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Could This Watch Company's Legal Battle Change Trademark Law Forever? Can you create a product that references, parodies, or uses parts from another brand? Many entrepreneurs are trying...and then getting sued. But the law is far from settled. This is the story of one startup that fought back and might just help change the way brands are built.

By Liz Brody

This story appears in the March 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Davide Bonazzi

Vortic is a watch company. But in 2015, that description was overly generous. It was more like two guys working out of a storage closet with $40,000 from a Kickstarter. To make ends meet, one of those guys also had a corporate job at Walmart. They aspired to make watches, sure, but they'd never actually done it.

That's why when a cease-and-desist letter arrived from one of the largest watch companies in the world, they thought it was a joke.

The sender was Swatch Group. "I had to google it," Vortic cofounder R.T. Custer (below) admits. He learned that the Swiss conglomerate was doing $9 billion in net sales largely through its 18 brands, which included Breguet, Longines, Omega, Harry Winston, and — oh, now it made sense — Hamilton. "I was like, Holy crap." He knew it had to be the ad they'd just run in WatchTime magazine.

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