(CN) – Attorneys for Princess Diana’s estate had no basis for suing The Franklin Mint over collectible porcelain plates, a California appeals court ruled, reinstating a malicious prosecution claim against Manatt Phelps & Phillips.
Attorney Mark Lee with Manatt sued the mint for false advertising and trademark dilution, claiming the Princess Diana collectible plates violated publicity laws and misled the public into thinking the products had been sponsored or approved by Princess Diana or her representatives.
Franklin Mint won the lawsuit by showing that it had contributed $1.5 million from sales of the collectibles to one of the princess’ favorite charities and would contribute another $2.5 million after the lawsuit was resolved.
The mint then sued Manatt for false prosecution.
After a 17-day trial, the lower court ruled for Manatt, saying it had valid grounds for litigating the claims.
The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles reversed, saying “no reasonable attorney” would have litigated either claim.
“The theory alleged in the underlying complaint was that Franklin Mint made statements in advertisements that all proceeds from all Princess Diana merchandise would be donated to Princess Diana’s charities,” Justice Thomas Willhite Jr. wrote. But he said the actual ads “clearly do not make the representation alleged, and no reasonable attorney could argue that the advertisements could be construed to even suggest that all proceeds from all Princess Diana merchandise would be donated to charity.”
Similarly, the appeals court found no grounds for the trademark dilution claim, saying they failed to “satisfy two fundamental, longstanding principles of trademark law.”
Those principles — that a trademark must identify a source of a product or service, and that a descriptive mark must acquire secondary meaning — “were clear and well-established, and their application to this case is straightforward and uncomplicated,” Willhite wrote. “The complexity of the issues arises only from Manatt’s attempts to avoid those fundamental principles.”
The court reversed and remanded for trial on the issues of malice and damages.