Affirming the district court decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld judgments that Haute Diggity Dog’s “Chewy Vuiton” products neither infringe Louis Vuitton Malletier’s (LVM) copyrights nor infringe or dilute LVM’s trademarks or trade dress. Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. v. Haute Diggity Dog, LLC, Case No. 06-2267 (4th Cir., Nov. 13, 2007) (Niemeyer, J.).
LVM is an internationally renowned manufacturer of luxury leather goods, including luggage, handbags and other accessories. LVM owns registered trademarks for its LOUIS VUITTON mark, a stylized “LV” monogram and a monogrammed canvas design that appears on its bags and other products. LVM also owns copyrights for multicolored and other similar canvas designs. LVM’s bags are sold exclusively in boutique stores and high-end department stores at prices ranging from $995 to $4500
Haute Diggity Dog (“Haute Diggity”) manufactures inexpensive pet chew toys and beds whose names parody high-end perfume, cars, shoes, wines and handbags. The products are sold in pet stores and one or two department stores for less than $100. Examples sub-brands include “Chewy Vuiton” (parody of Louis Vuitton), “Furcedes” (parody of Mercedes), and “Sniffany & Co.” (parody of Tiffany & Co.). LVM filed suit against Haute Diggity in 2002 for various trademark, trade dress and copyright infringement claims. Upon cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court entered judgment in favor of Haute Diggity. LVM appealed. The “Chewy Vuiton” dogs toys resemble miniature LVM handbags which, according to the 4th Circuit “undisputedly evoke LVM handbags of similar shape, design and color.” Nevertheless, with respect to trademark infringement, the court concluded that Haute Diggity’s marks, while “undeniably similar” to LVM’s marks, were successful, effective parodies that obviated any likelihood of confusion and thus, trademark infringement. The court noted that Haute Diggity’s dog toys “irreverently present haute couture as an object for casual canine destruction” and convey “‘just enough of the original design to allow the consumer to appreciate the point of parody,’ but stop well short of appropriating the entire marks that LVM claims.” Through a detailed analysis of likelihood of confusion factors, the court emphasized differences in the parties’ marks and marketing to support its affirmation of the lower-court decision.
Likewise, the court found that LVM failed to make a case of trademark dilution by blurring because it had not met the “increased burden to demonstrate that the distinctiveness of its famous marks is likely to be impaired by a successful parody.” The court dismissed a fair use defense, concluding that the Haute Diggity’s imperfect adaptation of LVM’s designs was a satire not likely to be construed as actual use of the famous LVM marks. Lastly, the court quickly disposed of LVM’s claim for dilution by tarnishment, which was merely supported by hypothetical arguments its reputation would be harmed if a pet were to ever choke on a “Chewy Vuiton” squeak toy.
The court concluded by affirming, in summary fashion, the district court’s judgments with respect to LVM’s counterfeiting, trade dress and copyright claims, the latter of which was characterized as a thinly-veiled trademark/trade dress infringement claim.
Practice Note: Haute Diggity didn’t get chewed this time, but take note that parody defenses can be risky and don’t always work out so well.