18 January 2016Trademarks

WIPR survey: Readers split on parody impact after Louis Vuitton ruling

WIPR readers are split on whether parodies can actually benefit intellectual property owners.

In a judgment handed down earlier this month, a US judge said that a parody Louis Vuitton bag with the brand’s trademarked design on one side and the words ‘my other bag’ on the other could actually benefit the French luxury brand.

Responding to WIPR’s most recent survey on whether parodies can benefit IP owners, readers were strongly divided, with 53% saying they can help and 47% disagreeing.

Judge Jesse Furman of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, who ruled on the dispute, which saw Louis Vuitton sue California-based My Other Bag (MOB), told the French brand that it’s “better to smile and laugh than it is to sue”.

Furman added that the luxury brand stands to benefit from the MOB products. They are “likely only to reinforce and enhance the distinctiveness and notoriety of the famous brand”, she said.

Responding to the survey, one respondent said that while for strong brands parodies can mean free publicity, for start-ups or smaller brands they can actually be very dangerous.

Another said: “Any benefit obtained by way of promoting the earlier brand is surely outweighed by the damage caused.

“The promotion of the earlier brand comes with the implied message that the consumer need not bother paying for the real thing (ie, it is not worth it). Just because it is done with a nod and a wink does not mean that there are no lost sales and no dilution/tarnishment.”

But another said that for very well-known brands the existence of a parody “probably isn’t going to do them much harm”.

“A lot will also depend on the nature of the parody itself—some may well enhance and flatter the existing brand, while others may denigrate it or its owners.

“Brand owners always need to remember the concept of a ‘damage limitation exercise’: if there’s not much or any damage, save perhaps a few ruffled feathers in the boardroom and marketing department, doing something about a parody may well entrain far more damage, but this time self-inflicted.”

Others were sterner in their criticism of the judgment.

One respondent described the ruling as a “bad decision that totally undermines” Louis Vuitton’s (and other brand owners’) rights to control the use of valuable trademarks.

For this week’s survey, we ask: “Last week we revealed that, for the first time in seven years, the number of patents granted in the US decreased. Why do you think this is?”

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More on this story

8 January 2016   Louis Vuitton’s trademark claim against apparel company My Other Bag has been rejected after a US court ruled that the sale of the bags is protected under the fair use doctrine.