Trademark Parody Dispute Puts Fashion Law in the Spotlight

Yesterday the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Penn Intellectual Property Group (PIPG) held its annual symposium, which this year focused on fashion law. David Nimmer, of copyright treatise fame, delivered the keynote, entitled “Copyright and the Fall Line.” However, despite the light-hearted topic and big-name headliner, the event was probably most notable for the apparent absence of a late-invited guest, Michael Pantalony, in-house counsel at Louis Vuitton.

Pantalony set the blogosphere atwitter a few weeks ago by sending a sternly-worded cease and desist letter to the law school’s dean complaining about the artwork on the poster advertising the event, which consisted of the well-known Louis Vuitton logo print transformed to incorporate trademark and copyright symbols. Pantalony called the poster “a serious willful infringement,” asserted that the law school group should have “known better,” and demanded that PIPG stop using it.

In response, Robert Firestone of Penn’s general counsel’s office wrote to Pantalony asserting that the disputed artwork was a parody and fair use and was not likely to cause confusion as to sponsorship of the conference or dilution of Louis Vuitton’s marks. Firestone said he would advise PIPG that it could continue to use the poster – which it did – and he invited Pantalony to attend the conference and participate in “[e]ducating our students about both the rights of, and the defenses against, intellectual property owners.”

As far as we can ascertain, Pantalony did not attend yesterday’s symposium. As for the poster, it remains live on PIPG’s web site, and likely proved to be a far more successful publicity tool than its designers could have originally hoped. It appears that PIPG did make one small change to the poster sub silentio, however: as reported on Above the Law, the current version is missing the logo of Finnegan (which reportedly represents Louis Vuitton) among the list of law firm sponsors, where it appeared in the original version attached to Pantalony’s letter.

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