Hands Off My Bag! Marvel Attaché Case A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
As a lawyer licensed in multiple states, I have to endure a fair share of travel. And much like George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air, I make it a point to take anything I can in a carry on. It’s so quick and simple, and you rarely have to worry about problems that arise from checking baggage. Of course, thanks to the TSA, if I decide to bring back a great bottle of wine from Napa or a limited edition Crown Royal from Canada, I have no choice but to check at least one bag on the way back. Such was the case about six months ago when I came back from a trip where a friend gifted me a very nice bottle of wine for my birthday. When I got to my home airport, hoping that in the travel the glass did not break in my bag, I had a momentary panic attack as I saw someone walk away with my bag after mistook my bag for hers. We got it sorted out, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to just tell her to get her mitts off my luggage.
Last week we saw the second instance of something that is turning into a Hollywood trend: the use of luggage in films and in associated products without the necessary permissions, leading to Hollywood’s own “hands off my bag” situation. Marvel, it turns out, is being sued for the use of an attaché case that appeared in one of its films. Now, this comes on the heels of The Hangover Part II debacle, where Louis Vuitton sued over the use of a cheap Chinese knockoff in the film. That case was eventually dismissed as the judge found that the filmmakers were obviously attempting to used a knock off on purpose.
Here, in the Marvel case, it turns out that the attaché that Nick Fury uses to hold dossiers of the heroes was actually in fact used with permission by the German manufacturer, however, the folks at Marvel went one step too far in promoting a new Blu Ray set that will appear to be packaged in a miniature replica of the luggage.
So you might be wondering why these manufacturers are making a fuss. In the business world, if you have a recognizable mark or product, often you will trademark the property. Both Louis Vuitton and the German manufacturer, Rimowa GmbH, have made sure to protect their properties in their own countries, but more importantly in the United States, a country that has strong intellectual property protections. The trademark is designed to give rights of use to the person who owns the mark to exploit it for commercial gain (money). Often, in the entertainment world, the manufacturers will make money also by licensing the use of the mark (or property like luggage). It’s a great way to get more income. And if someone uses your mark without licensing it, that person can be on the hook for a lot of money damages.
One thing that often is overlooked is that not only is suing for use of an unauthorized mark a way to make sure no one gets something for nothing, but it is also a way to ensure that people don’t “dilute” your mark. What does that mean? Well, if people use your mark and you don’t warn them or sue them that they cannot do it, then you can risk your right to enforce the mark in the future. The idea behind this is if many people use the mark, it is no longer unique and worthy of a trademark.
So, what does this mean? Well, don’t be surprised when you see lawsuits like this. More often than not the attorneys for films make sure the rights to use a mark are secured before they try to make money using it, but apparently the folks at Marvel and the parent company, Disney, dropped the ball. Hopefully for them it does not happen again.
Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois. He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC. His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights. In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it. Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at email@example.com
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