Swiss watchmaker Swatch loses trademark trial against Fort Collins-based Vortic

NEW YORK and FORT COLLINS — Vortic Watch Co., a small outfit that repurposes pre-WWII era pocket watches and turns them into modern wristwatches, successfully defended itself in a trademark lawsuit from the multi-billion dollar industry juggernaut Swatch Group.

Swatch filed suit against Vortic in mid-2017 claiming that the Fort Collins company infringed on its intellectual property and misled customers by reusing watch faces made by the former U.S. manufacturer Hamilton. It acquired Hamilton in 1974, five years after the American watchmaker shut down.

Swatch, based in Switzerland, owns more than 20 watch brands and had revenues equivalent to $8.51 billion in U.S. dollars in 2019, according to its latest financial report.

Vortic and Swatch went back and forth in pre-trial negotiations until the two had a bench trial in New York City in February, where the case was filed.

In an opinion filed late Friday, district judge Alison Nathan found that Vortic’s repurposing of the old watch faces was unlikely to confuse consumers into buying a non-authentic Hamilton produced by Swatch because Vortic made clear in its advertising and in the watch design itself that it wasn’t selling a direct copy of a modern Hamilton.

“Having viewed a physical example of a Lancaster as well as pictures in the record, the court finds that the watch obviously presents to a viewer as restored antique pocket watch movement, face and hands that have been reincorporated into a new wristwatch,” the opinion reads.

BizWest was unable to reach Swatch’s headquarters in Switzerland Sunday night due to an eight-hour time difference.

In an interview, Vortic founder R.T. Custer said he was on the 18th hole of a round of golf on Friday when his attorney emailed him.

“I read the word champagne, something to the effect of champagne is in order, and soon as I read this word champagne, I didn’t even look at the email, I just threw my phone to the ground, finished the hole” and began celebrating with his business partner and friends on the course, he said.

Custer said the case is a symbolic victory, showing small businesses can take on large international companies that are using “bullying” tactics and not only fight, but win in the court of law.

However, he described the David versus Goliath narrative as not as fitting as one might expect. Even though his company is made up of seven employees and Swatch employs thousands of people, the majority of this case was discussed and litigated between Custer, his attorney Rob Lantz and a few staffers from Swatch’s anti-counterfeiting department.

“There was only like five total humans involved in this entire process,” he said. “…I’m not fighting this massive behemoth; I’m really just having a hard conversation with people thousands of miles away.”

Swatch has 30 days from Friday to file an appeal, which may mean this particular legal battle could continue on in later years. Custer said he likely won’t countersue to recover damages from this particular suit because he’d rather spend time on growing Vortic further after years of devoting resources to the legal defense.

“The potential I have now without this anxiety, without this fear, without this weight is endless,” he said.

© 2020 BizWest Media LLC

NEW YORK and FORT COLLINS — Vortic Watch Co., a small outfit that repurposes pre-WWII era pocket watches and turns them into modern wristwatches, successfully defended itself in a trademark lawsuit from the multi-billion dollar industry juggernaut Swatch Group.

Swatch filed suit against Vortic in mid-2017 claiming that the Fort Collins company infringed on its intellectual property and misled customers by reusing watch faces made by the former U.S. manufacturer Hamilton. It acquired Hamilton in 1974, five years after the American watchmaker shut down.

Swatch, based in Switzerland, owns more than 20 watch brands and had revenues equivalent to $8.51 billion in U.S. dollars in 2019, according to its latest financial report.

Vortic and Swatch went back and forth in pre-trial negotiations until the two had a bench trial in New York City in February, where the case was filed.

In an opinion filed late Friday, district judge Alison Nathan found that Vortic’s repurposing of the old watch faces was unlikely to confuse consumers into buying a non-authentic Hamilton produced by Swatch because Vortic made clear in its advertising and in the watch design itself that it wasn’t selling a direct copy of a modern Hamilton.

“Having viewed a physical example of a Lancaster as well as pictures in the record, the court finds that the watch obviously presents to a viewer as restored antique pocket watch movement, face and hands that have been reincorporated into a new wristwatch,” the opinion reads.

BizWest was unable to reach Swatch’s headquarters in Switzerland Sunday night…