Ridiculous: Court Says Mock Basketball Which Appears In Hyundia Commercial For 1 Second 'Dilutes' LV Trademark

from the are-they-insane? dept

A little over two years ago, we wrote about what we considered to be an absolutely insane lawsuit from Louis Vuitton, arguing that a mock basketball, which appeared in a Hyundai commercial for one second violated LV’s trademark. You can see the commercial below:


If you missed it (entirely possible), at the 3 second mark, this image flashes briefly:


The point of the commercial is to get people to imagine what life would be like if “luxury” items were everyday items, and thus the mock basketball with symbols designed to suggest a luxury bag, like a Louis Vuitton bag. As we (and many, many trademark experts) suggested when the lawsuit was filed, the claims here are simply crazy. There is simply no harm whatsoever done to Louis Vuitton by this ad. Most people wouldn’t even notice the markings and if they did, what possible “harm” would it do? The answer is none. There is no consumer confusion whatsoever. There are no LV basketballs that won’t be sold because of this (in fact, the judge in this case notes that, after seeing this commercial, some people wanted one — which would suggest a market opportunity, rather than litigation).

Of course, Louis Vuitton’s complaint didn’t rest on the bedrock of trademark law — the likelihood of confusion — but a more modern bastardization of trademark law called “dilution.” The concept of dilution in trademark law is an affront to the purpose of trademark law, which is supposed to be about protecting consumers from confusion. That is, it’s supposed to be about preventing someone from buying Bob’s Cola, thinking that it’s really Coca-Cola. But there’s no such risk here. Dilution, however, flips the very concept of trademark law on its head and pretends (falsely) that trademark law is about protecting a company’s trademarks from anyone doing anything at all with it that the company doesn’t like.

Unfortunately, the courts don’t always get things right — which is why we get such ridiculous lawsuits in the first place — and here, amazingly, the district court has sided with Louis Vuitton in its dilution argument, granting summary judgment on Hyundia’s liability for dilution, while it rejected Hyundai’s movement for summary judgment rejecting all of Louis Vuitton’s claims. This is, in many ways, horrifying.

Eric Goldman’s summary, linked above, highlights the many problems with the ruling — while cautioning that the details suggest this type of ruling is limited. Still, as he notes:

And then we have an opinion like this–where the court finds trademark dilution without finding infringement (not resolved yet) and in a situation where EVERYONE can immediately tell there was zero harm to the brand owner. Rulings like this make trademark academics shudder in fear that trademark dilution will swallow up all of trademark law and confer rights-in-gross to trademark owners. While I don’t share those fears for reasons I’ll explain in a bit, unquestionably this is a bad ruling.

Goldman goes on to highlight some of the more specific problems with the ruling, but the key point is simply that there is no harm here. None. Absolutely none. Perhaps less than none, given the reports of interest in LV basketballs. When the law doesn’t care about that, then the law is, unquestionably, broken. A ruling like this automatically lessens respect for trademark law, because it makes no sense at all. It makes a mockery of the judicial system by suggesting that lawsuits like this have any merit whatsoever.

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Companies: hyundai, louis vuitton

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Comments on “Ridiculous: Court Says Mock Basketball Which Appears In Hyundia Commercial For 1 Second 'Dilutes' LV Trademark”

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38 Comments
Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

God, at the very least read the link before commenting:
“IMDB and Amazon failed to convince the court that it had permission to mine public records for Hoang’s birth date under the website’s subscriber agreement or privacy policy.”
Seriously, what makes people comment on stuff they’re completely ignorant about?!

Gwiz (profile) says:

Where's the "L" and "V"?

The images I have seen for the “Louis Vuitton pattern” all have a “L” and a “V” superimposed on each other in the pattern. The basketball has a pattern of shapes and none (as far as I can tell) of them look like a “L” or a “V”.

So did this court really say that any repeating pattern of shapes is a dilution of the LV trademark?

I guess I need to disable the “step and repeat” functions in all my graphics programs now. And what about all those backdrops used for press conferences? Those have repeating patterns too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course, Louis Vuitton’s complaint didn’t rest on the bedrock of trademark law — the likelihood of confusion — but a more modern bastardization of trademark law called “dilution.” The concept of dilution in trademark law is an affront to the purpose of trademark law, which is supposed to be about protecting consumers from confusion. That is, it’s supposed to be about preventing someone from buying Bob’s Cola, thinking that it’s really Coca-Cola. But there’s no such risk here. Dilution, however, flips the very concept of trademark law on its head and pretends (falsely) that trademark law is about protecting a company’s trademarks from anyone doing anything at all with it that the company doesn’t like.

ROFLMAO! I love when you whine about trademark law. “The law is supposed to be about something other than what the law is actually about.” AWESOME logic! And, silly Mike, you do know that trademark law has ALWAYS (for centuries) been about more than “protecting consumers from confusion,” right? The fact that you deny this shows what a loon you are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s funny because ‘the law should be different or interpreted differently’ is perfectly logical but ‘the law should be what it is because that’s what the law is’ is an obvious logical fallacy. You’re also completely wrong about the origin of trademark, it was originally about indicating sources of products to consumers and nothing else, but that’s not a huge surprise.

light manufacturing LTD says:

Diluting my brand image

In the background you can see a tall light pole. While its still daylight, you are still quite clearly able to see the clear cover over the lighting aparatus. I manufacture that cover, and have also trademarked the greyish-brown haze that is a carbon dioxide and dust infused ‘pollution color’. both of these (one real item and the other an environmental atmospheric coloration are both owned by me.

Together with God (as he holds the patent on the blue sky) feel our brand has been diluted by this add as well.

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Louis Vuitton makes some of the most butt-ugly shit you can buy. Why people pay a premium for that is beyond comprehension, but I suppose it could be explained away by the usual More Money Than Brains crowd. Why Hyundai would want to associate with their crap is also questionable. People who buy LV products are generally people with no real taste or discernment, but it does assist muggers in identifying their prey more easily, which is not a bad thing.

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Louis Vuitton makes some of the most butt-ugly shit you can buy. Why people pay a premium for that is beyond comprehension, but I suppose it could be explained away by the usual More Money Than Brains crowd. Why Hyundai would want to associate with their crap is also questionable. People who buy LV products are generally people with no real taste or discernment, but it does assist muggers in identifying their prey more easily, which is not a bad thing.

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