The IP Law Blog

Focusing on legal trends in data security, cloud computing, data privacy, and anything E

IP in the NFL: “I’m Just Here So I Won’t Get Fined,” or Are You?

Posted in Trademark Law

transparentJust 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

Congress is Reconsidering “Anti Troll” Legislation

Posted in Patent Law

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

The Left Shark, Katy Perry and Copyright Chum

Posted in Copyright Law

What do you get when you take one shark costume, add a confused backup dancer, throw in Katy Perry and the Super Bowl halftime show and top it off with a satirical artist with a 3D printer? First the backstory.

The “Left Shark” in question is a Katy Perry backup dancer who was dressed in a shark costume for Perry’s beach-themed number “Teenage Dream” during the Super Bowl halftime show. The Left Shark (the dancer to Perry’s right) seemed to have forgotten his dance moves — how else could you explain the flailing of fins. The Internet took notice; so did 3D sculptor Fernando Soza.

Soza’s satirical barbs are usually reserved for the politico set, such as Governor Chris Christie wearing a traffic cone and carrying a sign that reads “traffic study”. However, this time he took aim at the Left Shark and created a 3D printed sculpture of one regular shark, one pink shark and one holding a beer bottle.

So what do you get when you take one shark costume, add a confused backup dancer, throw in Katy Perry and the Super Bowl halftime show and top it off with a satirical artist with a 3D printer? You have the makings for a copyright dispute, of course. What else could there be? Continue Reading

Protecting Trademarks and the Likelihood of Confusion Factor

Posted in Trademark Law

A few years ago, I wrote a column addressing a case in which Pom Wonderful LLC sued Coca Cola Company in connection with the marketing of one of its pomegranate-blueberry juice products.  That case dealt with whether one of Pom Wonderful’s claims were barred by the Federal Drug and Cosmetic Act with regard to labeling issues.

Ever protective of its brand, Pom Wonderful was recently successful before the Ninth Circuit in a trademark infringement case.  Pom Wonderful sued a competing pomegranate beverage maker doing business under the name Pur Beverages for trademark infringement.  After the district court denied Pom Wonderful’s motion for preliminary injunction barring the defendant from selling its competing beverage, Pom Wonderful appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

Pom Wonderful owns numerous trademark registrations that make up its “Pom” brand family.  Pom Wonderful spends significant sums in marketing its products and policing against other companies’ uses that may infringe on its trademarks.   In connection with these efforts, Pom Wonderful discovered that Pur was selling a pomegranate flavored energy drink that it called “Pŏm”.  When Pur refused to change its marking, Pom Wonderful sued it for trademark infringement and moved for an injunction.

Continue Reading

FEDERAL CIRCUIT CHIPS AWAY AT PATENTABLE SUBJECT MATTER

Posted in Patent Law

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has applied the Supreme Court’s test for unpatentable abstract ideas to patents covering methods to determine a person’s likelihood of getting certain types of cancer.

In University of Utah Research Foundation v. Ambry Genetics Corp., 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 23692, decided by the Federal Circuit on December 17, 2014, the court addressed the patentability of two types of claims:  compositions and methods.  The composition claims were directed to single strands of DNA called “primers” that correspond to the double-stranded DNA of a gene.  The method claims were directed to diagnostic methods used to determine whether a patient carries a particular gene mutation that carries an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The plaintiffs were Myriad Genetics, University of Utah, and others.  They discovered the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that, when mutated, cause breast and ovarian cancer.  Myriad developed diagnostic test kits to detect the presence of the mutations.  Myriad patented the natural gene sequences, synthetic primers, and medical test kits.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Myriad’s claims to the natural gene sequences were invalid.  Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad, 133 S. Ct. 2107 (2013).  The Court found that the gene sequences were not patent-eligible subject matter, but were instead ineligible natural phenomena. Continue Reading

Davis: Electronic Arts Gets a New Set of Downs and Still Can’t Score

Posted in Entertainment Law, Trademark Law

transparentJust over a month ago I wrote about the Davis v. Electronic Arts matter that was pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.  Specifically, I opined that the matter was ripe for Supreme Court review in light of the circuit split that is developing with respect to the misappropriation of likeness in video games.  In my last blog, I explained that a number of legal scholars, and myself, believed that Electronic Arts had absolutely no chance of prevailing in Davis in light of an identical case that Electronic Arts lost at the trial level and on appeal (Keller v. Electronic Arts) wherein NCAA college football players brought a similar claim for the use of their likeness in the Electronic Arts video game franchise NCAA Football.  The matter was submitted to the Ninth Circuit on September 11, 2014, and the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion on January 6, 2015.

