Geoffrey the Giraffe is casting an ominous shadow over one Texas family.
Last summer, almost immediately following the news that Toys “R” Us and Macy’s were teaming up to relaunch the iconic toy store in the U.S., The Toy Book reported on a detour from that forward movement as Tru Kids Brands Inc. — the WHP Global-owned parent of the Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us brands — took a step backward and filed a lawsuit against an independent toy store in New Jersey.
At the time, Tru Kids alleged “trademark infringement” as the store, Toys & Beyond, had moved into the space that was previously occupied by one of the two, short-lived Toys “R” Us concept stores that opened in partnership with b8ta in 2019. At the center of the complaint were issues regarding the colorful logo of Toys & Beyond and the reuse of fixtures and signage, including Geoffrey’s Treehouse, Geoffrey’s Magical Mirror, and the Play Around Theater, that were left behind when Toys “R” Us abandoned the space at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in January 2021.
On Oct. 25, 2021, The Toy Book was first alerted to a nearly identical lawsuit filed in Texas against TOYZ, a family-owned toy store that opened nearly 20 years ago. Farida Afzal immigrated to Houston from Pakistan and built a business that eventually grew to include a distribution arm and several retail stores, including a small location on the lower level of Simon Property Group’s Galleria Mall.
In its response to the complaint filed by attorneys at Baker Botts on behalf of Tru Kids Brands, Afzal Ali Enterprises, Inc. dba TOYZ noted that its store peacefully co-existed with Toys “R” Us during the time that both stores were open in the Galleria. According to the response, the scuffle began months after Toys “R” Us closed, when the Galleria landlord offered TOYZ the opportunity to expand into the former Toys “R” Us store.
Nearly a year later, the legal battle continues and it’s begun making headlines as The Houston Chronicle, alongside ABC and CBS affiliates have reported on the story. Meanwhile, a Change.org petition is calling upon WHP Global and Tru Kids Brands to drop the lawsuit, while members of the U.S. and global toy communities, including Richard Derr of Learning Express, MGA Entertainment Founder and CEO Isaac Larian, Toy World Publisher John Baulch, World Alive Founder Amy Holden, and Michael Olafsson of Monkey Fish Toys have taken to LinkedIn to express support for the owners of TOYZ and call for an end to what appears to be legal bullying in a “bleed them dry” campaign.
In Texas, it appears that Judge Charles Eskridge might agree.
On August 23, Judge Eskridge issued a scathing order against Tru Kids Brands and Toys “R” Us.
In the filing, Judge Eskridge denies a motion by Tru Kids to amend its complaint against TOYZ, stating that “the motion itself evinces undue delay and dilatory motive,” and that “the motion could also be considered abusive.”
“Toys ‘R’ Us is trying to shutter a family-owned toy store in an attempt to set a precedent for shutting down any toy store in the country that has a multi-colored logo,” Lema Barazi, lead attorney representing TOYZ for Lloyd & Mousilli tells The Toy Book. “We must — and I am confident that we will — prevail against Toys ‘R’ Us in its malicious tactics of burying small businesses in protracted litigation based on frivolous and overreaching trademark claims.”
And the tactics being used by Tru Kids brands are under scrutiny by the court itself.
Judge Eskridge says in his order that “substantial question exists regarding whether Tru Kids has initiated this action primarily for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring a competitor, and whether it is using the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes.”
Tru Kids Brands was ordered “to provide by Sept. 13, 2022, an iteration of all actions it has initiated against any defendant worldwide since acquiring its interest in the Toys ‘R’ Us brand in January 2019, wherein it has alleged claims, as here, of trademark and trade-dress infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition, or unjust enrichment relating to Toys ‘R’ Us intellectual property,” Judge Eskridge declared.
Attorneys for Tru Kids Brands did file documents to meet the Sept. 13 deadline but they did so in a sealed filing. Ahead of the deadline, The Toy Book reached out to WHP Global/Tru Kids Brands on Sept. 12, but the company did not respond to a request for comment.
While the legal dance continues to play out in court, Toys “R” Us is continuing to open its new store-within-a-store concepts in every Macy’s store ahead of an Oct. 15 completion date. Both the Galleria in Houston and the Westfield Garden State Plaza in New Jersey have Macy’s stores that are set to include Toys “R” Us departments.
Although Toys & Beyond closed its store in New Jersey, the space is currently occupied by yet another toy store: CAMP.