On July 31, 2015, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling celebrates her 50th birthday, according to muggle sources. The enormous success of Rowling’s literary creation and its associated multimedia empire has spawned countless jealousies, countless imitators, countless parodists and countless pirates. The franchise has kept dozens if not hundreds of lawyers busy with precedent-setting copyright cases, trademark disputes, First Amendment battles over religious expression, and even the occasional breaking and entering. Indeed, it appears that Ms. Rowling and her works pop up in court more than any author since… More
Category Archives: Licensing
And the Lawsuit Goes to . . . An Oscar-Time Guide to “Best Picture” Intellectual Property Litigation
The film that wins the Best Picture Oscar this year is certain to attract more viewers and more box office receipts than it had before receiving the award. But Best Picture winners also tend to attract more lawsuits, including intellectual property claims. Plaintiffs show up out of nowhere claiming to be the true authors of the underlying work, infringing defendants come out of the woodwork to unlawfully grab a little bit of the success for themselves, and so on. Sometimes the lawsuits are just as worthy of attention as the films… More
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as the saying goes. However, things are not always as they appear, and sometimes events unfold in ways you would not anticipate. Such is the case with the Ninth Circuit decision in the matter of Omega v. Costco. The case concerns Omega’s allegations that Costco was importing watches bearing the Omega symbol, thus infringing the copyright in that design. Despite the fact that the parties on appeal briefed only one hotly contested legal issue – copyright misuse – the Ninth Circuit’s majority opinion… More
The Biograph Company was founded in 1895 by William Kennedy Dickson, a former employee of Thomas Edison. Biograph became known for its two-minute long documentaries made using a 68mm film format (in order to avoid the litigious Edison’s patents on 35mm technology), but over time it began making short narrative films instead. These films became more popular after Biograph… More
If you are hosting or attending a party this holiday season, you probably need to pick up something to drink. This year, why not pick up a conversation starter as well? See if your local liquor store (in our neck of the woods, a “packie”) carries one of the many beverages that were the subject of a trademark or similar dispute in 2014. In deciding an 1891 trademark case, Lord MacNaghten famously quipped: “Thirsty folk want beer, not explanations.” Well, with our guide, you can provide both beer and explanations. … More
As autumn sets in and Halloween approaches, my mind turns to jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, and phantoms. Phantom marks, that is. Equally incorporeal though perhaps somewhat less frightening than their ghostly namesakes, phantom marks are registered trademarks that contain a “phantom,” or changeable, element. A well-known phantom registration was _ _ _ _ _ _ FOR DUMMIES for various self-help books, where the dotted line represented different descriptive terms that vary according to the subject matter of the book. A hypothetical example of a phantom mark is… More
Wizard of Oz Celebrates 75th Anniversary & Victory in Copyright and Trademark Dispute Over Film Characters
This August will mark the 75th anniversary of the release of the classic film The Wizard of Oz. As Warner Bros. celebrates the iconic status acquired by the film and its characters during the past seven-plus decades, the studio will likely also be rejoicing over a recent victory concerning the intellectual property rights in images of the characters from the film.
In the early 2000’s, Dave Grossman Creations, Inc. (DGCI) and others began acquiring restored versions of old posters and lobby cards (smaller versions of the posters) from The Wizard… More
Do you want your company to control .app or .restaurant? Applying to operate a generic top-level domain (gTLD) isn’t for the faint of heart. Although several hundred companies ponied up the $185,000 application fee for over 1,900 total gTLD applications, that’s only the first stage in the process. Once filed, ICANN reviews each application for financial, technical, and operational competence, ensuring that each applicant has the financial wherewithal, technical savvy, and a comprehensive plan to safely operate the gTLD registry for at least the length of the initial ten-year contract term.
If an application passes muster, there are… More
It Doesn’t Have To Be the Magna Carta! Alien Yogurt And The Writing Requirement For Copyright Transfers
Sunday (June 15) marks the 799th birthday of the Magna Carta (sometimes spelled Magna Charta), which famously limited the powers of the English monarch vis-à-vis his feudal barons. Although often credited as a singular influence on the U.S. Constitution, and therefore on American law, it also gave rise to one of our favorite pre-internet copyright memes, courtesy of Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinksi in Effects Associates v. Cohen.
