Smith + Noble’s New Creative Battle

Don’t tell Bob Perkowitz, founder of the Smith + Noble window coverings catalog, about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. During the past four years, he says, Smith + Noble has filed five copyright infringement lawsuits against competitors whose catalogs resembled its own. Now Perkowitz, who is also president of Smith + Noble’s parent company, multititle mailer Cornerstone Brands, has another competitor to deal with.

In July, Jessup, MD-based window coverings manufacturer Next Day Blinds launched the Great Windows catalog. Like Smith + Noble, Great Windows targets upscale homeowners, most of them women. No problem there. But the creative of the newer catalog, Perkowitz says, is too similar to that of Smith + Noble’s: soft, airy layouts, and a light-brown color palette. The result: Cornerstone’s lawyer has been exchanging letters with Great Windows’s representatives to force the competitor to differentiate its creative.

“We clearly feel that the Great Windows catalog was made to look very similar to ours, and we’re addressing the issues,” Perkowitz says, noting that there’s been no litigation thus far. “You spend years building up a brand with a reputation for quality and service, and you want to protect your brand. And that’s all we’re concerned about: We don’t want our customers to be misled.”

How similar is similar? Great Windows president/CEO Steve Freishtat insists that his is no copycat catalog. Any similarities, he says, are simply due to both titles selling the same kind of merchandise. “Any two catalogs in an industry so specific as window coverings are going to have certain similarities,” he says. “But there’s been no effort on our part to copy the Smith + Noble catalog in any way. It’s very much our intention to build our own identity and brand.”

When asked about the cover of the first Great Windows book, which like a recent Smith + Noble cover depicts several windows, photographed at an angle, adorned with wood blinds, Freishtat says Great Windows designed its cover last January, several months prior to the mailing of the Smith + Noble book. For his part, Perkowitz says that beyond the cover, Great Windows as a whole resembles many of Smith + Noble’s past catalogs.

Of the five copyright infringement lawsuits Smith + Noble has already filed, none made it to trial. “It’s often been just a matter of a couple of letters back and forth without litigation,” Perkowitz says. “In some cases, we’ve taken companies to court, but have then been able to negotiate settlements.” All of the cases resulted in confidential settlements, so he can’t reveal which companies he challenged with legal measurements. Nonetheless, he claims to have “won” all five cases.

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