May 22, 2022 @ 6:07 PM

  My Trademark Infringement Story

Princess Pants® and Princess Panties®

            Five years ago in 2017 I thought my future would be very different than what it turned out to be.  You see five years ago I met with a company and put down a large retainer for taking my trademarks to another level – think Shark Tank.  This meeting took place right before the Saluki Nationals and renewal of my trademarks which were due in July 2017.  The plan was to set up another meeting after the Nationals and after the renewal of the trademarks.  Little did I know that there would be so many people that put their finger on the scale of my business that had no business doing so. 

            At the National in June 2017 as always, I got to my booth early as soon as the doors open.  Friday of the Nationals in 2017 was no exception.  I was at my booth when I noticed Anna Meszaros come in and was standing in her booth which was directly in my line of sight.  We were the only ones in the area of the vendors and the show ring.  Then I noticed Michelle Ridenour walking quickly towards me as I was sitting behind the table in my booth.  The table was between us.  She stopped abruptly in front of my table and looked down.  (Later, as revealed in document production, I would find out that she wanted to claim that she had never stepped foot in my booth).  She had what I considered to be an unusual conspiratorial smile about her.  She said she needed some pants.  I pointed to where the pants were hanging.  When I realized she was not going to move into the booth and towards the pants on the rack, I got up and asked her what she was interested in.  She said she didn’t care.  I said, well, I have this one (and described it) and this one (another description).  She said she didn’t care which one.  I thought this was very unusual as in my past sale to Michelle she was very particular about color, design and embroidery. 

            Michelle, basically threw the money at me and took off before I could give her a receipt.  She stopped at the side of Anna’s booth which put her back towards me.  They spoke briefly and then Michelle walked away.  I watched Michelle walk away and she had nothing in her hands.  Her hands were swinging freely at her sides and she was not carrying a purse.  I watched her as she passed the café which is on the complete opposite side of the room from where I was sitting.  I looked back at Anna expecting her to thank me for the pants and to mouth that a bitch just came into season and she forgot to bring hers.  Instead, Anna was standing staring straight ahead frozen in a stance.  Her side was towards me.  There was nothing in the ring where her gaze was focused and no one else was in the area.  Strange.  The whole thing was strange which is why it stuck in my memory. 

            It would be disclosed in discovery later that Anna had been trying for some time to make dog pants for bitches.  She just couldn’t seem to get them right.   Six weeks later though after stretching out my pants to get a pattern (which she admitted to in a deposition) she was able to get them right. 

Amazingly enough after the purchased pants by Michelle, Anna’s pants finally fit salukis.  She did not provide the photos that show the similarity to So Sew Me’s pants.  My attorneys obtained the photos from another witness who Anna had sent them to.  She did admit in one deposition that she stretched my pants out and traced them. 

            About a month later, I would see Michelle again at dog shows in Michigan; she was unusually friendly to me.  Based on what I later learned, she had to have known what was happening with the purchased dog pants and who would be getting the knock off Princess Pants®, and was using cordiality to throw me off.  

            During July, my trademark attorney was busy renewing my 4 trademarks.  This was probably the third or fourth time, they have had to be renewed during the 16 years or so I have had them.  My original trademark attorney retired and now I use a large intellectual property boutique law firm in Cincinnati, Ohio.  By the end of July, the trademark renewals had been finalized without a hitch.  Now it was time to get another meeting set up in August with the future growth of my business and my trademarks on the agenda.

            On August 1, 2017, at approximately 8 a.m. in the morning while I was having my nails done, my Apple watch pinged with a notification.  The notification was from Anna Meszaros with a photo of her newly made pants that she was calling Princess Pants.  I immediately started shaking realizing the gravity of the situation.  My nail tech is usually very curt if I am working against her, immediately said, “what’s wrong.”  I said, “someone just infringed on my trademarks.”  She started rubbing my hands in a calming manner and said call your attorney as soon as you leave here.  She hurried through my nails and got me out of there so I could call my attorney.   

            Anyone that has been through the rigorous journey of obtaining trademarks realizes the seriousness of infringement and not only the need to protect it, but to defend against misuse of the trademark by others.  You can lose it if you don’t.  The actual official trademarks are usually held in a safe at the attorney’s office or someone else.  They cannot be sent through the mail and if they are lost, they cannot be replaced.  Every so often, it is necessary to do searches to make sure no one is infringing on the trademarks.  If you find someone is infringing on the trademarks, the first thing to do is have the trademark attorney send a letter to cease and desist.  Searches have been done in the past and there were a couple people that were sent letters from my attorney.  They immediately apologized and took down the infringement without any questions.  That should be the normal response.  Not in this case.

