A Toy Company Sued Louis Vuitton Over ‘Magic Unicorn Poop’ and It’s Actually Kind of Brilliant
I never thought I’d say it, but I kind of wish I were back in law school.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A California toy maker has a ridiculous, semi-gross, ultimately funny toy. As a result, it's now in a legal fight with the last company you'd ever imagine: the French fashion house Louis Vuitton.
I used to love fact patterns like this back in law school. They make dry legal issues leap off the page. In this case, it's all about trademark law--and about a smart, quick legal move that the California company made to make sure they fight the battle on their terms.
Here's the story, the lawsuit, and the reasons why, if you're business leader or a business owner who can ever imagine wrangling over intellectual property, it's a story worth reading.
'Poopsie Pooey Puitton'
Let's start with the toy. It's called "Poopsie Pooey Puitton," and it's a "slime-filled plastic purse," as summarized by The Washington Post, where I first heard about this case.
Please notice that "Pooey Puitton" rhymes with "Louis Vuitton," and that it's part of a line of toys called "Poopsie Surprise ... which include ingredients to make sparkly, magical 'unicorn poop.'"
As the California toymaker, MGA Entertainment, acknowledges, Louis Vuitton (owned by LVMH), claims that "the toy's design is a trademark infringement because its design marks and name are similar to those of Louis Vuitton handbags," according to the Post.
(I tried reaching out to both companies, by the way, but haven't heard back.)
Can't you guys take a joke?
The MGA Entertainment response is that the whole thing is a parody -- and that means it doesn't violate LVMH's trademark.
Actually, more than a parody really. They say nobody could ever in a million years confuse "Pooey Puitton" with Louis Vuitton" because to the extent there's any deeper meaning behind "Pooey Puitton," it's to mock Louis Vuitton and anyone who would buy, use, and wear a Louis Vuitton bag.
"The use of the Pooey name and product in association with a product line of 'magical unicorn poop' is intended to criticize or comment upon the rich and famous, and the Louis Vuitton name, the LV marks, and on their conspicuous consumption," MGA Entertainment said in the lawsuit it filed.
A race to the courthouse
Quick, important point: It's MGA Entertainment that sued LVMH, not the other way around -- even though LVMH that has the alleged claim against MGA, saying that "Pooey Puitton" violates the Louis Vuitton trademark.
That's a fair legal strategy, and a smart one -- because usually the party that files the lawsuit gets to choose the court.
Here, MGA Entertainment is an American company -- a California-based, privately held toy maker with more than 1,000 employees. So you might assume they'd much rather have this fight in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, than wherever Paris-based LVHM might pick.
Besides just the convenience of going to court near where you live and work, the toy industry is a big one in Los Angeles. So if this ever were to go to trial, you can imagine that an L.A. jury might be sympathetic to an entertainment industry company--and would also find the part about making fun of rich Louis Vuitton wearers hilarious.
Use it or lose it
Both companies apparently spend a lot of time in court.
MGA Entertainment is probably best known for its line of toys called Bratz, which has been the subject of ongoing litigation for well over a decade. The short version is that rival toy maker Mattel claims that the person who came up with Bratz did so while he was still under contract to Mattel.
And LVMH, at least according to MGA, "has a history of not respecting parody rights in the U.S. and filing vexatious lawsuits against such protected parody."
But in LVMH's defense, there's another possible explanation, which is that the law sometimes says that if you want to keep a trademark, you have to enforce it. That could lead a trademark holder to pursue borderline cases, if for no other reason than to maintain a track record of enforcement.
And that's why I love these kinds of cases. If I'm reading it right, it's quite possible that neither MGA Entertainment nor LVMH really wants to be in court. Still, the case gets us to pay attention and maybe pick up some useful pointers about managing a legal fight--and the main reason anyone will ever pay attention is because of the phrase "unicorn poop."