served Puerto Rican consumers following the trade rules and laws established in Puerto Rico,” the company said in the statement.

“Novus Inc. has submitted all relevant documents to lawyers who are evaluating the merits of the claim,” said the retailer, which has been doing business in Puerto Rico for 40 years.

Attorney Dora Peñagarícano, of the McConnell Valdes legal firm, is representing Nicole Lee. In recent years, she and the firm have defended other designers, including Romero Britto and Tous Inc., in similar cases seeking compensation for copyright infringements to their protected brands.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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