Louis Vuitton Malletier v. My Other Bag, Inc.
The fashion giant sued a one-woman company whose product, a tote bag, poked fun at Louis Vuitton’s famous handbag by scrawling the words “My Other Bag” on one side of the tote and displaying an altered version of the famous Louis Vuitton pattern, altered to replace LV with MOB, on the other. Louis Vuitton claimed trademark dilution, trademark infringement, and copyright infringement; the case was dismissed on a motion for summary judgment, which was summarily affirmed on appeal, but not until the defendant’s lawyers had run up roughly $700,000 in billable attorney fees. Public Citizen entered the case after summary judgment was granted to argue that the court should abandon the previously governing appellate precedent requiring a finding of bad faith before a trademark plaintiff can be held liable for the defendant’s attorney fees, following instead the precedent set in a Supreme Court decision holding that identical language providing for fees in patent cases does not require a showing of bad faith. We argue that the lawsuit was patently groundless, that this big company had sued in the expectation that a small company could not afford to defend itself, and that Louis Vuitton’s history of trademark bullying further supports an attorney fee award in this case. Following the appeal, we have refiled the application for an award of attorney fees. However, the district court decided that because there was an arguable basis for each of Louis Vuitton’s unsuccessful arguments, the litigation of the case was not exceptional under the Lanham Act and also did not merit any award of fees for the copyright claims. In turn, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of fees in a summary disposition that did not address any of our arguments, relying on the trial court’s considerable discretion on attorney fees rulings in Lanham Act and copyright cases.