A western Sydney maker of ugg boots, Eddie Oygur, has been ordered by a Chicago court to pay US$450,000 ($643,500) damages for selling 12 pairs of the boots into the United States between 2014 and 2016.
The American company Deckers Outdoor Corporation sued Mr Oygur and his Sydney-based company Australian Leather over the use of the term “ugg”, which the US company says is its registered brand.
Mr Oygur has vowed to appeal and called on the Federal Government to defend the “iconic” Australian product.
“To say this verdict is devastating would be an understatement. My life savings have already gone into this case, and unless Australians get behind me this verdict will wipe me, shut my business down and destroy the Australian ugg boot industry,” he said.
- Mr Oygur’s business wilfully infringed a trademark registered to Deckers Outdoor, the US jury found
- Unless he receives financial support, his western Sydney business will shut down, Mr Oygur says
- His lawyer says the case to trademark the name “Ugg” should have been fought by the ACCC years ago
“I fought this, against a $7 billion US corporate giant, because I passionately believe ‘ugg’ belongs to Australia, for any Australian company to use to make ugg boots for the world.”
An eight-person jury empanelled to hear the case this week found that Mr Oygur’s business wilfully infringed a trademark registered to Deckers Outdoor, by selling ugg boots online to customers in the US.
Lawyer Mark Davis, who is assisting Mr Oygur, says the term “ugg” now belongs to an American corporation.
“He was defending an Australian brand — it gave export opportunities to not just him, but to any Australian who wished to use that and export it around the world,” he said.
“He should have had the support of the Australian Government, he’s asked many times, (but) he could never get it.”
The ugg boot market is estimated to be worth $8 billion a year in annual sales, Mr Davis said.
Appeal for financial support
Mr Oygur told the ABC the case had been going since 2016 after his ugg boots were purchased from the US online for $1,200.
He has previously said the Government should protect the quintessentially Australian name, just as France protects “champagne” and Greece protects “feta”.
Mr Davis said Mr Oygur needs financial support to appeal to the US Supreme Court or through international trade arbitration.
The case should have been fought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), especially during the time when Deckers marketed their ugg boots as “Ugg Australia”, up until 2017, Mr Davis said.
“It is well known that ugg is an Australian product — it emerged in Australia, it is part of the vernacular,” he said.
“It had no presence in America at all, but they were clever enough to jag the trademark, which should have been vigorously opposed.”
Mr Oygur said he had been involved in the sheepskin industry for 35 years and had been manufacturing ugg boots for more than 20 years.
Despite its Australian origin as a generic term, the word ugg was registered as a brand in the US in the 1980s by Australian entrepreneur Brian Smith, who later sold the trademark to Deckers.
Ever since, Australian bootmakers have been banned from exporting if they use the word ugg, making it difficult to compete against Deckers’ global Ugg Australia brand.