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Astronomer Files Trademark Lawsuit Against American Girl

Updated: May 9, 2022

Ut oh....

Meet Lucianne Walkowicz. Lucianne is an astronomer who is a TED fellow at the Adler Planetarium Chicago. She works with NASA, fervently studies stellar magnetic activity and has extensively lectured on Mars exploration. In other words, Lucianne is killing it in the field of space exploration! She has the capacity to inspire the next generation of girls to be just like her!

American Girl noticed Lucianne’s capacity to inspire and created an astronaut doll named, Luciana Vega. “In working with NASA, we were inspired by their Mars exploration program,” American Girl spokeswoman Susan Jevens said. “Luciana’s desire to go to Mars and venture beyond our current understanding of space empowers girls to push boundaries, defy stereotypes, and see failure as an opportunity for learning.”

However, according to Lucianne, American Girl did not obtain her consent to sell her likeness and name to create Luciana Vega. Consequently, Lucianne has filed a federal trademark lawsuit against American Doll and its parent company, Mattel, alleging that the company has stolen her likeness and name.

Here’s a side by side (because I’m a visual person too). Lucianne Walkowicz is on the right and the doll, Luciana Vega, is on the right.

In this lawsuit, there is a strong argument for a right of publicity theory. A right of publicity theory is available for one who has achieved a commercial brand status. This includes celebrities, athletes, or individuals who have a brand to their name that will generate money if their name were to be used on advertisements.

In order to have a successful claim for a right of publicity, Lucianne must prove:

1. There was use of the Plaintiff’s name or likeness. (Likeness is defined as the individual’s identity).

2. The Defendant’s use was without the consent of the Plaintiff.

3. The use was for the benefit of the Defendant (usually for a commercial benefit).

4. The use of the Plaintiff’s name or likeness results in damages. (The damages usually amount to financial value attached to Defendant’s use of the individual’s name/ likeness).

In this case, the following arguments can be made. Lucianne’s likeness was used to create an astronaut doll named Luciana Vega, who is described as “being excited for the chance to attend space training with a dream of becoming the first astronaut on Mars”. According to Lucianne, American Girl did not obtain her consent to sell Luciana Vega or any matching accessories. American Girl received a commercial benefit from selling the dolls and Luciana Vega has even been recognized nationally as “Winner of the 2018 National Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Award”, “Winner of the 2018 Creative Child Magazine Product of the Year Award”, “Winner of the Parents' Choice Approved Award” and “Winner of the 2018 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award”. Lastly, the use of Lucianne’s name ultimately results in damages, as American Girl gained a financial benefit without including Lucianne in the profits.

Charles Mudd Jr., Lucianne’s attorney, stated “there’s no defense for the use of Walkowicz’s likeness without her authorization”. As such, Walkowicz is seeking unspecified compensatory, punitive and other damages.

Until next time,

Lawyer Jas


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