With so many new microbreweries popping up in Sacramento, the Bay Area, and the Greater San Diego area, I felt compelled to write the present piece for the benefit of the aspiring, as well as the established, microbrew entrepreneur. These individuals undoubtedly pour (excuse the pun) their hearts, souls, and hard-earned money into the development of their breweries and their attempts to formulate the perfect brew. However, from my own research and analysis it seems clear that these entrepreneurs are regularly overlooking one thing in particular—their intellectual property rights.
The thought first occurred to me when I was sitting in San Diego having an IPA with a couple of my friends. As I stared at the bottle on the table it occurred to me that despite my everyday involvement with intellectual property, I had never looked into whether some of these companies were properly safeguarding their intellectual property rights. I immediately went to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) website on my cellphone and began searching for some of my favorite breweries and their assorted brews on the database. I quickly learned that some of the companies were prudently protecting their intellectual property in their company’s name, certain brews, and certain designs/graphics. However, I also learned that some of my favorite breweries were not doing anything to protect their intellectual property. I discussed the matter with my friends and express how I could not understand why these companies would not try to protect their intellectual property. Then, it occurred to me that some of them probably never thought about it, or were simply unaware what types of protection exist under the intellectual property laws. After all, prior to my involvement in the intellectual property world, I never thought about trademarks, trade dress, copyrights, or patents. Accordingly, I decide to draft this brief, non-exhaustive discussion of trademark law’s application to the microbrewery industry and suggest that breweries consider protecting their rights as they grow as businesses.
Enablement is the requirement that a patent teach a person skilled in the art (the field of the invention) how to make and use the invention without undue experimentation. In other words, a patent must describe the invention clearly enough so that a skilled person in the field can replicate the invention without having to perform experiments to determine how to make and use the invention. The enablement requirement is set forth in 35 U.S.C. §112, first paragraph. If a patent is not enabled, it can be invalidated.
In the fields of biology and chemistry, referred to in the patent world as the “unpredictable” arts, enablement is particularly important. Thus, biotechnology patents must clearly satisfy the enablement requirement or they are at risk of being challenged and held invalid. That is what happened in Promega Corp. v. Life Technologies Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2014) 773 F.3d 1338.
Promega sued Life Technologies for infringement of five patents. The patents covered methods and test kits for analyzing DNA samples and were used in forensic science. Promega alleged that Life Technologies manufactured and sold genetic test kits that infringed Promega’s patents.
Life Technologies moved for summary judgement of invalidity on four of the five Promega patents, arguing that the four patents were not enabled. The district court denied the motion. The court granted Promega’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the patents were infringed. The jury then awarded $52 million in damages to Promega, but the district court granted Life Technologies’ motion for judgment as a matter of law. The court then vacated its previous ruling of infringement.
In 2008, former Mayor of Washington, D.C., and then council member Marion Barry became ill with a kidney disease. To survive the illness, Mr. Barry required a kidney transplant, and one of his friends, Ms. Kim Dickens, came to his aid and donated one of her kidneys. Although the transplant helped Mr. Barry survive for several more years, he passed away in November 2014. Ironically, Mr. Barry’s widow is now suing Ms. Dickens.
In a lawsuit filed by Cora Masters Barry against Kim Dickens, Mrs. Barry alleges that Ms. Dickens has unlawfully used her late husband’s celebrity identity in order to promote the “Barry Dickens Kidney Foundation,” a charity formed by Ms. Dickens. According to the website of the Barry Dickens Kidney Foundation, Marion Barry played a role in the formation of that group, and the website even features photographs of Mr. Barry along with a detailed story of how Ms. Dickens came to donate one of her kidneys to Mr. Barry.
Mrs. Barry’s claims against the Foundation are not without legal precedent. In 1993, Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White sued Samsung Electronics of America in connection with a television ad which depicted a robotic version of Ms. White to promote sales of Samsung’s video cassette recorder. Ruling in favor of Ms. White, the Court of Appeal determined that television and other media create “marketable celebrity identity value,” and a celebrity has an exclusive right to exploit this value by prohibiting unauthorized commercial exploitation of their identity.
Scott Hervey was quoted in an article in the International Business Times on how Fox’s fair use defense in a copyright infringement lawsuit arising over its use of a famous 9/11 image could change the landscape of copyright enforcement online.
North Jersey Media Group Inc. is the copyright owner of the iconic photograph of three firefighters raising an American flag at the ruins of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. On September 11, 2013, a Fox News producer posted a photograph that juxtaposed the 9/11 photograph with a World War II photograph of four U.S. Marines raising an American flag on Iwo Jima on the Facebook page for the Fox News’ television program Justice with Judge Jeanine. North Jersey Media Group sued Fox, claiming that the posting of the combined image infringed its copyright. Fox news argued that the use was protected “fair use” and moved for summary judgment. The court denied Fox’s motion and Fox is now appealing to the 2nd Circuit.
