California Surf Giant O'Neill Is Trying to Block Menswear Designer Thaddeus O'Neil's Pending Trademark

Thaddeus O'Neil - Getty - H 2017
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O'Neill they didn't.

Despite what it sounds like, the recent O'Neill vs. O'Neil drama is not, in fact, the premise of an Irish soap opera dealing with a spat between the families O'Neil(l). 

Rather, the buzzy dispute that's come to a head over the past week has to do with two fashion companies: The first, 65-year-old surfwear giant, O'Neill — a brand best-known for outfitting toe-headed groms and amateur celeb surfers like Jennifer Garner and David Beckham in wetsuits and rash guards; it was founded by the late wetsuit pioneer Jack O'Neill, but was acquired by a private European company in 2007.

The second is the eponymous luxury menswear brand launched in 2013 by New York-based Thaddeus O'Neil, who was a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist in 2015 and is currently in the organization's incubator program. While yes, he is a tan blonde surfer with an objectively beautiful man bun, the look of his brand is more Brooklyn dad (or as the designer calls it "#SeaDisco") than Jeff Spicoli. Despite their differing price points, aesthetics and spellings, however, the Santa Cruz-based O'Neill is worried that Thaddeus O'Neil's brand might cause confusion, and therefore dilution of their product.


It was only a matter of time until @jordysmith88 rang the Bell #ONeill #wsl

A post shared by O'Neill (@oneillusa) on

In May 2016, O'Neil (the person) filed a trademark for the name of his company, Thaddeus O'Neil, as well as his T.O. logo, which looks like an upside-down Venus symbol. O'Neill (the company) filed a motion in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office asking the court to block the trademark, claiming it was "likely to cause confusion." In June, the USPTO stated that the motion was not sufficient to grant the trademark block; however, O'Neill (the company) appealed and the decision is now pending. The game of legal ping-pong continues. 

Should the court move grant O'Neill's motion to block the trademark, Thaddeus O'Neil could be forced to change the name of his company, just as he was beginning to gain momentum in the market. "I'm a designer, and this is my work," O'Neill said in an email to The Hollywood Reporter.  "Why can't the clothing I create bear my own name? We have Alexander Wang and Vera Wang coexisting unproblematically in same space. Wang is like Smith in China. They get along just fine and so do their customers. O'Neil is the Wang of Ireland."  

The case has dredged up the ongoing argument about whether or not it's wise for a designer to name their company after themselves. After all, should a designer sell their brand at some point — like Kate Spade, or Emily Current and Meritt Elliott's Current/Elliott — the ownership can not only be confusing for customers, but also create issues for the designers should they decide to launch another business down the line. (Kate Spade famously changed her name to Kate Valentine to avoid confusion.)  


Neo Walt Whitman meets New York Dolls? Off to the @cfda awards. @swarovski.

A post shared by Thaddeus O'Neil (@thaddeusoneil) on

Celebs are not immune to the issue of name trademarking either. Just a few months ago, Kylie Minogue filed a motion in opposition of Kylie Jenner's attempt to trademark their shared first name for her fashion and beauty ventures. Minogue's opposition was successful.

"O'Neill needs to give their customer a little more credit," continued the designer. "Today's customer is savvy enough to know who and what they're wearing. I met with O'Neill in good faith and with a proposal that we do something constructive and special together and move on in harmony — a beautiful collaboration to celebrate both our brands and a shared love for the ocean. I believe that is still possible."