They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but Louis Vuitton doesn’t seem to think so.
The luxury brand has filed numerous trademark infringement lawsuits against small companies that parody the designer bags in some way. The lawsuits have been so far fetched as to have been called “bullying” and one judge even laughed out loud at some of the claims Louis Vuitton was making.
The latest such lawsuit to gain media attention was filed against a small company called My Other Bag that made inexpensively, canvas bags with “My Other Bag” printed on one side and a parody of a well-known luxury bag printed on the other side. In the case of Louis Vuitton, the print evoked the famous Vuitton bag design, but the LV emblem was replaced by MOB. My Other Bag also sells canvas bags that include parody prints of other luxury bags, but Louis Vuitton was the only one to file a lawsuit.
Trademark infringements like this one are generally considered to be a bullying tactic because they involve a giant company filing a practically baseless lawsuit against a much smaller company that’s not even operating in the same market. While the canvas bags have been promoted as great for things like carrying groceries and going to the beach, true Louis Vuitton bags are more likely to be used by women carrying around their personal effects to high-end shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. They’re the kinds of bags to be shown off, whereas the canvas bags are clearly meant to be fun and practical and used in more casual settings.
Despite Vuitton’s claims that My Other Bag was diluting its brand, Judge Jesse Furman dismissed all of Vuitton’s claims against My Other Bag, saying the canvas bags were clearly a parody and that parodies have been shown to strengthen a brand’s association with its owner, rather than dilute it or cause confusion.
Louis Vuitton appealed Furman’s decision to the Second Circuit Court, but the reception their case received there was much the same as the one they received than in Furman’s court. It took the appellate court just two weeks to summarily dismiss all of Louis Vuitton’s claims.
Unfortunately, the case is no laughing matter for My Other Bag. Attorneys representing the company racked up $350,000 in fees, which is more than the entire 2015 revenue of the company. Fortunately for the small underdog, its attorneys were willing to continue working the case on a pro bono basis, even after My Other Bag had reached a point where it could no longer pay their bills. Had they not decided to do so, My Other Bag would likely have needed to give in and remove all traces of the Louis Vuitton image from their own bags, or even go out of business altogether.
Which is no doubt exactly what Louis Vuitton was hoping for. In many cases, just the threat of a lawsuit from a corporate giant like Vuitton is enough to prompt smaller companies to give in to the demands. When it’s a choice between that or going bankrupt, it’s not unreasonable to choose a change in direction for the business.
In order to discourage further lawsuits meant to bully smaller companies into submission, attorneys for My Other Bag have asked the court to order Louis Vuitton to pay My Other Bag’s attorney fees. There is a precedent for such an award, and if granted, it might make Louis Vuitton and other large corporations think twice before filing such harassing lawsuits. Hopefully, it will also encourage other attorneys and defendants to follow in the footsteps of those fighting on behalf of My Other Bag, if the defendants have a chance of getting the plaintiff to pay their bills.
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