Fox’s appeal centers around the lower court’s analysis of the first fair use factor: the purpose and character of the use. The purpose of this factor is to test whether the allegedly infringing work is “transformative.” A work is transformative when it adds something new to the work allegedly infringed, with a further purpose or different character, altering the original work with new expression, meaning, or message. A work is transformative if it does something more than repackage or republish the original copyrighted work. A transformative work is one that serves a new and different function from the original work and is not a substitute for it. As the Supreme Court noted in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc, “the more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, … that may weigh against a finding of fair use.” Continue Reading
Since his death in 1981, reggae superstar Bob Marley and his “image” continue to be broadly popular and command millions of dollars each year in merchandising revenue. His children own an entity called Fifth Six Hope Road, Music, Ltd. which was formed to acquire and exploit the assets, rights and commercial interests of their late father. In 1999, Hope Road granted Zion Rootswear, LLC, an exclusive license with regard to the use of Bob Marley’s image on various clothing and other merchandise.
After discovering that several companies had been selling t-shirts and other merchandise with the image of Bob Marley on them, Hope Road and Zion brought a lawsuit against them and included a claim for “false endorsement” under 15 USC §1125(a). (This article does not address the other claims pursued in this lawsuit.)
After trial, a jury found that the Defendants were liable under a false endorsement theory and awarded Plaintiffs almost $800,000 in damages plus their attorney’s fees of approximately $1.5 million. The Defendants appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit arguing that there was not sufficient evidence to support a finding against them and that Plaintiffs’ use of the false endorsement claim under 15 USC §1125 effectively created a federal “right of privacy,” which Congress had not intended. Continue Reading
The Supreme Court recently decided a patent case involving a significant procedural issue. In Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831 (1/20/15), the question before the Court was whether the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals should review a district court’s factfindings in its claim construction decision under a de novo or a “clearly erroneous” standard. The Court held that the proper standard of review, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(6), is “clearly erroneous.” The case establishes a two-part standard of review of a district court’s claim construction decision: a clearly erroneous standard for subsidiary facts and a de novo standard for the question of law.
The case involved Teva Pharmaceuticals’ patent for a method of making a drug to treat multiple sclerosis. Sandoz began to sell a generic version of the drug. Teva Pharmaceuticals sued Sandoz for patent infringement. The claim at issue referred to a polymer having a specific molecular weight. Sandoz argued that Teva Pharmaceuticals’ patent was invalid because the term “molecular weight” was indefinite. Sandoz contended that there were three possible meanings of “molecular weight,” and that the patent did not explain which one was to be used.
The district court held that the patent was valid, based on expert testimony, finding that the term “molecular weight” was definite to a person skilled in the art. Continue Reading
Many of you may be familiar with the pop hit “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, Clifford Harris, more popularly known as T.I., and Pharrell Williams (the “Composers”). If it does not sound familiar by title, perhaps you may recall it for its controversial nudity laden music video, or the fact that it was the song performed by Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2013 when Miley’s scandalous conduct went viral and shocked the world—including Thicke’s spouse. However, what you may be less familiar with is the fact that the heirs of Motown great Marvin Gaye (the “Heirs”) have been threatening to sue the Composers since at least early 2013. The Heirs claim that “Blurred Lines” infringes their copyright in the Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give it Up.” However, in August 2013, after months of discussion on the issue, the Composers opted to file an action for declaratory relief in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking a judgment that “Blurred Lines” does not infringe “Got to Give it Up.” The justification there was likely that sometimes the best defense is a strong offense. The Heirs then filed a counterclaim for copyright infringement alleging that “Blurred” Lines” does in fact infringe “Got to Give it Up” and also that another song by Robin Thicke and Paula Patton—“Love After War”—infringes Marvin Gaye’s song “After the Dance.” The trial on this matter began on February 24, 2015 and is currently ongoing. Continue Reading
Just last week, on February 18, 2015, Seattle Seahawks superstar running back Marshawn Lynch (“Lynch”), also known as Beast Mode, filed for a federal trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) for his now famous quote—“I’M JUST HERE SO I WON’T GET FINED.” For those of you who are not big NFL fans, Lynch coined his now signature phrase during the Super Bowl XLIX Media Day. This did not come as a huge shock to most NFL fans because Lynch has developed a reputation for avoiding the media and refusing to fulfill the media obligations of one of the league’s brightest superstars. However, in the face of the NFL’s threat of a $50,000 fine if he refused to participate in Super Bowl XLIX Media Day, Lynch decided to play ball. In response to over 20 proffered questions, Lynch simply responded, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”
This caused quite the outrage from the media and certain sports fans—mostly 49er fans (we all know how they adore the Seahawks), who found Lynch’s conduct unprofessional and disrespectful. But, say what you will about Lynch’s unprofessional conduct and disregard for his obligations as an NFL superstar, the fact is the man knows how to exploit and protect his own intellectual property. Continue Reading
On February 5, 2015, Congressman Bob Goodlatte reintroduced the “Innovation Act”; a bill designed to implement several changes to the legal framework governing United States patent law. The law is designed to make it more difficult for non-practicing entities (also known as “patent trolls”) to maintain patent infringement lawsuits. The law appears to have significant support among both houses of Congress, and may soon become law.
If passed, the Innovation Act purportedly will create several disincentives aimed at increasing the risk faced by non-practicing entities when bringing patent infringement lawsuits. First, the Innovation Act would require non-practicing entities to meet a heightened pleading requirement. Non-practicing entities would be required to plead “with detailed specificity” how the accused products allegedly infringed their patents. Additionally, the Innovation Act contains a fee-shifting provision which would allow the court to award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party. This provision was included in the Act to address the fact that most lawsuits brought by non-practicing entities are settled by the accused party because the defense costs and legal fees associated with defending patent infringement cases often run into the millions of dollars. Continue Reading