It is no secret; the Disney Corporation is a marketing and merchandising powerhouse. It has achieved that reputation by capitalizing on almost every marketing and merchandising opportunity that comes its way. If you have kids, the odds are you have been subjected to the Disney Corporation’s influence on more than one occasion. In fact, even if you do not have children, I’m willing to bet, at some point, you have been influenced by Disney’s masterful marketing.
Now, many of you already know that the Disney Corporation owns Pixar Animation Studios; the studio that has brought us family classics like Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Incredibles, WALL-E, Monsters, Inc., and Cars. And if you’re familiar with these movies, then you know that there is no shortage of related merchandise. But have you ever wondered why you never see merchandise related to Pixar’s most iconic character and beloved mascot, Luxo Jr.? You may not know Luxo Jr. by name, but he is the desk lamp character that appears on the production logo of every Pixar Film where he hops on the screen bouncing on the letter “I” in Pixar. With such a prominent role in one of Disney’s largest subsidiary companies, it was baffling to me that Disney had not capitalized on this merchandising opportunity. After some brief research, I learned that Disney tried to exploit this opportunity in 2009, but was immediately met with a lawsuit.
It turns out that Luxo Jr. is actually based on the award-winning lamps produced by the Norwegian company Luxo. Since Pixar’s creation of Luxo Jr.’s in 1986, Pixar has maintained a mostly positive relationship with Luxo, and Luxo was seemingly happy to allow Pixar to utilize its lamp’s likeness. But all of that changed in 2009 when Pixar had the idea to package its Up Blu-rays with its own Luxo Jr. merchandise that was not manufactured by Luxo. This obviously didn’t sit well with Luxo because they immediately filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement because the Pixar lamps bore the LUXO mark. In the complaint, Luxo contended that Pixar and Disney had not used the Luxo name on the products until this point, and that the sale of these Pixar lamps would cause “devastating damage to Luxo and dilute the goodwill which Luxo has built up.” This claim resulted from the fact that although the lamps were not made by Luxo, they bore their likeness, and gave the impression that they were a Luxo lamp. These claims, if proven, constitute the epitome of trademark infringement. Frankly, if the Disney Corporation and Pixar acted without Luxo’s permission when they moved forward with this merchandising idea, it is highly likely that the Court would have found in Luxo’s favor through summary judgment if the litigation had reached that stage.
However, the case never made it that far. Luxo and Disney quickly reached a settlement agreement where Disney and Pixar agreed that they would no longer sell Luxo Jr. lamps as long as Pixar was allowed to continue utilizing Luxo Jr. as its corporate mascot. Moreover, although Disney has never offered an official explanation, the six-foot tall animatronic Luxo Jr. that once stood in Walt Disney World near the Toy Story Midway Mania attraction was removed in 2010. Several people believe that this removal was related to the Luxo Jr. litigation, but because of the confidential nature of the settlement, no one knows for certain.