The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently filed a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement and false association against Distinctive Assets, a “niche” marketing business specializing in “celebrity placement.” Distinctive Assets promotes third-party products through high-profile gift bags given to celebrities who are nominated for major awards. The gift bag at issue in the lawsuit includes high-end items valued as high as $200,000, which is being marketed as the “Everyone Wins Nominee Gift Bags in Honor of the Oscars®”. According to the complaint, Distinctive Assets has used similar marketing techniques in the past, including use of the hashtag “#OscarGiftBag” to promote its gift bags and the products contained therein. According to the Academy, Distinctive Assets’ marketing is conveying that these gift bags are authorized by the Academy, or otherwise associated with the Oscars®, when in fact there is no affiliation. The complaint also alleges that Distinctive Assets infringement is willful, referencing a February 2015 letter from the Academy to Distinctive Assets warning Distinctive Assets about its infringing use and requesting that Distinctive Assets include disclaimers that they have no affiliation with the Academy, among other things.

Tip: While not all references by an advertiser to events such as the Oscars® constitute trademark infringement or false association, if the references are made in a way that suggests association with the event, or that otherwise trades on the valuable goodwill of the trademark owner, such use is likely to be challenged. Certain trademark owners, including the Academy, are known for being particularly aggressive when enforcing their rights. The Academy’s detailed trademark guidelines can be found here: http://www.oscars.org/legal/regulations