            As soon as I got in the car, I called my trademark attorney in Cincinnati.  He immediately went to Facebook and called me back and agreed with me that this was infringement and he would get a letter out that day.  At no time during this day, did I consider calling Anna Meszaros.  One, I do not have her phone number in my contacts.  Two, any time I have reached out to her, she has not responded via email or Facebook messenger.  Third, what would that accomplish, she had seen my booth and banner with my Princess Panties trademark prominently displayed.  This was no innocent mistake.  I believe it was intentional.

            The letter was sent out that day, August 1, 2017, via email and regular mail.  Any normal person would have apologized and taken the post down.  But not Anna.  She, aided by others, went into full combat mode on social media.  The social media thread containing the infringement was made to look like I was harassing her and her surrogates were encouraging her to sue me for harassment and emotional distress for having the audacity to hire an attorney to mail her a cease and desist letter.  Social media posts proclaimed I didn’t even have the trademarks.  There was encouragement for her to hold the line.  (There are a lot of hungry attorneys out there and Anna found one that would be happy to take her money and all her church going friends’ money to perpetuate the cloud over my trademarks.)  So, of course, she escalated the situation; she countersued my business.  Her attorney’s filed a motion to dismiss the case claiming she could not be sued in Ohio.  That took a full year plus for the judge to decide she indeed could be sued in Ohio.  Given I did not want to wait another full year by seeking a dismissal of the countersuit in a motion, we fought the countersuit against So Sew Me on the merits.  The judge ended up dismissing Anna’s suit against So Sew Me.  The court concluded that the countersuit had no merit and would not allow it to go to trial so it was therefore dismissed.    

            I eventually called the company I met with about taking my business and trademarks to the next level, they said there was nothing they could do until the litigation had been resolved. 

            During the discovery process, we found out Michelle was trying to cause as much harm as possible to So Sew Me.  She put me personally and So Sew Me on “blast.”  I did not know what that meant at the time.  The Urban Dictionary confirmed its meaning. 

             I have been told by others that if they liked my So Sew Me Fan Page on Facebook, they were threatened.  If they had a business, they told the person, they would do the same to them as they had done to me.  There was negative talk not only about me personally, but my husband and my children.  Michelle went so far as to contact dog pant manufacturers and ask them to donate pants to the silent auction at the Saluki Nationals so that no one would buy pants from me.  If they didn’t know how to make the pants, she happily gave them the correct dimensions to fit a saluki, by using the precise measurements of my Princess Pants.

            When the above information came to light, I sent a letter to the Board of the Saluki Club of America since they were the ones that allowed her to have this authority as a chair to cause harm to a vendor.  The SCOA did the right thing and forbade any dog pants from the auctions.     

            In the meantime, I continued to collect evidence.  The Saluki Nationals of 2018 was dry for business but very wet for evidence.  There were a lot of people that were happy to give me evidence.  Anyone that was seen at my booth, was taken aside and told not to be my friend and not to buy from me.  People were accosted in the ladies’ room!  Long time friends were called on the phone and told not to be my friend or do business with me.  I took photos; I took videos; I took screen shots; I collected screen shots people sent me.  We were building a great case!  There were a few that thanked me for taking action because they felt that Anna had copied their work, but they didn’t have the money to go after her.  There were of people who told me she was making the same thing as they were selling and undercutting the price.  In my opinion, she was the “China” of the saluki community – copying intellectual property and selling it cheaper.  I was deeply concerned she had no intention of stopping the infringement.  In fact, a document production of her Faceback page showed the infringement was still there even after she said she deleted it. 

            Michelle’s deposition was taken before the Saluki Nationals in 2018.  A copy was available for anyone that wished to read it while there at the Nationals.  There was a lot of damaging evidence in it.  She acknowledged she was happy to cause my business harm.  Later, this availability of the deposition would be woven into an elaborate story by Anna as part of her countersuit against So Sew Me.  She claimed we were marching around with an affidavit that we were asking people to sign. 

            While heading home from the National, I received a notification on my phone. An Ohio jury had ordered Oberlin College to pay $11 million to Gibson Bakery stemming from improper efforts to put it out of business.  With treble punitive damages, the amount reached $33 million.  We were able to get the Gibson Bakery’s jury instructions to use in our case.  As a footnote, Oberlin College appealed and right before the trial against Michelle Ridenour was to take place in April 2022, the appellate court upheld the verdict of $6.3 million for attorney fees and $25 million for damages. 

            There was another case I found in Texas involving a photographer and newlyweds.  The fight was over a small amount, but the bride went out on social media and disparaged the photographer to the point that they lost business.  The photographer was awarded a large sum for that disparagement.  The judge said and I am paraphrasing here:  just because there is freedom of speech, does not mean there is freedom from the consequences of your actions.  Well stated. 

