Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Louis Vuitton vs. Penn Law – Lessons in Intellectual Property

Posted by Gina F. Rubel, Esq.
Courtesy of
The National Law Journal article by Sheri Qualters, “Louis Vuitton says Penn Law symposium poster infringes its trademarks,” highlights a recent disagreement over the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s use of the Vuitton brand on invitations and posters for an upcoming conference on fashion law.

The article states that Michael Pantalony, Louis Vuitton’s director of civil enforcement for North America, wrote a letter to the dean of the law school, Michael Fitts, expressing dismay over the use of the company’s trademarked “toile monogram.” Pantalony wrote “that the egregious action is a ‘serious willful infringement’ that knowingly dilutes the company’s trademarks and may mislead others into thinking such actions are fair use.”

The University of Pennsylvania’s associate general counsel, Robert Firestone, responded stating that the student-run Pennsylvania Intellectual Property Group responsible for the symposium, “does not believe that the poster and invitation infringe or dilute the company’s trademarks.”

Firestone quoted a section of the U.S. trademark code that “expressly protects a noncommercial use of a mark and a parody from any claim for dilution.” He further maintained that it is highly unlikely that one would think that Louis Vuitton sponsored, or was associated with, the symposium in any way. To close his letter, Firestone invited Pantalony to attend the seminar: “The students have invited some of the in-house counsel from some of your peer fashion companies to speak on the panels, and I am sure the students would welcome your attendance as well.”

When the author of the article reached out, neither Firestone nor Pantalony responded. I’m sure it won’t be the last that we hear about the disagreement.

What I find most interesting is that graphic designers, illustrators and lay-marketers alike often use parody-like images to convey a message for an event. Such parodies may be called into question by the originating brands and there seems to be a very fine line.

While I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, I am intrigued by this dialogue and the amount of media coverage it has received so far. As a lawyer and strategic marketer, these are the types of issues we face regularly when clients present ideas using other brands’ images or ideas. Now more than ever, we are hearing about copyright infringement because of the explosion in popularity of online sharing and in particular, the website Pinterest. I am curious to see how this plays out.

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