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Jacob Siegel Co. v. Federal Trade Commission.

decided: November 30, 1944.


Author: Mclaughlin

Before BIGGS, JONES, and McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judges.

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge.

The petitioner in this case has been manufacturing overcoats in the City of Philadelphia, Pa. for the last 30 years. In 1930 it developed a cloth for such coats consisting of a combination of alpaca, mohair and wool fibers, on a cotton backing. This was inexpensive and designed for warmth and long wear. The purpose of adding the cotton was to obtain a denser face for the garment than possible with animal fibers alone. That same year the petitioner corporation gave the name "Alpacuna" to the coats. Within two years, the petitioner brought out a top coat which it also called "Alpacuna." The top coat had the same animal fibers as the overcoat but in order to make it lighter, the cotton backing was eliminated.

Among other things, the Federal Trade Commission found that the name "Alpacuna" is misleading and deceptive to a substantial portion of the purchasing public in that it represents or implies to such persons that the coats contain fiber obtained from the animal known as the vicuna. The Commission ordered that the petitioner forthwith cease and desist from "using the word 'Alpacuna' or any other word which in whole or in part is indicative of the word vicuna to designate or describe respondent's coats; * * *" This language is the first part of Paragraph Six of the order. The first five paragraphs and the balance of the sixth paragraph are conceded by the petitioner and do not concern us. The issue has, therefore, been importantly narrowed and simplified.

There was a dissent in the Commission to the part of the order here disputed. It is very short and we quote it in full:

"Commissioner Freer dissents from so much of the order as wholly prohibits the continued use of the trade name 'Alpacuna' for the reason that this trade name, which has been in use for more than thirteen years, is a valuable business asset, and is neither deceptive per se, nor is the testimony concerning its tendency or capacity to deceive sufficiently clear and convincing as to render such prohibition of its use necessary in the public interest."

The only questions involved are: was there substantial evidence supporting the Commission's finding and whether the remedy provided was within its powers.

According to the petitioner's testimony, which was not contradicted, the name "Alpacuna" was created by its sales manager who used a fanciful variation of the word alpaca, which animal represented 50% of the wool fibers in the fabric. To alpaca the Suffix "una" was added partly in order to obtain a word that was very easy to pronounce and partly to signify that the Siegel Company was the one manufacturer and the first to make the coat. The head of the Siegel Company testified that he did not have vicuna in mind at all in connection with the name "Alpacuna." He said further: "I was not familiar with it [vicuna] and I have been in business for 30 years and only in the last five years or six years I have heard of Vicuna. I was not interested in it. We never used it." It is undisputed that the vicuna is one of the rarest of animals. It is found principally in the high mountains of Peru and is of the llama family. In order to obtain its hair, the animal itself has to be killed. Such killing is regulated by law. Vicuna hair is one of the softest, finest animal fibers but has poor wearing qualities. Only a small amount of the fiber comes into the United States. The overcoats made from it, are valuable and run as high as $900. The "Alpacuna" costs retail at $40.

Strong testimony was presented supporting the petitioner's proposition that "Alpacuna" is a proper trade name for the particular coats and that the name does not represent to the public that the costs contain vicuna fiber. There was evidence of a poll taken in the particular section of a large New York department store where such coats were sold. Over 200 customers chosen at random were questioned and not one of them declared that the name "Alpacuna" indicated vicuna to them. There were numerous other witnesses, including: members of the public, reputable people in the clothing trade, department store specialists in protecting customers, a representative of clothing workers, a textile expert, etc. A person connected with the National Better Business Bureau stated he has never received a complaint regarding the name "Alpacuna." One of the functions of that organization is to receive complaints as to merchandise. The only person in the country who manufactures vicuna coats sent a letter to the Commission saying that he had no objection to the use of the name "Alpacuna" by petitioner. In addition to the direct defense testimony, some of the government witnesses supported the defense contention affirmatively by testimony to the effect that "Alpacuna" did not mean vicuna content to them; there were other government witnesses whose testimony weak; and still others indicating prejudice or bias.

