Pixar Sued Over a Light Fixture

There was big intellectual property news last week as Disney was sued because of its subsidiary, Pixar, for trademark infringement. The plaintiff, Luxo, is a Norwegian company that makes swivel lamps. Pixar’s first film, “Luxo Jr.”, was a 2-minute computer animation showing what the company was capable of. The creator of Pixar has even said the inspiration for his digital short Luxo Jr., was based on the Luxo lamp. Does anything sound weird about that to you? Pixar not only took the Luxo lamp image but also apparently stole the name of the company as well. Someone should have told them that they’d have better luck getting away with committing trademark infringement if they didn’t also name their product after the alleged inventor.

The swivel lamp is also the inspiration behind Pixar’s logo. You can see a similar lamp at the beginning of “Toy Story” and “Wall-E.” However, Luxo has never brought suit before on any trademark infringement by Pixar.

Disney began selling and distributing the “Limited Edition Luxo Jr. Lamp Collectible Pack” in the U.S. and elsewhere. The pack consists of a DVD of the movie “UP” along with a replica lamp called a Luxo Jr. The lamp looks strikingly similar to Luxo’s lamps. In the complaint, Luxo alleges that it was not consulted about the use of the lamp and is not being paid for its use. It claims it has a trademark in the name Luxo. It alleges that this is a clear infringement of that trademark because the lamp is being sold without its permission.

Luxo also alleges that the lamps marketed by Disney are of inferior quality to their lamps and confuse consumers into thinking Luxo made Disney’s lamps. This would ultimately damage Luxo’s reputation. In the suit, Luxo is asking for the court to hand over all the materials created by Disney so they can be destroyed. It also wants an injunction to forbid the further sale of any Luxo lamps. Finally, Luxo asks for damages for Disney’s profits from sales of the lamp. The Collectible Pack is currently listed on Amazon for $120.99.

It seems odd to me that Luxo decided to bring suit now. Pixar has been profiting from the Luxo lamp for over twenty years. They should be time-barred from bringing suits. However, Luxo’s lawyers have argued that the image was previously only used on screen, in the world of make-believe. They also argue that the Luxo name was never used previously, either. Now that Disney has exploited the image for profit, Luxo has decided to bring suit.

This case seems interesting to me for two reasons.

-It illustrates the point that businesses need to be careful of the images they use to brand themselves. If it is too similar to another company’s image, you could end up paying massive amounts of damages.

-I will be anxious to see what arguments are made about Luxo sitting on its rights too long, barring the company from bringing suit now.