Temu: Sue like a Billionaire?

As narratives like musician Taylor Swift’s relationship with Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce enraptured the nation during this year’s Super Bowl, one company did their best to make an even bigger impression during the biggest television event of the year.

With bright colors, a catchy tune, and a promise that you can “shop like a billionaire,” e-commerce marketplace Temu showed no less than six commercials during the famously expensive ad breaks during the game.

Temu, operated by China’s PDD Holdings and legally known in the United States as Whaleco, has taken online shopping by storm, particularly “fast fashion” – a mode of production for clothing which sees trends designed, produced, and marketed within weeks, rather than traditional months-long fashion seasons.

According to legal documents, Temu “entered the U.S. market in September 2022. Temu quickly became U.S. consumers’ favorite ultra-fast fashion retailer, topping the app store charts and consistently offering lower prices than” fast-fashion competitor Shein.

Temu, under the name Whaleco, has been involved in 41 federal suits since 2022, according to Docket Alarm analytics. Unlike many corporations profiled in Law Street Media, which tend to mostly appear in federal court as defendants, Temu serves as plaintiff 48% of the time.

The top case type involving Temu, using the federal government’s Nature of Suit code system, is trademark, with 21 cases. The runner-up is copyright, with six cases.

Temu has faced allegations that it hosts counterfeit items; these allegations extend to lawsuits as well. But 15 of the 21 trademark cases feature Temu as the plaintiff; in these lawsuits, they are generally suing parties that use website domain names which they say infringe upon their IP rights.

Temu’s battles with competitor Shein have also made their way into the courtroom. A lawsuit filed by Temu against Shein in 2023 and dismissed that year accused Shein of violating the Sherman Act, among other antitrust violations.

Another suit, filed in December 2023, accuses Shein of abusing the copyright system. The wide-ranging allegations include claims that Shein requires that its suppliers not deal with Temu. The lawsuit also alleges that Shein has copied Temu’s “its fun, colorful, and creative promotional mobile games.,” which its says are key to its success. That lawsuit is ongoing.

In terms of representation, Temu has employed a wide variety of firms, with no single business dominating. The law firms that have represented Whaleco include White & Case, Mandell Menkes, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

Temu’s rise has been meteoric. Given its status as a disruptor, Temu is sure to attract more litigation as its aggressive business model takes hold in the coming years.