Penn Law in legal battle with Louis Vuitton
Penn Intellectual Property Group will continue to use the parody design to promote their event
March 12, 2012, 11:59 pm·
A Law School student group got itself into haute water with Louis Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton’s attorney Michael Pantalony sent a cease and desist letter on Feb. 29 to Penn Law Dean Michael Fitts regarding a parody use of the company’s trademark design.
The design was used by Penn Intellectual Property Group — a Penn Law student organization — on its invitations and poster advertising its fifth annual symposium on Mar. 20.
The top portion of the poster features a parody of Louis Vuitton’s “toile monogram” pattern, which is comprised of “three distinctive design elements — a circle with a four-leafed flower inset; a curved beige diamond with a four-point star inset, and it’s negative,” according to Pantalony’s letter. PIPG replaced ‘LV’ with ‘TM’ and added the copyright symbol to its parody of the design.
Despite the legal back and forths, PIPG will continue to use the parody design for their event. Ironically, the symposium is called “IP Issues in Fashion Law,” and will discuss trademarks and the fast fashion phenomenon and copyright for fashion design.
Ashley Kwon, co-chair of the symposium and second-year law student, said, “we didn’t mean to offend [Louis Vuitton] in any way. The top portion of our poster is something we carefully considered before we began advertising for our symposium.”
The group had consulted with faculty members before circulating the design, said Matt Corriel, co-chair of the symposium and second-year law student. He said the group did not think it was running any risk of offending Louis Vuitton.
He added that the group “thought it would be a clever parody of an issue we were talking about in the symposium.”
Louis Vuitton did not find it clever. Pantalony instead claimed that PIPG “had misappropriated and modified the LV trademarks and Toile Monogram.” He added, “This egregious action is not only a serious willful infringement and knowingly dilutes the LV trademark, but also may mislead others into thinking that this type of unlawful activity is somehow ‘legal’ or constitutes ‘fair use’ because the Penn Intellectual Property Group is sponsoring a seminar on fashion law and ‘must be experts.’”
Robert Firestone, Associate General Council of Penn Law’s Office of General Counsel, responded to Pantalony in a Mar. 2 letter. Firestone wrote that PIPG does not think their parody infringes or dilutes any of Louis Vuitton’s trademarks. He added that to “constitute trademark infringement under the Lanham Act, PIPG has to be using a trademark in interstate commerce…”
He does not believe the symposium attendees will think Louis Vuitton is organizing the event. “There is no likelihood of confusion possible here,” he wrote.
Firestone also rejected Pantalony’s claim that PIPG diluted the Louis Vuitton trademark. Furthermore, there is a legal exception for non-commerical uses of trademarks.
Law professor Shyam Balganesh, who is not involved in the case, said, “since everything the student group is [doing is] noncommercial, it is hard to see how Louis Vuitton has any claim.”
Corriel points to the silver lining of the whole debate. “You never hope for controversy but there is a positive … more people heard about our symposium and hopefully more people will go,” he said.
Kwon hopes attendees will not be too distracted by the drama surrounding the issue.
“That is definitely going to be part of the conversation, but not the focus,” she said.