From a faithful student correspondent (who won’t be named so that Louis Vuitton’s famously aggressive lawyers won’t try to seize his camera), comes this picture taken from the back of a taxi tooling around Xi’an, China. What you see is a mud-covered “Louis Vuitton” floormat. Although of course Louis Vuitton, the famed luxury goods manufacturer, would never, never make floormats for cars.
This is obviously a fake. Less obvious is the message it’s meant to send. Is this homage to LV by a cabbie who wants to class up his ride? Or, is this cabbie subverting the creeping capitalist takeover of his country by encouraging his customers to wipe their feet on this symbol of Western decadence and excess?
Hard to tell. But we’re confident that LV’s lawyers would be furious either way. LV is (in)famous for its rabidly aggressive responses to unauthorized uses of its brand. A few years back they sued Haute Diggity Dog, a pet products company that markets, among other things, a “Chewy Vuiton” dog chew toy, which was shaped like a woman’s handbag and used a “CV” mark similar to Vuitton’s “LV”. Here it is:
LV lost the case — Haute Diggity Dog’s chew toy, the court held, was a parody of the LV handbag, and Vuitton could not use its trademark rights to suppress Haute Diggity’s First Amendment rights to make a lawful parody.
After that loss you might think Vuitton would re-think their approach. But instead, they doubled down. In February of this year Vuitton threatened to sue the University of Pennsylvania when it found out that students at Penn’s law school were planning an academic conference on trademarks in the fashion industry (sic). Vuitton objected to the parodic use of its mark in this poster advertising the conference:
As you can see, the poster uses the letters “TM” in the shape of Vuitton’s LV. Clever? Yes. Confusing to consumers? Um, no. No one in the market for a Vuitton handbag is going to rock up at an academic conference in Philadelphia, or is even likely to think that Vuitton has anything to do with it. But to the lawyers at LV, who must sleep in their suits, this was an outrage. They fired off a nastygram to the university, ordering them to take the poster down, and chastising the Penn law faculty for not “understand[ing] the basics of intellectual property law.” After consultation with some of the IP faculty at the law school, Penn politely told LV to go fly a kite. Penn’s letter to LV is a masterful piece of cutting understatement.
Why is Vuitton so aggressive? One reason might be that, at least in the past, judges in trademark cases would occasionally hold that a trademark that had not been aggressively enforced was abandoned. But those holdings are increasingly decrepit, and courts in recent years have been much less ready to hold trademarks abandoned because of non-enforcement. So there must be something else going on here. Maybe LV’s lawyers want to be known as the baddest guys on Madison Avenue. Well, if that’s your motivation, when you do file or threaten a lawsuit, it’s important that you win.