In the Davis v. Electronic Arts opinion (Case No. 12-15737), the Ninth Circuit rejected the legal razzle dazzle (pardon the football expression) raised by Electronic Arts and upheld the denial of Electronic Arts’ motion to strike the case as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).  Specifically, the Ninth Circuit rejected the argument that the use of the former players’ likeness was protected under the First Amendment as “incidental use.”  The Court disagreed with Electronic Arts’ characterization of the role of the former players’ likeness in the video game because it was central to Electronic Arts’ main commercial purpose: to create a realistic virtual simulation of football games involving current and former NFL teams.  Electronic Arts acknowledged that the likeness of the current NFL players carries substantial commercial value and failed to offer a meaningful distinction with respect to the former NFL players.  Instead, it argued that there are thousands of players in the video game and accordingly, any individual player’s likeness has only “de minimis commercial value.”  However, the Court refused to accept this highly technical argument and instead found “no basis for such a sweeping statement.” Continue Reading

The Power of the Press Release II: A Suggestion For Heightened Scrutiny of Governmental Prosecutorial Pre-trial Public Announcements

Posted in Legal Info, Uncategorized

In Russell G. Ryan’s recent thoughtful article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Get the SEC Out Of The PR Business,” he raised several issues that resonate well beyond the practices of the SEC and into the world of advertising law, direct marketing and FTC enforcement actions. See http://www.wsj.com/articles/russell-g-ryan-get-the-sec-out-of-the-pr-business-1417386821.

The gist of Ryan’s article is that the SEC’s pre-trial press releases and Public Relations “announcements” have the effect of unfairly trying its targets in the court of public opinion. He specifically makes the point that many of the press releases — which are typically made at the very outset of a prosecution — violate the so-called “Cinderella Schools” doctrine. That doctrine, originating from a case involving the Cinderella Career and Finishing Schools, was litigated in the 1970s, and resulted in certain FTC orders being nullified because of due process violations stemming from pre-trial pronouncements by the head of the agency that demonstrated pre-judgment. Supposedly, safeguards were put in place to protect against such violations. However, courts in the meantime, have upheld the right of governmental enforcers to make certain public pronouncements — and the agency enforcers have more than run with it.

As a result, the new crop of press releases are often derogatory, shaming and, in this writer’s view, straightforward violations of due process and the bedrock concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” See, e.g., http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2009/07/ftc-cracks-down-scammers-trying-take-advantage-economic-downturn.

In the web-citation, above, for example, which is from a case I was involved two years ago, the government corralled a number of disparate defendants, and, without so much as preliminary hearing, branded all of them “scammers” — and worse. The fact that the government ultimately prevailed against certain of the targets cannot color the issue, because in other cases, it does not. Continue Reading

At Least the Court Didn’t Blow This Call . . . Thoughts on the Oklahoma City High School Football Case

Posted in Legal Info

It’s not exactly a decision in the intellectual property sphere, but a recent ruling by a judge in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma related to a botched call in a high school football game deserves to be called-out for praise.

That case involved a quarterfinal footballgame of a high school league tournament in Oklahoma City. Frederick A. Douglass High School scored on a 58-yard touchdown pass at the last minute to take the lead over its rival, Locust Grove High School.

For some reason, one of the Douglas coaches made physical contact (whether purposely or inadvertently is not known) with a referee on the sideline. That contact resulted in a penalty flag. The rules for this infraction calls for a 5-yard penalty on the extra point attempt or the next kick off. Instead of applying this relatively minor penalty, the officials “went nuclear” and nullified the touchdown. As a result, Locust Grove was declared the winner of the game.