            In discovery, we obtained entire FB conversations involving Michelle, Anna Meszaros and including photos.  While the attorneys do searches for certain words, I read all the documents – thousands of pages.  I know where all their bodies are buried.  There was a lot of information that wasn’t produced by Anna or Michelle.  One of the conversations was about bankruptcy.  I told my attorneys what I found because I thought it meant Anna was going to file bankruptcy.  The attorneys did a search and found out that she had filed bankruptcy in the past and thought the conversation was regarding that.  I wasn’t convinced but there was nothing we could do to prevent it.  This is just another strategy that I have learned defendants use to wear down plaintiffs in litigation.  When this all started, Anna was still involved in the first bankruptcy.  I was convinced she was going to file again.  Around this time, Michelle Ridenour fired her attorney.

            In other depositions taken Judy Tantillo was gleeful in her complicity to cause me personally harm and So Sew Me.  George Meszaros admitted that his wife, Anna, had infringed on my trademark.  When questioned about this in a second deposition, Anna said George had alzheimers. 

            On the eve of the trial in 2019, sure enough Anna Meszaros filed her second bankruptcy.  The trial was cancelled and the case was stayed because of the bankruptcy.  I am sure both Anna and Michelle thought everything would go away with the filing of the bankruptcy.  How wrong they were!

            We had a bankruptcy expert file a challenge in the bankruptcy court in Pennsylvania.  I had witnesses that were sending me everything on Anna’s and George’s Facebook walls, especially everything they were selling.  We were able to get a trial date in bankruptcy court.  With COVID backing up the court systems, we agreed to a mediator.  After negotiating all day, I got everything I wanted.  Now it was time to go back to Ohio and conclude the lawsuit against Michelle Ridenour. 

            The settlement agreement with Anna was finally filed in the Ohio court and we were waiting for a trial date to be scheduled.  Getting a trial date on the calendar was not easy during the pandemic with all of the criminal cases backed up.  One of the things that Anna agreed to was to be deposed again in the case against Michelle.  We finally got a trial date of April 25, 2022.  All discovery in the case was finished.  Michelle didn’t know or understand what damaging evidence we had against her.  She fired her attorney so she I suspect she wasn’t buying the deposition transcripts or reviewing the mountains of email conversations that were produced in discovery. 

            Finally, in March, Michelle reached out to settle.  One letter from my attorney telling her what she had at stake, made her hire a mediator to settle.  Once again, I got everything I wanted except to tell my story.  So this is my story.  Let this be a lesson to everyone. 

            One thing about this case is that we did not want to make it personal.  It was always about the business.  Anna and Michelle and those supporting them made it personal.  In their documents, especially those Michelle was party to talked about causing me personal harm.  The numerous conversations I read were similar to the hot mike Michelle was caught on in September 2021 at the SCOA National in Ohio. 

            There is another twist to this saga, one which had a silver lining.  In the fall of 2017, fresh after the lawsuit was filed.  Anna had a litter.  I was expecting a litter in December 2017.  The chair of breeder referral sent out a list of interested saluki puppy buyers to Anna, myself, and a third person.  I sent an email immediately to everyone on the list.  For the first time in history, not a single person responded back.  Hmm…  When I spoke to the chair person and told her about the lawsuit and how these people were going out of their way to cause me harm, she said she would send me additional names.  I declined the offer.  As I told my friends, what if these people ran into one of my puppy buyers at a show?  Can you imagine how they would be treated?  No, the puppies were better off with me.  I have the time, energy and money to see them through training and events.  As it turns out, Jeff and I were breeders of the year in American Saluki Association for 2019 by finishing more salukis in the ring than anyone else and the dam of the litter was dam of the year for 2019 by having the most champion get. 

            As far as the business end of things, the first 3 months after the lawsuit was filed and orders for Princess Pants dried up, to keep the business afloat, I had to branch out.  I made 14 quilt tops.  I did the embroidered wearables for the Frenchie National and embroidered wall hangings as trophies for the American Whippet Club.  I completed a certification as a long arm quilter.  I am now selling more quilts at the National and quilting for others. 

            The 2021 SCOA National was interesting.  Now that the lawsuit had been settled with Anna earlier in the year, a lot of people stopped by my booth and talked and asked questions.  I asked one, what did Anna say?  They said Anna is telling people she can’t talk about it.  There was no confidentiality agreement signed with either defendant in the settlement agreements.  So feel free to stop by my booth and chat.  Afterall, I know where all their bodies are buried.