ashley furniture greensboro nc

ashley furniture greensboro nc
Wallpaper Title: ashley furniture greensboro nc michael ellis   −   May 26, 2015 Furniture
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

Ashley maintains that SanGiacomo’s marketing of the La Dolce Vita design infringes upon its rights in the Sommerset design.   Accordingly, it filed this action asserting a violation of federal trade dress law, breach of the parties’ alleged oral agreement not to copy, and other state law claims.   After discovery, Ashley moved for summary judgment on its breach of contract claim and on the issue of whether SanGiacomo copied the Sommerset design.   SanGiacomo, in turn, moved for summary judgment on Ashley’s trade dress claim.   The district court denied Ashley’s motion and granted SanGiacomo’s.   Ashley appeals, asserting that summary judgment should not have been granted on either the trade dress or contract claim.
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

Ashley and SanGiacomo aggressively compete for customers, and their rivalry has previously led to litigation.   In that action, filed in 1993, the parties’ roles were reversed:  SanGiacomo sued Ashley charging that it had infringed the trade dress of SanGiacomo’s bedroom furniture and seeking a declaratory judgment that a design patent obtained by Ashley was invalid as a matter of law.   The parties settled the claims during a one-on-one, closed-door negotiation between Carlo Bargagli-Stoffi, the chief executive of SanGiacomo, and Ronald Wanek, the chairman and chief executive of Ashley.   Wanek and Bargagli-Stoffi agreed that both sides would walk away from the suit, and that neither company would, in the future, copy the other’s furniture designs.   Bargagli-Stoffi characterizes this deal as a “gentlemen’s agreement” that they would not make any “Polaroid copies” of the other’s designs.   Although the parties then entered into a written settlement agreement drawn up by counsel, that formal agreement contains no reference to any mutual covenant not to copy.
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

More generally, North Carolina courts have repeatedly held that § 75-4 applies to an agreement that “limits substantially” a party’s right to do business.   See, e.g., Radio Elecs., 92 S.E.2d at 666;  Norlin Indus., Inc. v. Music Arts, Inc., 67 N.C.App. 300, 313 S.E.2d 166, 169 (N.C.Ct.App.1984).   The courts have never defined what constitutes a “substantial” limitation, but no matter how leniently that standard is construed, the oral agreement at issue here cannot meet it.   Without violating the oral agreement, SanGiacomo can (and indeed does) sell bedroom furniture, sell bedroom furniture with a high-gloss polyester finish, and sell bedroom furniture using columns and arches as design elements;  the only thing SanGiacomo cannot do under the oral agreement is copy Ashley’s bedroom furniture designs.   The exact meaning of “copy” under the agreement was a matter of factual dispute between the parties.   But although it is conceivable that Ashley could attempt to prove a meaning of “copy” that would be so broad as to turn the agreement into a substantial impairment of SanGiacomo’s right to do business, therefore triggering the requirements of § 75-4, Ashley does not appear to have made this argument thus far and the normal meaning of the word does not suggest such a severe restriction.   Thus we conclude that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to SanGiacomo on the contract claim based on § 75-4.
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., and SanGiacomo N.A. Ltd. manufacture home furniture.   In this action, Ashley alleges that SanGiacomo copied the design of one of Ashley’s bedroom suites, in violation of federal trade dress law and an oral contract between the parties.
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

Based on my experience, the common high gloss polyester finish in all the pieces of the Sommerset suite, in either the Carmelstone or lighter Goatskin finish, combined with the off white moldings and classic columns and flutings, provide a unique and unusual appearance for the Ashley Sommerset bedroom suite.   The combination of features provides both a traditional and contemporary appearance.   Although these individual features have been used in other bedroom suites, I do not recall seeing the combination of such features in a single bedroom suite.   Therefore, the Ashley Sommerset has a unique appearance in the furniture industry ․ distinguishes it from other bedroom suites in either the contemporary or the traditional furniture markets.
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

