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Culp wins Copyright on Microfiber Patterns

The U.S. Copyright Office has granted copyrights to three microfiber patterns from Culp Inc. in what the company says is a landmark decision that might deter future knockoffs of previously unprotected patterns.

The ruling involves three microfiber patterns - Palomino, Stampede and Wrangler - designed and produced by Culp in 2006. They have been top sellers, with some 15 million yards on the market, said Liam Waters, who heads marketing, sales and design for the company.

"That might not be a big deal in apparel but in upholstery it's a huge number," said Waters. "We also think that, since we designed those fabrics, probably another 15 million has been knocked off and sold, which also is a huge number."

The new copyright registrations issued last month but were retroactive to June 15, 2006.

Before the government's action, the three Culp patterns were categorized as commodities in the same manner as leather and were not considered subject to copyright.

"We finally convinced them," said Waters, who described the ruling "as the greatest news to hit the streets in years." He added, "Leather has no fabric design repeat because every piece is different. Our (microfiber) designs have a quantative design repeat that is copyrightable."

The company said it would "aggressively pursue enforcement of its rights against those engaged in selling knockoffs of Culp's copyrighted designs. Culp intends to seek all available remedies against infringers, including damages and a disgorgement of profits, as well as injunctive relief against future sales and infringing fabrics."

Waters and company chairman Rob Culp indicated that most of its fabric copies originated in China.

"What we see in this is that we have this huge creative staff in the U.S. creating patterns and there's been a history of the Chinese knocking these things off," Waters said. "Our customers, even the ones in the U.S., say it's OK because they're all commodity products. But they're not commodity products; they're creative products and the U.S. copyright law will protect them."

He added that Culp also is in the process of recording its copyright registrations with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, so that Customs can target and seize imports of fabrics that infringe on the three designs and others the company previously copyrighted.

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