Zeeland based Herman Miller had filed a lawsuit against New York based Madison Seating, accusing the latter of misrepresentation and misinformation. The case filed in 2015 has a rather simple core issue. Madison Seating was not an authorized reseller of Herman Miller furniture at the time but it was selling its chairs and other items without mentioning if they were brand new or pre-owned and by extension in used condition.
Madison Seating had indeed mentioned Herman Miller as one of the brands it represents on the official website and it did use official furniture images. Customers were shown quality images of swanky furniture and were actually sold pre-owned or used, knockoffs or replicas. Many customers were probably aware of such a reality since they paid far less than what Herman Miller usually charges for its new furniture. However, Herman Miller chose to take Madison Seating to court for false representation and misinformation campaign.
This is not the first time Herman Miller has taken action against an online reseller. It had previously used ecommerce sites and brick & mortar retail stores for representing the brand without proper authorization. Strangely though, there has been no word on the eventual settlement. Herman Miller simply stated that the issues have been resolved with Madison Seating and that there are no pending concerns. However, no one knows exactly what the terms of the settlement were, if Madison Seating accepted any wrongdoing and whether or not there was any monetary fine.
The case of Herman Miller could have easily been specifically about trademark infringement since an unauthorized seller cannot go ahead and use any of the products, icons or pictures that are within the ambit of a trademark. Using representative images is also not acceptable. This scenario is not unique or confined to Herman Miller and Madison Seating. Innumerable ecommerce sites or online stores use images without adequate authorization. There are so many affiliate marketers and online stores that it is almost impossible to know if an online reseller is actually authorized to represent a brand.
The problem of counterfeit, knockoff and replica or outright fake products is a concern for the ecommerce industry. There is a reason why some global marketplaces use terms like verified and assured to indicate that the products are definitely authentic and that the ecommerce company stands by the quality of the products. Other products that don’t have such tags do not put the onus of authenticity on the ecommerce site. The specific seller or reseller may be held responsible and might even lose their account on the platform but the customer is still left with a knockoff and in some cases without refunds.
In the case of Herman Miller, the Michigan based company primarily focused on the public impression that Madison Seating created. It appeared they were associated with Herman Miller when they were not. In the past, Herman Miller has sued Canadian company New American, Inc. and Modernica among others. Other similar high end furniture brands have also taken the legal recourse when there have been any kind of infringement.