In contrast to the plaintiff in EFS, Ashley presented evidence that its Sommerset design is not merely unique, but also significantly and remarkably different from other designs.   One expert testified that the design creates a “unique and unusual appearance” and that “the unique appearance of the Sommerset distinguishes it from other bedroom suites.”   Another opined that “he overall appearance of Ashley’s Sommerset bedroom suite is not a common design in the bedroom furniture market.”   If SanGiacomo had offered undisputed evidence that a design like its La Dolce Vita had preceded the Sommerset, then the district court would have been entirely justified in finding, as a matter of law, that the Sommerset constitutes a “mere refinement.”   But no evidence in the record here tends to show that such designs were on the market prior to the Sommerset.   Rather, this record provides evidence (at the present, undisputed) from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the Sommerset was not merely different from predecessor designs, but that it was noticeably and significantly different and therefore inherently distinctive.
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

Both companies market furniture in the mid-level price range and sell numerous lines of furniture nationwide.   Between them, for example, the two companies produce over thirty different bedroom suites.   Ashley and SanGiacomo sell their furniture to retailers, who display the furniture of various manufacturers and fill consumers’ orders either from inventory or by ordering from the wholesaler.
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Ashley Furniture Greensboro Nc

In sum, we find no reason to depart from the traditional Abercrombie test for inherent distinctiveness, and we conclude that under that test Ashley’s alleged trade dress in the Sommerset design could reasonably be found inherently distinctive on the present record.   The district court therefore erred in granting summary judgment to SanGiacomo on Ashley’s trade dress claim.
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Similarly, the evidence here supports a possible finding that the Sommerset’s total overall image was arbitrary or fanciful and therefore inherently distinctive.   A factfinder could reasonably conclude that the total image created by the Sommerset’s neo-Roman design has no more to do with bedroom furniture than a penguin does with a publishing company.   Ashley produced uncontroverted evidence that the “the combination of features in the Sommerset-features which include the high gloss polyester Carmelstone and Goatskin finishes, off white moldings on the night stands, dresser, and armoire, classic columns and fluting on the headboard and mirror, and arched tops on the mirror and headboard frames-have never before been utilized together in a bedroom suite.”   Also undisputed was the evidence that “he overall appearance” of the Sommerset “is not a common design in the bedroom furniture market,” and that it has a “unique and unusual appearance” that “distinguishes it from other bedroom suites.”   From this evidence, a reasonable fact finder could conclude that even if the individual elements of the Sommerset design were common in the furniture industry, i.e., even if some of these elements fit within Abercrombie ’s “generic” category, the Sommerset’s combination of these elements was sufficiently unique to be arbitrary or fanciful and therefore eligible for trade dress protection.   See Roulo, 886 F.2d at 936.
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The district court also erred in holding that the Sommerset design could not fall within the “arbitrary” or “fanciful” Abercrombie categories.   The court reasoned that “he use of a high-gloss finish, columns, arches and entablatures on bedroom furniture cannot be characterized as arbitrary or fanciful because, as Ashley admits, such features are common to the furniture industry.”
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Total company investments have exceeded $500 million the past 5 years. At Ashley Furniture Industries, it's not just a philosophy, it's a practice. Not only do we invest in the latest design tools and production equipment, logistics and supply chain systems, we invest in our people.
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Reinvesting in Our PeopleDedicated employees and positive attitudes make the difference.Total company investments have exceeded $500 million the past 5 years. At Ashley Furniture Industries, it's not just a philosophy, it's a practice. Not only do we invest in the latest design tools and production equipment, logistics and supply chain systems, we invest in our people.Working With Us »
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Generally, those seeking to buy this sort of furniture cannot determine the manufacturer of a piece or set of furniture simply by looking at it.   Manufacturers in this market do not carve or emboss their names or trademarks on the exterior of their furniture;  instead they rely on hang tags and emblems inside drawers to identify their goods.   Often, retailers do not identify the manufacturer or the name of the design to the consumer, refusing even to use the hang tags.   Retailers provide pictures of the furniture they offer in flyers, newspapers, and on television, but again these advertisements may not include any reference to the manufacturer.
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Approximately one year after that settlement, in the fall of 1995, Ashley introduced a neoclassical bedroom suite under the trade name “Sommerset.”   The suite consists of a headboard, two night stands, an armoire, and a dresser with a mirror.   The design of the Sommerset suite combines a “modern” high-gloss polyester look and feel with “classical” elements including a finish that suggests marble or travertine, fluted columns, arches, and entablatures.

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