Maybe it was a bad call, maybe it wasn’t. I am certainly not an expert in the niceties of high school football. Although Frederick Douglass High School protested the call, the local association in charge of such things said that its rules did not permit such protest. In light of that, the Association neither permitted Douglass’ request to resume the game with a 1:04 on the game clock or restore the negated touchdown (giving the win to Frederick Douglass). Continue Reading

HO, HO, HO! AND FA-LA-LA-LA-LA! MORE CHRISTMAS PATENTS

Posted in Patent Law

The last time I checked (which was a couple of years ago), I found 979 U.S. patents in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database that had the word “Christmas” in the title.  Every year at this time, I look at a few of the most interesting ones.

My favorite one this year is U.S. patent no. 5,523,741 entitled “Santa Claus Detector.”  This patent covers a Christmas stocking that contains a light bulb or LED, a battery to power the light, and a hidden switch that turns on the light.  The switch is connected to a pull cord.  When the stocking is hung on the fireplace, the pull cord is positioned across the opening of the fireplace, forming a barrier across the fireplace opening.  After the child has gone to sleep on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus comes down the chimney with his bag of toys and triggers the cord, which turns on the light.  The next morning, the child will see the light on and know that Santa was there! (Or, as the patent describes, the parent can secretly pull the cord and turn on the light.)  The purpose of this invention, according to the inventors, is to reassure children that their good behavior was rewarded by Santa.

Another fun Christmas patent is the “Santa Claus Visit Kit,” U.S. patent no. 7,258,592.  This kit is used by parents to prove to a child that Santa Claus has visited.  The kit includes a stencil to leave boot prints on the floor, a letter from Santa, and a snack item for Santa.  The kit is intended to alleviate a child’s fear that Santa Claus might not leave presents.

There are several patents for fire extinguishers incorporated into Christmas decorations.  One patent covers a fire extinguisher hidden inside the trunk of a synthetic Christmas tree that is activated by a heat sensor.  Another patent is for a Christmas tree ornament that contains a fire-retardant powder.  The ornament pops open when the temperature reaches a certain point, releasing the fire retardant powder and, hopefully, putting out the fire. Continue Reading

Electronic Arts and its Disrespect for the Game

Posted in Entertainment Law

transparentOn September 11, 2014, the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on the appeal in Davis v. Electronic Arts (Case No. 12-15737), a class action lawsuit brought by three former NFL Players against Electronic Arts (“EA”), the publisher of the renowned Madden NFL Games.  Michael Davis, Vince Ferragamo, and Billy Joe Dupree claimed that EA violated their right of publicity by using their likeness and the likeness of six thousand other similarly situated former NFL players without permission.  The Ninth Circuit has yet to issue its ruling on the appeal, but most legal scholars agree that EA has almost no chance of prevailing on the issue in light of the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Keller v. Electronic Arts (Case No. 10-15387) where the Ninth Circuit found that EA unlawfully utilized the images of collegiate athletes in its NCAA Football game series.

 

Interestingly, EA put forth the same argument in Davis as it did in Keller.  Specifically, EA argued that its portrayal of the class members is protected by the First Amendment under the doctrine of transformative use, which analyzes whether the challenged work or product contains significant transformative elements (or value that) does not derive primarily from the celebrity’s fame.

 

At the oral argument, counsel for EA cited to a footnote in the Keller decision wherein the court reserved the “question of whether the First Amendment furnishes a defense other than those the parties raise.”  EA argued that the footnote provided the court with the wiggle room it needed to come to a different conclusion than it did in Keller.  EA urged that the court prescribe a second standard for the use of likeness in books, films, and video games.  Specifically, EA argued that the extensive labor and detail involved in making a video game should almost guarantee that the product is entitled to First Amendment protection as an expressive work.  Judge Marsha S. Berzon was not very receptive to this argument and remarked that the creation of a video game sounded more like a compilation of data than an expressive work.  EA responded that a great deal of creative expression is embodied in that compilation.  Whether the Court accepts EA’s position remains to be seen.  Continue Reading