It's David vs. Goliath as a small Long Island store goes up against the NYPD.
The legal battle centers on The Cop Shop, a Massapequa business that sells NYPD and FDNY uniforms, T-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs and other merchandise.
New York City's trademark enforcers say the business and its owners, Susan and Salvatore Piccolo, are infringing the trademarks of those agencies, including the NYPD insignia.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip in June 2017, the city seeks to stop the business from selling unlicensed merchandise — which it markets alongside licensed uniforms and other goods — and asks the court to assess unspecified damages.
Susan Piccolo said her husband began making T-shirts for fellow members of the New York City Transit Police in the 1980s and the business evolved into a retail store in 1986. Salvatore Piccolo retired from law enforcement in 2001, six years after the transit police merged into the NYPD.
"It's my whole livelihood," Susan Piccolo said of the business, which has eight employees in addition to her and her husband.
On Friday, Susan Piccolo stressed that while the store's unlicensed goods, including some T-shirts, caps and mugs, are in the city's legal crosshairs, its uniforms and holsters and other leather accessories are not.
The case is adjourned until July 24, when the court could rule on motions for summary judgment by each side — deciding the case before it goes to trial.
Gerard F. Dunne, a Manhattan lawyer who is defending the Piccolos and their business, formally known as Blue Rage Inc., said The Cop Shop has been making merchandise that uses NYPD and the FDNY insignias since before the city began registering them as trademarks in 2005.
The Cop Shop also maintains that its unlicensed goods use the insignia of those agencies as "ornamentation" and not as a trademark.
The city has filed about 10 such lawsuits to protect the trademarks in the past 15 years, according to a spokesman for the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, but none has gone to trial. Licensed apparel and other products include a hologram tag or label with a discrete number.
A March 2014 letter to Salvatore Piccolo from city attorney Gerald Singleton that was included in the court filings called for the store to "immediately stop selling … unauthorized merchandise."
In addition to enforcing its trademarks at retail stores, the spokesman said the city monitors websites such as eBay and retailers in foreign countries.
Other prominent government arms that have been granted trademark protection include The Los Angeles Police Department and the U.S. Army and Navy.
Hofstra University law professor Irina Manta said that the licensing of government agency trademarks potentially raises questions of favoritism toward politically connected licensees and even free speech.
"This is dangerous terrain," she said.
Rena C. Seplowitz, a professor at Touro Law, said that although governments are prohibited from trademarking government symbols like the American flag, agencies like the FDNY can register trademarks to protect their "goodwill."
She likened the FDNY shield to the Apple logo or the Nike swoosh.
"This is a way for consumers to be assured of consistent quality," she said.
Seplowitz said the registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will make it more difficult to argue that the city agencies are undeserving of trademark protection.
The professor said that New York City, whose court papers say that it has provided police services "at least as early as 1845" and has used the shield design since at least July 1971, also can claim trademark protection under common law.
The website of the New York City Police Foundation, which manages NYPD licensing, said the market for the agency's branded merchandise "surged" after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Sales of unauthorized goods dramatically increased and the foundation began an aggressive enforcement campaign to shield the public from counterfeit merchandise," the website said.
Worldwide retail sales of licensed NYPD and FDNY souvenir merchandise are about $30 million per year, according to court papers.