Supreme Court Rejects Louis Vuitton’s Request for Appeal Against Parody Tote Bag Company

Robins Kaplan LLP

Louis Vuitton is no stranger to the court. For years, the luxury fashion label, headed by creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, has battled high-profile cases over parody bags. Those cases have involved dog toys, Super Bowl car commercials and a pop star’s music video. In its most recent action, Louis Vuitton sued My Other Bag (“MOB”), a tote bag company, claiming trademark infringement over a line of canvas totes which included a cartoon drawing depicting designer handbags on one side with the text “My Other Bag” on the other. According to its website, MOB’s products are “eco-friendly, sustainable tote bags playfully parodying the designer bags we love, but practical enough for everyday life.”

In its lawsuit, filed in 2014, Louis Vuitton claimed trademark infringement and dilution, among other things. But, in January 2016, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman granted MOB summary judgment on all of Louis Vuitton’s claims, stating that the bags were protected by trademark law’s exemption for parody. “In some cases … it is better to accept the implied compliment in a parody and to smile or laugh than it is to sue. This … is such a case,” Judge Furman asserted in denying Louis Vuitton’s claims.

The ruling was upheld by the Second Circuit in December 2016, which affirmed that while the totes “[m]imic LV’s designs and handbags in a way that is recognizable, they do so as a drawing on a product that 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.” One judge sitting on the three-judge panel stressed to Louis Vuitton, “[t]his is a joke. I understand you don’t get the joke. But it’s a joke.”

Dissatisfied with the ruling, the Paris-based fashion house fired back with a petition for writ of certiorari. The writ, filed on July 13, asserted that the Second Circuit’s ruling “creates significant uncertainty for all owners of famous marks.” Louis Vuitton proclaimed that “[t]he Second Circuit’s decision … vastly expands the fair-use exception beyond the narrow bounds that Congress intended, leaving famous marks vulnerable to widespread dilution through the production of imitation products marketed under the guise of ‘parody.’” The company also asserted, “[t]he court should grant review to announce a nationally uniform parody test that vindicates Congress’ intent to protect trademark owners against the irreversible dilution of their famous and distinctive marks.” But, despite Louis Vuitton’s strong pleas, the Supreme Court refused to grant the fashion company’s appeal on October 2, leaving intact the Second Circuit’s ruling that My Other Bag’s totes were protected under the law as parodies.

Does Louis Vuitton lack a sense of humor or are they simply a luxury fashion label keen on protecting their image?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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