In this season of elves, a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters Inc. is taking aim at another mythological creature adored by stocking stuffers: the happy-faced troll.
A Danish company that produces the fuzzy-haired Good Luck Troll doll is suing the Philadelphia retailer and its California supplier for alleged copyright infringement.
Troll Co. A/S contends that it holds the exclusive rights to produce and sell troll dolls with happy facial expressions and crazy hair in this country.
That means the "Turf Troll," a Chia Petlike figurine that sprouts vegetation from its smiling head if watered, and that had been for sale at Urban Outfitters earlier this year, is an illegal knockoff, Troll contends.
Even though the Turf Troll grows hair on its head - a feature not included on the traditional Good Luck Troll - the company insists the Turf Troll is illegal.
"If you took Mickey Mouse and put a Chia Pet on its head and you sold it, it would still be an infringement on the rights of Mickey Mouse," said New York lawyer Craig S. Mende, representing the Danish doll-maker that claims to have invented the first happy troll doll in the 1950s.
Troll wants Urban to stop selling the figurines and for the Signal Hill, Calif., manufacturer, Sourcing International L.L.C., to cease production. Troll also is seeking monetary compensation and is pressing for a complete list of retailers selling Turf Trolls.
Urban Outfitters chief financial officer John Kyees said today that the company would not comment. Lori Wrubel, national sales manager for Sourcing International, also declined to comment.
Both companies appeared to have removed the disputed Turf Trolls from their Web sites, Mende said.
In a promotional letter for the April 2008 debut of Turf Trolls, Sourcing International positioned the figurines as "enchanted little creatures" that would please troll collectors and children hoping to learn about plant biology.
"Plus, they are a perfect gift for the EMO Alt-rock teen in your household who marches to a different beat!" the company said. Suggested retail price started at $10.99.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 10 in the Southern District of New York, is part of an aggressive strategy launched in 1996 by Troll to wipe out the competition for happy troll dolls.
Thomas Dam of Denmark invented the "Good Luck Troll" doll in the 1950s. It is "a happy creature and a marked departure from the brooding mythological troll characters common to Northern European folklore that had come before," the lawsuit says.
But Dam's company lost its copyright in 1965 when its U.S. manufacturer accidentally stopped printing the copyright seal on the doll's tiny foot, Mende said.
For the next 30 years, anyone in the country who wanted to make a happy-faced troll with wild hair could do so without breaking the law.
Then, in 1996, Congress passed a law that restored copyrights. The Danish company began going after the competition.
"It really had to put the genie back in the bottle and make sure the world knew that this troll, that for a long time was in the public domain, was no longer free for everybody to make copies of," Mende said.