The New York Times story gives credit to Oprah Winfrey for making the Australian footwear famous in the United States, but their origins go back to a surfer named Corky Carroll who brought a pair from Australia to California to sell to surfers to keep their feet warm.
Although the fleecy, comfy boots originated in Australia, the US trademark is owned by a company called Deckers, which is currently suing an Australian shoemaker for using the brand name on American shores.
Australians are strongly opposed to this trademark infringement case. An Australian senator likened the need for his country to protect "ugg" to brand protection efforts for champagne in France, port in Portugal, and sherry in Spain. And even Australia's prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has gotten involved, officially asking the Australian Embassy in Washington, DC to emphasize that in Australia the term "ugg" is generic.
According to the Times, Australian trademark officials say the boots "appeared as early as the 1970s in phone directory ads as ug, ugg, ugh boots, among many other variations." While a 1974 Times story reported that the Australian sheepskin booties are known as "ughs."
Deckers is suing Australian Leather, for selling ugg (note the lower case "u") boots in the United States. Australian Leather's owner, Eddie Oygur, claims that the Uggs trademark was improperly registered in the United States and that "uggs" existed long before the introduction of the brand name Uggs. Early adopter, surfer Carroll, agrees, telling the Times: “My honest opinion is that the term ‘Ugg boot’ is not something that should be owned as it is a description. … A boot that was ugly … is different from a brand name.”
Lastly, if you’re involved in trademark screening, remember that for some products it's important to check for non-proprietary terms, such as Appellations of Origin and International Non-proprietary Names (INNs) for pharmaceuticals. Using the Corsearch Platform, you can screen the Appellations of Origin (Lisbon) trademark database. You can learn more by visiting the Corsearch website and also read our recent post about geographical indication cases.