Are You Feeling Lucky, Brand?

“Whatever you do don’t be discouraged. Hear the words that I say. Something’s comin’ around the corner. This could be your lucky day.” Lucky Day by The Stone Coyotes

LUCKY BRAND BLUE JEANS OF AMERICA SIGNATURE LOGO ...

The copyright guru Arthur Levine is famous for his arsenal of jokes. Most earn solid laughs. Some reach higher heights, rising to iconic status. So it is with Art’s tale about one Morris “Lucky” Goldberg.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Walking down Main Street a man spots his old friend Morris Goldberg on the opposite sidewalk, who he hasn’t seen in a year. The man cries out. “Hey Morris Goldberg.” Goldberg waives him off, “there is no more Morris Goldberg. From now on I am Lucky Goldberg!” His friend asks, “so tell me, why are you now Lucky Goldberg?” “Lucky” then weaves an elaborate story about how he narrowly escaped death from a falling piano. “So I am now “Lucky” Goldberg!” he declares.'”

A year goes by. The man again spots his old friend across the street and greets him as “Lucky” Goldberg, only to hear the former Morris correct him, add a second “Lucky” to his name, and then recount another convoluted hair-raising brush with death. And each subsequent year, the same scene plays out, with Goldberg tacking another “Lucky” to his moniker.

As you may have guessed, it’s a Yiddish shaggy dog story of epic proportions and boundless possibilities. It’s a story that Art Levine, a master of timing, inflection, and accents, can drag out so long you’d think you were the hapless friend encountering “Lucky, Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Goldberg” year after year.

So you may ask yourelf, what does the saga of “Lucky” Goldberg have to do with trademarks? Plenty. Not only does the joke’s seemingly endless repetition seem to mirror our pandemic days, it also is a fitting metaphor for a trademark case decided last week by the U.S. Supreme Court involving, you guessed it, the brand “Lucky.” For over 20 years, Lucky Brand Dungarees (“Lucky”), with stores throughout the U.S. selling jeans and apparel, has been involved in its own shaggy dog of a litigation with Marcel Fashions, the owner of the trademark GET LUCKY.

The first case involved Marcel’s GET LUCK mark and ended in a 2003 settlement, with Lucky agreeing to stop using “Get Lucky,” and Marcel granting Lucky a release–i.e., a free pass, so to speak, regarding the use of LUCKY BRAND itself.

In the second round, in 2005, Lucky sued Marcel and its licensee for infringing Lucky’s trademarks. Marcel countered with counterclaims again charging Lucky with infringing Marcel’s GET LUCKY mark. But Marcel didn’t claim that Lucky’s other marks, such as LUCKY BRAND, infringed Marcel’s GET LUCKY trademark. Early in the 2005 case, Lucky claimed that the prior settlement blocked Marcel from suing over GET LUCKY. But Lucky didn’t pursue that theory at trial. Lucky lost the 2005 case and was permanently barred from using “Get Lucky.” No, Lucky didn’t change its name to Morris Goldberg Dungarees. But it continued using its LUCKY BRAND marks

Then came round three, in 2011. Marcel again asserted GET LUCKY. But this time, its target was all of Lucky’s other marks that contained the word “Lucky” besides GET LUCKY, because Lucky had already been enjoined from using “Get Lucky” in 2005. The trial court, however, wanted no part of this endless litigation. It granted summary judgment for Lucky, ruling that Marcel’s 2011 claims were a reboot of its unsuccessful 2005 counterclaims.

But the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed, concluding that Marcel’s 2011 claims were distinct from its claims back in 2005 because those claims were for “earlier infringements” involving “Get Lucky,” while the 2011 action involved Lucky’s other marks. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s summary judgment ruling and remanded the case for another round of litigation.

Back at the district court, Lucky unveiled a new defense. It argued for the first time that the release Marcel had given Lucky in the 2005 settlement blocked Marcel from now suing over Lucky’s use of its LUCKY BRAND and other LUCKY marks. Marcel countered that Lucky could have raised that defense in the 2005 action, didn’t, and therefore should be blocked from raising it now, years later. The district court agreed with Lucky, holding that the 2003 settlement agreement was indeed a complete defense.

But the Second Circuit had other thoughts. Relying on a doctrine it dubbed “defense preclusion,” the Second Circuit held that Lucky should have raised its “release” defense in the 2005 case between the same parties and that it was too late to raise it for the first time in the third round of litigation.

This unusual “defense preclusion” caught the eye of the Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to tackle this rare issue. In a unanimous decision penned by Justice Sotomayor, the Court held that so-called “defense preclusion” did not block Lucky from asserting its settlement agreement defense the 2011 action. Simply put, the Supreme Court recognized that the 2005 suit–round 2–concerned Lucky’s use of the GET LUCKY mark, while Round 3, the 2011 case, did not–it involved Lucky’s other marks. “At bottom, ” Justice Sotomayor wrote, “the 2011 Action involved different marks, different legal theories, and different conduct—occurring at different times. Because the two suits thus lacked a “common nucleus of operative facts,” claim preclusion did not and could not bar Lucky Brand from asserting its settlement agreement defense in the 2011 Action.”

So apparently ends the long, tortuous saga of Marcel and Lucky. But what of Lucky, Lucky, Lucky, Lucky, etc. Goldberg? Unlike with parties to a court case, our hero’s fate cannot be gleaned from a case book, treatise, or Internet blog. One must earn the right to learn the punchline from the veritable Chief Justice of jokesters, Mr. Levine himself. Spoiler alert, its not suitable for publication in a family legal blog. That’s Arthur, brother.

The case is LUCKY BRAND DUNGAREES, INC. v.MARCEL FASHIONS GROUP, INC.

Quote of the day: “I think we consider too much the luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”– Franklin D. Roosevelt

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