The tool manufacturer that bought Sears' Craftsman tools line is asking the courts to make Sears stop touting itself as the "real" home of the iconic brand.
Stanley Black & Decker bought the Craftsman brand from Sears Holdings Corp. in 2017. The deal, valued at $900 million, let both brands continue making and selling products under the Craftsman label.
But Stanley said Sears' new line of professional-grade mechanics' tools under the "Craftsman Ultimate Collection" brand, as well as Sears' efforts to promote itself as "the real home of the broadest assortment of Craftsman," violate the companies' agreement, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in New York.
Stanley, based in New Britain, Conn., said the slogan falsely implies Craftsman products sold elsewhere are "illegitimate" and could confuse shoppers and hurt the brand, according to the lawsuit.
Hoffman Estates-based Sears could not immediately be reached for comment.
Craftsman's history at Sears goes back to 1927, when the retailer decided to create a higher-end line of tools. According to a company history website, Sears bought rights to use the Craftsman name from Marion-Craftsman Tool Company for $500. The brand first appeared on a line of saws and power tools were introduced two years later, in 1929.
For years, the overwhelming majority of Craftsman products were sold only at Sears.
Stanley, Sears to have competing Craftsman tool brands
But in 2016, long-struggling Sears announced it was looking for ways to get more cash out of its best-known brands, including Craftsman, Kenmore and DieHard, by expanding their distribution outside its stores. The 2017 sale to Stanley gave Sears an immediate cash infusion and a chance to benefit from the brand's growth at other retailers through royalty payments.
It also meant Sears and Stanley began making and selling competing Craftsman products.
As Stanley began rolling out its Craftsman products, selling them at retailers including Lowe's and Ace Hardware, Sears defended its ties to the brand. A company blog post in August said Sears still had the largest Craftsman selection of any U.S. retailer. After Sears sought bankruptcy protection in October, in the run-up to the critical holiday shopping season, Sears referred to itself as the "original" or "real" home of Craftsman on social media.
Stanley said its agreement with Sears put limits on how Sears could use the Craftsman brand, and that the new Craftsman Ultimate Collection line ran afoul of certain restrictions. Both companies also agreed not to do anything that could tarnish the brand, according to the lawsuit.
Those restrictions still apply now that Sears has a new owner, Stanley said. The retailer's former CEO and chairman, Edward Lampert, bought the company - including its rights to use the Craftsman brand - out of bankruptcy last month in a deal valued at $5.2 billion.
Stanley is asking the courts to stop Sears from using the tagline and "Craftsman Ultimate Collection" label and remove references to both from its websites, social media platforms and advertising. It is also seeking damages of more than $75,000, according to the lawsuit.
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