A trademark dispute is brewing between luxury brand Louis Vuitton and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Louis Vuitton sent a strongly worded cease and desist letter demanding that the school remove posters advertising the Pennsylvania Intellectual Property Group’s (PIRG) annual symposium on fashion law because the posters “misappropriated and modified” Vuitton’s trademarked monogram design.
“This egregious action is not only a serious willful infringement and knowingly dilutes the LV trademarks, 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,'” the letter said.
However, according to many in the IP legal community, Louis Vuitton got it wrong. In his written response, Penn associate general counsel Robert Firestone outlines why PIRG’s poster did not infringe on any of Louis Vuitton’s trademarks.
Firestone first argues that the poster’s artwork is a parody and isn’t being used to identify goods and services. He also raises doubt that Vuitton’s trademark is registered “to cover educational symposia in intellectual property law issues.” In addition, he argues that there is no likelihood of confusion, given that attendees—law students, fashion executives, and lawyers—are unlikely to believe that the French design house is organizing the event.
Finally, Firestone addresses the issue of trademark dilution, noting that “[Penn] has not commenced use of the artwork as a mark or trade name, which is a prerequisite for any liability.” He further argues that “even if [Penn] has used the artwork as a mark, there is an explicit exception to any liability for dilution … for ‘any noncommercial use of a mark.'”
Given the reaction to their cease and desist letter, we wonder if Louis Vuitton will reconsider its heavy handed approach in the future.