Creating a parody of a well-recognized brand is a popular way to captivate the public, à la the “Dumb Starbucks” phenomenon
that took the internet by storm last year and had LA residents lining up around the block for a cup of “dumb coffee.”
But is this type of witty commentary legal? Well, as any lawyer will tell you, it depends.
Parody can be raised as a defense to a trademark or copyright infringement lawsuit. When viewed through the lens of trademark infringement, the central issue that courts will decide is whether there is likelihood of consumer confusion. However, recently courts have taken this interpreted this inquiry in different ways, coming up with several variations on a multi-factor test. Many of these tests include the following factors:
Strength of the mark;
Similarity of the marks
Proximity of the goods;
The quality of the defendant’s product;
The likelihood that plaintiff will enter the product market of the alleged infringer under the same mark;
Evidence of actual confusion;
Marketing channels used;
Sophistication of the buyers.
On April 16th
, 2015, Luxury Goods International (LGI), who owns the trademark rights for famous high fashion brand Saint Laurent, filed suit against a t-shirt manufacturer in the Southern District of New York for trademark infringement
, dilution, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. LGI had recently made a decision to drop the “Yves” from their “Saint Laurent” mark, which inspired the defendant Jeanine Hellier and her company to create a shirt that read “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves.” The shirt was carried by popular fashion retailers Kitsune and Colette, and also sold on Hellier’s website.
In an attempt to protect “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves,” LGI claims Hellier had filed trademark application No. 85897120
with the USPTO back in April of 2013. Ultimately, LGI stipulates the mark was never granted protection because it was confusingly similar to LGI’s registered “Yves Saint Laurent” marks.
The case has just begun, and Hellier has not answered LGI’s complaint, but Hellier could potentially raise fair use as a defense, claiming that her shirts are a permissible use of the mark as parody.
You can view and research cases involving parody on Docket Alarm, and even receive an email alert when a new parody case is filed. For example, if you conduct a terms and connectors search on Docket Alarm such as “parody w/10 (copyright or trademark) and is:opinion
”, you can click the “Track this Search” button and automatically receive an update any time a new court opinion issues matching the query. By setting up alerts for your research, you can always be sure you’re receiving the latest relevant information.