Christmas Brings Trade Dress Dispute to Handbell Maker

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar

While handbell choirs are festively ringing in the holidays from coast to coast, one bell manufacturer is suing to protect his bells’ black-and-gold colors.

Customers know Schulmerich Bells LLC—one of the two major U.S. handbell makers—in part because of the color scheme on the bells’ handles and other parts, Jonathan S. Goldstein, Schulmerich’s chairman, told Bloomberg BNA. That’s why Jeffers Handbell Supply Inc. of South Carolina is copying it, he said.

Schulmerich has sued Jeffers for trade dress infringement in a Pennsylvania state court. Jeffers, which declined comment in an email to Bloomberg BNA, has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for a judgment that it is not infringing.

Christmastime is typically slow, Goldstein said. “The people that buy our product are almost all institutional; It’s churches and schools,” he said. “If you haven’t bought your bells by, say, Thanksgiving, you don’t have time to practice before your Christmas concert.”

But this year, the holiday season has brought work for the bell maker in the form of the trade dress dispute.

Bell Makers Use Different Colors

Schulmerich Bells has been making what in America are called English handbells since 1963. Its sole major competitor is its neighbor, Malmark Inc., which was formed by a former Schulmerich employee in 1973.

Goldstein told Bloomberg BNA that his company uses black and gold for certain components of its bells, in contrast with the white color scheme used by Malmark.

The dispute originates with a third party, a sheet music and equipment supplier called Jeffers Handbell Supply Inc. Goldstein said that Jeffers has been selling parts—specifically, handles, hand guards and springs—using Schulmerich’s color scheme.

At the end of November, Schulmerich filed a lawsuit in state court, accusing a person believed to be making the parts of trade dress infringement. Shulmerich Bells, LLC v. Lackey , Pa. Ct. Com. Pl., No. 16-07401, complaint filed 11/29/16 .

After filing the complaint, Goldstein said he got a call from the defendant’s lawyer, saying that the defendant was employed by Jeffers. On Dec. 15, Jeffers came back with a declaratory judgment action, asking a federal court to declare that it is not infringing. Jeffers Handbell Supply, Inc. v. Schulmerich Bells, LLC , D.S.C., No. 16-03918, complaint filed 12/15/16 .

Goldstein said he is confident that he has a good case against Jeffers. And although he doesn’t begrudge the supply company a place in the market, “what they cannot do is copy my distinctive and protected color scheme in order to sell parts that they made, that we didn’t make,” he said.

“They make discs for bells and they could have made them red, they could have made them green,” he said. “But they wanted people to think that they were mine.”

McNelly & Goldstein LLC represents Schulmerich. The McNair Law Firm represents Jeffers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at AMazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

For More Information

Text of Pennsylvania complaint is at: http://src.bna.com/kVMText of South Carolina complaint is at: http://src.bna.com/kVN

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