Louis Vuitton Knocks Off San Antonio Flea Market

A federal court ordered Eisenhauer Market, where vendors sold fake LV bags, to pay the high-fashion company $3.6 million for trademark infringement. 
Sat January 14, 2012 12:13 am
Flickr | O Horbacz

Louis Vuitton doesn't appear to be interested in extending the brand. On Thursday a federal court ordered Eisenhauer Market, a San Antonio flea market, to pay the French luxury brand $3.6 million for trademark infringement, due to a failure to stop their vendors from selling  knock-off LV's , Guillermo Contreras of the San Antonio Express-News reported.

“I think it's one of the biggest injustices,” Bruce Gore, owner of the flea market, said. “A small businessman is taken down by a billion-dollar company again.”

But Louis Vuitton said they gave Gore and Pat Walker, manager of the flea market, ample opportunity to reprimand their vendors, but Gore and Walker claimed difficulty in policing more than 250 spaces at their venue. Harry Schafer, attorney for Louis Vuitton, argued, “The flea market was infested with this merchandise. Anyone could find it, but the defendants did not want to find it.”

If only it were that simple, Ted Lee, attorney for Gore and Walker, countered. Lee characterized Walker as "a simple woman with only a high school education who doesn't own any Louis Vuitton items," Contreras wrote. Lee added that Walker was not equipped to identify the marks, which would require "intense" training.

Just to make sure no one confuses a $35 LV bag, the average going rate at Eisenhauer Market, with a real LV, the most basic of which runs for about a grand, Kristie Ramirez, writing in Texas Monthly, asked Daniel Lalonde, CEO of Vuitton's North American division, the $64,000 question: How can you spot a fake?  "I think very easily," Lalonde said. "Look at the stitching. On a genuine Louis Vuitton, the stitching is perfectly straight. It’s impeccable, never crooked. Also, look at the leather."

This is only the second time Louis Vuitton has sued a landlord over vendors' knock-offs. The company previously tried to sue counterfeit vendors on Canal Street, in New York City, only to see them disappear and be replaced by new vendors.

Asked if Eisenhauer Market, in operation since 1979, would stay open, Gore said, “That remains to be seen. I may have to file for bankruptcy.”

Gore isn't the only one being bullied. Louis Vuitton has become increasingly vigilant about preserving its image, and recently slapped Hollywood with a similar lawsuit, claiming the Diophy knock-off in The Hangover 2  represented "trademark dilution, false designation of origin and unfair competition," Elizabeth Snead of the Hollywood Reporter wrote.

And it's not just about Louis Vuitton's bottom line, which amounts to $25 billion in annual sales. There are far-reaching ramifications when it comes to LV knock-offs. Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster , told Snead that "counterfeiting rakes in approximately $600 billion a year and the secretive and corrupt industry supports human trafficking, prostitution, child labor, gang warfare, drug smuggling and money laundering linked to global terrorism."

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