Louis Vuitton Loses Trademark Lawsuit Over Joke Bag; Judge Tells Company To Maybe Laugh A Little Rather Than Sue

When I was very little, my father drove a 1972 Ford Pinto (yes, one of the exploding versions) that had a faded bumper sticker reading “My other car is a Porsche.” I remember this very clearly because I remember, at a very young age, asking my father to explain the “joke” and still not really getting it. Of course, that “my other car is a…” joke has been around for a long time. It may not be a good joke, but it’s a pretty well-known joke. Except, apparently, for the overly serious trademark lawyers at Louis Vuitton.

We’ve covered Louis Vuitton’s ridiculous trademark bullying for years — including shutting down an art exhibit that commented on LV’s trademarks, suing an artist for calling attention to the situation in Darfur by painting a refugee child holding a bag that kinda, but not really, looked like an LV bag, and suing Hyundai for showing a basketball decorated decorated with the LV symbols in a commercial for 1 second (incredibly, LV won that lawsuit for reasons I still can’t understand). Yes, this brief image was “trademark infringement” according to the court: And that’s not all. It used the victory over Hyundai to sue Warner Bros. because an LV bag appears briefly in the movie (thankfully, they lost that one). Oh, and then there was the time LV’s lawyers actually threatened UPenn’s law school for holding a trademark symposium with the following poster: And that brings us to the latest case, spotted via The Trademark Blog, in which Louis Vuitton sued a small company called “My Other Bag” which made (you guessed it!) bags that play off the “my other car…” joke: Thankfully, while Louis Vuitton’s lawyers didn’t get the joke, Judge Jesse Furman, totally got the joke, and thought that perhaps Louis Vuitton’s lawyers might want to loosen up a bit and enjoy the joke as well:

Louis Vuitton is, by its own description, an “active[] and aggressive[]” enforcer of its trademark rights…. In some cases, however, it is better to “accept the implied compliment in [a] parody” and to smile or laugh than it is to sue…. This — like Haute Diggity Dog (and, arguably, Hyundai) — is such a case. MOB’s use of Louis Vuitton’s marks in service of what is an obvious attempt at humor is not likely to cause confusion or the blurring of the distinctiveness of Louis Vuitton’s marks; if anything, it is likely only to reinforce and enhance the distinctiveness and notoriety of the famous brand. Accordingly, and for the reasons stated above, MOB is entitled to summary judgment on all of Louis Vuitton’s claims; it follows that Louis Vuitton’s own motion for partial summary judgment must be and is denied.

You’ll notice the mention of that nutty Hyundai ruling in this one. Here, the judge distinguished the case from the Hyundai one, noting that in this case, unlike the Hyundai case, the commentary is clearly about Louis Vuitton and its brand, making it clearly parodying the mark itself. However, the judge also adds a footnote that more or less says that he probably would have decided that case differently too:

Even if Hyundai were not distinguishable, this Court would decline to follow it. In the Court’s view, the Hyundai Court blurred the distinction between association and dilution. As discussed in more detail below, association is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a finding of dilution by blurring.

Either way, throughout the ruling you can see that the judge is mainly just frustrated that Louis Vuitton’s lawyers can’t just enjoy a joke. From the opening:

Louis Vuitton Malletier, S.A. (“Louis Vuitton”), the maker of Louis Vuitton bags, is perhaps unfamiliar with the “my other car” trope. Or maybe it just cannot take a joke.

And, later, during the discussion on Hyundai, the judge again notes the lack of a sense of humor by LV’s lawyers:

…the fact that Louis Vuitton at least does not find the comparison funny is immaterial; Louis Vuitton’s sense of humor (or lack thereof) does not delineate the parameters of its rights (or MOB’s rights) under trademark law.

Either way, this is a good ruling, pushing back on yet another case of Louis Vuitton’s trademark bullying. One hopes that the company will take up the judge’s suggestion to maybe accept the compliment and laugh a little, but somehow that seems unlikely.

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