Some recent administrative developments may be of interest to copyright and trademark practitioners:
Effective May 1, 2014, the U.S. Copyright Office has amended its registration fee schedule. This includes reduced renewal application fees and increased fees for registering multiple works. A complete list of the new fees is available here.
Updated Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP)
On April 30, 2014, the USPTO issued the April 2014 update of the TMEP, which includes precedential case law and other changes since the October 2013 revision. Highlights of the changes are available from the USPTO… More
It is a basic principle of trademark law that a mark can only be assigned with the goodwill of the business to which the mark relates, for the good reason that the mark is in fact inseparable from the business. But what kind of “business” is necessary to support ownership of a mark? A recent decision by the Federal Court in the Southern District of New York in Creative Arts by Calloway, LLC v. Brooks, a dispute among members of the family of the late musician… More
A Connecticut Superior Court judge has upheld a jury verdict that once again demonstrates the product liability risks faced by trademark licensors, particularly those who license technology as well as their marks. In Hannibal Saldibar v. A.O. Smith Corp, the court upheld a $2.4 million judgment against the Tile Council of North America, which had licensed its trademarks and patented technology for dry-set mortar to tile manufacturers, in favor of the estate of Saldibar, a plaintiff who had allegedly developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure. The case is… More
The recent case of Edgenet, Inc. v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. (7th Cir., No. 10-1335, 9/2/11) illustrates the principle that a copyright license without restrictions will be broadly construed to encompass all rights. The facts of the case were that Home Depot had contracted in 2004 with Edgenet for Edgenet to develop a classification system (called a “taxonomy”) that was to be used to organize Home Depot’s product database. For example, as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals suggested, a particular screwdriver part might be classified under “tools/manual/screwdriver/Phillips/bits/metal”, and that classification would form part of the taxonomy. Under the… More
A trademark is more than a designation of source. It is also a symbol of quality, attesting to the consistent, predictable nature of the identified goods or services. Consumers rely upon marks to insure that they purchase the same product or service they have come to know from prior experience.
For this reason, a company that uses its mark through licensees must control the quality of the goods and services that the licensees sell under the mark. If the licensor fails to do this–if it engages in “naked licensing” that fails to ensure a consistent and repeatable experience for consumers–the… More
It is common for contracts that grant intellectual property licenses or that include confidentiality obligations to include a provision in which the licensee or the user of confidential information acknowledges that breach of its confidentiality or license obligations will cause irreparable harm and that the other party will be entitled to injunctive relief to enforce any breach or threatened breach of the provision. Many an attorney has spent time negotiating the finer points of such acknowledgment provisions. The recent case of Life Technologies Corp. v. AB Sciex Pte. Ltd., No. 11 Civ. 325 (S.D.N.Y. April 11, 2011) is a… More
The decision by Apple Corps, the Beatles’ music company, to allow distribution of Beatles songs on iTunes appears to have been vindicated by the initial sales figures achieved (two million singles sold in the first week, reports Billboard). However, the release of Beatles’ music on iTunes, the final act in the resolution of the long-running trademark dispute between Apple Computer and Apple Corps, also illustrates the basic truth underlying the resolution of many trademark negotiations: the company with the biggest consumer footprint ultimately wins.
When the… More
The Massachusetts Appeals Court has served up a reminder to Massachusetts trademark licensors that they may be subject to liability for injuries caused by defective products bearing their licensed mark, even if they are not the manufacturer or seller of the defective product. Under the "apparent manufacturer" doctrine, a nonseller trademark licensor may be liable for defective products if the licensor "participated substantially" in the design, manufacture or distribution of the products. In Lou and others v. Otis Elevator Company, No. 09-P-632 (Mass. Ap. Ct. September 3, 2010), Otis had licensed its marks and its technology to a Chinese joint… More