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It was no joke to Louis Vuitton, who sued the makers of canvas hand bags that show cartoon images of Louis Vuitton bags.
Louis Vuitton apparently took umbrage that My Other Bag, Inc., was mocking the high-fashion company, which makes $2,000 hand bags. The company sued for trademark and copyright infringement, but a trial judge dismissed the case.
Doubly offended, the company appealed. The Second Circuit Court of Appeal, in a carefully worded opinion so as not to add insult to... Well, basically they said there was no injury.
"The fact that the joke on LV's luxury image is gentle, and possibly even complimentary to LV, does not preclude it from being a parody," the court said.
Can't Take a Joke
In affirming a summary judgment, the appeals court said that My Other Bag's plain bags design is "such a conscious departure from LV's image of luxury -- in combination with the slogan "My other bag" -- as to convey that MOB's tote bags are not LV handbags."
The court said the design and slogan were a parody, communicating contradictory ideas that would not confuse consumers about the original product. "A parody must convey two simultaneous -- and contradictory -- messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody," the justices said. "MOB's bags do precisely that."
The French company was not amused by the decision, suffering its second most embarrassing intellectual property defeat in recent years.
My Other Bag, founded by Tara Martin, describes itself on its website as an "eco-friendly canvas tote with a designer twist." In addition to marketing "the Louis Vuitton parody bag," the company puts an ironic spin on bags by Valentino, Balenciaga, Chanel, and Goyard. The lawsuit cost the company in attorney's fees, but it raised the company profile around the world.
In the meantime, Louis Vuitton lost the right to trademark its Damier checkerboard pattern in 2011. The European Union's General Court and Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market said the pattern design was too common to be owned by one brand.