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Federal Judge Reams Out Plaintiff in Counterfeit Unicorn Art Case

March 20, 2020, 9:47 PM

A company that creates “life-like portrayals of fantasy subjects” such as elves and unicorns didn’t get an emergency hearing in its trademark infringement suit this week because the court said it had more important things to deal with in the midst of the global pandemic.

“The world is facing a real emergency. Plaintiff is not. The motion to reconsider the scheduling order is denied,” Judge Steven C. Seeger of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois wrote in his March 18 opinion, seemingly issued 30 minutes after the company had filed a second emergency motion.

Seeger noted that the Chicago federal court’s executive committee issued an order on March 16 holding “all civil litigation in abeyance.” He rejected the notion the trademark case presented an exceptional emergency.

“If there’s ever a time when emergency motions should be limited to genuine emergencies, now’s the time,” he said.

Earlier this week, the court’s chief judge announced an employee had tested positive for the coronavirus and, on Friday, she closed its clerk’s office to the public.

The plaintiff, Art Ask Agency, on March 9 filed a complaint against “individuals and business entities who, upon information and belief, reside in the People’s Republic of China or other foreign jurisdictions” who are allegedly selling knock-offs of its products to U.S. consumers.

According to the company’s website, it’s an “internationally established licensing agency based in Barcelona, Spain” that creates “unique concepts together with established or emerging properties.”

Seeger described one of those products as “a puzzle of an elf-like creature embracing the head of a unicorn on a beach” and another as “a hand purse with a large purple heart, filled with the interlocking heads of two amorous-looking unicorns.”

The court denied the plaintiff’s first motion for a hearing on a temporary restraining order on March 13, saying it moved the hearing “by a few weeks to protect the health and safety of our community.”

The plaintiff filed for reconsideration, prompting Seeger lose his patience. Art Ask Agency hadn’t shown it would suffer irreparable harm by waiting a few weeks, the judge said.

“One wonders if the fake fantasy products are experiencing brisk sales at the moment,” he added.

Before denying the motion, Seeger made one more observation. “The filing calls to mind the sage words of Elihu Root: ‘About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.’”

Plaintiff’s counsel didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Art Ask Agency v. The Individuals, Corporations, Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships, and Unincorporated Associations Identified on Schedule A Hereto, N.D. Ill., No. 1:20-cv-01666, 3/18/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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