By Anthony S. Volpe
Special to the Legal
The recent dust-up between University of Pennsylvania Law School and Louis Vuitton raises the question of motivation. Is it a matter of seeking free publicity or lacking attention to detail in drafting the invitation? The current flap surrounds Penn Law’s invitation to an upcoming fashion law symposium (full disclosure, I plan to attend) that LV believes misused elements of its famous trademark.
There is no dispute that LV’s mark is famous and that it is considered to be the source of high-fashion items. So, if we concede the issue of fame and recognize that the mark can be subject to dilution, the question becomes: How can this symposium dilute the mark’s fame? The focus of the symposium is the protection of high fashion – haute couture, if you will – and that is the exact space where LV is famous. So, one would suspect that people in that market space would recognize LV as an entity that will benefit from heightened awareness of the desire to protect high fashion. It does not look like a dilution issue to me.
There is no dispute that Penn Law is a top-notch school with some very brilliant faculty and students. So, if we concede that Penn Law’s students and faculty had the tools to draft a non-offending invitation, the question becomes: Why use a possibly offending invitation? Penn Law’s apparent purpose for holding a symposium on the protection of high fashion is to demonstrate its understanding of current copyright and trademark issues facing the fashion houses that provide the haute couture. It seems that easy solutions were available to avoid the problem. The invitation could have noted the actual ownership of trademarks and could have gone even a little further by noting that the trademark owners did not endorse the symposium. Because these actions, although possibly overkill, were available to Penn, one would conclude that it was an embarrassing mistake that should have never happened. Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe that part of LV’s brand expansion plan is to move into the space for legal seminars. This does not look like trading off LV’s famous mark.
This brings us back to LV’s motivation. I cannot see it as a need for publicity for what is an already famous mark. My guess is that it was a bit of an overreaction to make the complaint and it is now a bit of an embarrassment to LV.
To quote a famous, but unnamed musician, it is sometimes better to, “breathe in, breathe out and move on.”
Anthony S. Volpe, a shareholder at Volpe & Koenig, has corporate and private practice experience in securing, licensing and enforcing all aspects of intellectual property rights. His patent work includes appeals before the USPTO Board of Patent Appeals and interferences and international trade commission, prosecution of patent applications, rendering opinions regarding patentability and enforcement of patent rights.