Trademark Hoopla Over A Disney Character: Lotso
Imagine you have a young child, and you want to surprise them with their favorite toy based on their favorite film character. You have never watched the film yourself, so you don’t know what this toy looks like. All you have to go off of is the name of the character. You go to your local toy shop but you encounter a whole shelf full of similar sounding products. Exasperated, you choose one and it turns out that that’s not the toy your child wanted. Frustrating right? Well this is exactly why trademark law exists. The law is in place to protect consumers from getting confused and buying the wrong thing (and ultimately ruining their child’s surprise). In 2014, Diece-Lisa Industries (DLI) filed a complaint against Disney Pixar (Disney) for exactly this issue.
The Stuffed Animals at Issue
The plaintiff, DLI, is a New Jersey company that has been selling a line of stuffed animals under the trademark “Lots of Hugs” since 1995.  This trademark was used in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to promote a stuffed panda bear, so the trademark is quite widely known and used.  DLI doesn’t only create stuffed bears; they also create stuffed dogs, cows, reindeer, lambs, and cats in a wide variety of colors. 
The defendant, Disney, owns the famous “Toy Story 3” character, “Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear” (a.k.a Lotso).  This character first appeared in public in the film “Toy Story 3” in 2010, and he is famous for being a big fluffy pink bear that smells like strawberries.  Lotso is the main antagonist of this film about a group of toys that work together to escape a day care center and return home to their owner.  DLI owns the patent to a “hugging technology” that was once licensed to a Disney-affiliate company, so Disney was aware of DLI’s “Lots of Hugs” trademark applied to stuffed animals. 
The Underlying Lawsuit
On February 10, 2014, DLI filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Marshall Division.  DLI lists many causes of action against Disney’s Lotso character, and one such cause of action is trademark infringement, which leads to a high likelihood of consumer confusion.  The kind of consumer confusion at issue here is the consumer mistakenly believing that a certain product is made by a certain company, when in fact it is not.  DLI claims that Disney’s “Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear” trademark is too similar to DLI’s “Logs of Hugs” trademark. 
What’s a Summary Judgment?
Both sides filed motions for summary judgment based on various reasons, and both sides argued extensively on the matter.  A summary judgment is an automatic win if the judge decides that there is no dispute as to any material fact and that one party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  Simply put, a summary judgment is granted if, based on all of the facts presented, there is a clear winner and there is NO WAY the other side would be able to convince a jury to side with them.  Keep in mind that a denial of a motion for summary judgment doesn’t mean that you lose. It simply means that the other side has presented enough facts that there is no clear winner, and a trial is necessary to decide the case based on all of the facts presented by both parties. 
Disney’s Motion For Summary Judgment Denied
Disney argued that Lotso is closely associated with the film “Toy Story 3,” Lotso is sold in Disney stores in clear and prominent Disney labeling and packaging, DLI makes oversized puppets and they look nothing like Disney’s Lotso plush or plastic figurines, and DLI’s puppets come in various types of animals as opposed to Disney’s one distinct bear character.  DLI, on the other hand, “produced a substantial amount of [contrary] evidence…including the similarity of products and marks, the purchaser identities, the type of mark in question, Disney’s alleged knowledge of the marks, and various other factors that all constitute evidence upon which a reasonable jury could rely.”  The judge decided that DLI presented enough evidence of likelihood of confusion that a summary judgment in favor of Disney was improper. 
What Do You Think?
We’ll see what the jury says when they are presented with all of the facts, but what do you think…? Would YOU be confused as to the origin of the product if you saw these in a shop next to each other?
Sources: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-sued-toy-story-3-679295  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-sued-toy-story-3-679295  http://www.scribd.com/doc/258521677/lotso-1  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-sued-toy-story-3-679295  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-sued-toy-story-3-679295  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-sued-toy-story-3-679295  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-sued-toy-story-3-679295  http://www.scribd.com/doc/206439914/Lotso  http://www.scribd.com/doc/206439914/Lotso  http://www.scribd.com/doc/206439914/Lotso  http://www.scribd.com/doc/206439914/Lotso  http://www.scribd.com/doc/258521677/lotso-1  http://www.publiccounsel.org/tools/assets/files/0450.pdf  http://www.publiccounsel.org/tools/assets/files/0450.pdf  http://www.publiccounsel.org/tools/assets/files/0450.pdf  http://www.scribd.com/doc/258521677/lotso-1  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-cant-stop-lawsuit-toy-780953  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-cant-stop-lawsuit-toy-780953
Cover Photo By: Sasha & Tai under Creative Commons License.
DLI Photo: http://www.lotsofhugs.org/products/clipboard-im-7.html
Lotso Photo by: Sasha & Tai under Creative Commons License.