Petitioner also produced testimony tending to show that vicuna in connection with fabrics, denotes a soft finish cloth and argues that it is, therefore, properly applied to petitioner's coats. As to this, the same textile expert described vicuna finish cloth as a soft finish fabric with no definite indication as to its fiber content. This was corroborated by other witnesses. Petitioner introduced some dictionary definitions defining vicuna wool as the wool of the vicuna or a mixture of wool and cotton used for soft fabrics. Petitioner strongly argues that its product is a vicuna cloth, with the dictionary definitions justifying any possible implication in the name "Alpacuna" with respect to vicuna.

Petitioner next stresses the point that vicuna animal fiber and its qualities are not generally known to the public. It calls attention to the admitted rarity of the animal.One expert for the Commission stated that it is almost extinct. It is suggested that because of the extremely limited quantity of vicuna fiber available and because of its perishable quality, it would not be practical to attempt to combine it with alpaca from the standpoint of large scale commercial manufacture. It is contended that the thought of the $40. "Alpacuna" coat capitalizing on the term vicuna is far fetched since most of the potential customers do not have the least idea as to vicuna and the few who do, readily understand that a cost for large production and in the lower price field could not be produced from vicuna fiber.

In addition to the above, there are certain other important facts which appear. This proceeding was started in 1938 and in the original complaint there was no charge against the petitioner for using the name "Alpacuna." After answer had been filed to the original complaint, settlement negotiations were entered into at the suggestion of counsel for the Commission and the Siegel Company executed and returned the stipulation for settlement drawn by the Commission's counsel. That settlement was not approved by the Commission and thereafter an amended complaint was filed which included the allegation regarding the use of the name "Alpacuna." A group of retail stores who handle the "Alpacuna" coats have filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of the petitioner's stand. Those stores set out that they have a very definite interest in the retention of the name by reason of cooperation in extensive advertising and selling the product over a period of years and that the barring the use of the name "Alpacuna" is a matter of serious detriment and direct prejudice to them.

There was also an array of witnesses on behalf of the Commission. The Director of the Bureau of Standards of one of New York's largest department stores said: "I take it this coat is made of a combination of alpaca and vicuna fibers." A person connected with a leading Philadelphia department store stated: "'Alpacuna' overcoats conveys to me Alpaca and Vicuna, a combination of alpaca and vicuna." A housekeeper on cross examination stated she arrived at the impression that the garment was made of alpaca and vicuna as she said, "Well, from the name itself." The assistant director of the Washington Better Business Bureau testified to the same effect. A person who had actually sold the coats for five or six years was of the opinion that they contained alpaca and vicuna fibers. The only person testifying who had purchased an "Alpacuna" coat said that he was told at the time he bought it that the coat was made of "* * * a vicuna woolbearing South American animal." A number of other persons, including a construction engineer, housewives, a teacher, a physician, a publicity director of a Philadelphia department store, a director of merchandise research of another Philadelphia department store, a clothing salesman for a third Philadelphia department store, several people connected with various clothing houses and men's shops, all associated vicuna with the word "Alpacuna." Most of these witnesses gave their impression after examining one or more of the various Commission exhibits of advertising matter with reference to the costs.

The Commission vigorously disputed petitioner's proposition that vicuna does have an established secondary meaning. It produced dictionaries and encyclopedias in which pictures of the vicuna were shown and also various encyclopedias, dictionaries and textile publications which do not include the secondary meaning of the word as asserted by the petitioner. Other evidence was produced tending to show that vicuna was known to a substantial portion of the public. For example, a letter from a principal of a textile high school in New York City was in evidence and stated that the school had a register of nearly 13,000 students, day and evening, with all of them taking a course in general textiles embracing knowledge of fibers obtained from goats, also sheep, vicuna, alpaca, etc., and that books dealing with the subject, and a wall chart showing pictures with samples of different fibers, vicuna, alpaca, etc. were used in the course. The letter concluded by ...

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