The IP Law Blog

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

A Chicken Sandwich is Not Copyrightable – Really?

Posted in Copyright Law

As reported in Law 360David Gabor 011_final and other outlets, the First Circuit has ruled that a chicken sandwich, no matter how amazingly delicious it may be, cannot be copyrighted. A Puerto Rican epicure named Norberto Lorenzana argued that he created the “Pechu Sandwich” which is “a fried chicken breast patty, lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and garlic mayonnaise” while working for a Church’s Chicken franchise in Puerto Rico.

According to Law 360, “[h]e sued the company in 2012, claiming it had misappropriated his intellectual property rights in the ‘recipe’ of the Pechu Sandwich and the name of the item itself, but a district court ruled last year that he couldn’t claim ownership of either.”

Entirely unsurprisingly, the First Circuit agreed. In language that may go down in the annals of law next to such well known sayings as “I know it when I see it” (Justice Potter Stewart) and “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater,” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes) Judge Jeffrey Howard wrote, “a chicken sandwich is not eligible for copyright protection.” Boom.

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Hidden Pitfalls of Old Non-Compete Provisions

Posted in Trade Secrets

Companies and employers aroundJames-Kachmar-08_web the country seek to protect their intellectual property by, among other things, using non-compete provisions in employment agreements. Generally, these provisions are intended to prevent an employee from soliciting or doing business with a former employer’s customer/clients over a set period of time and/or in regard to a set geographical area. Under California law, and specifically Business and Professions Code section 16600, such provisions are unenforceable unless they fall within one of the statutory exceptions, i.e., primarily in connection with the sale of a business interest. For years, although California state courts would refuse to enforce such provisions under section 16600, federal courts in California sometimes applied a narrow court-created exception and allow such provisions to be enforced provided that they were narrowly tailored as to time and geographical area. In 2008, the California Supreme Court unequivocally ruled that such provisions were unenforceable under section 16600 and rejected the “narrowly restricted” exception used by federal courts. (See Edwards v. Arthur Andersen, LP, 44 Cal.4th 937 (2008).)

In response to the Edwards decision, many California companies and employers began to omit such provisions from their new employment agreements or re-write them with specific language restricting an employee from using trade secret information to unfairly compete. However, other companies and employers left their old agreements untouched and in place thinking merely that they would not enforce them should the need arise. A recent court decision, Couch v. Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc. (E.D. Cal. Aug. 7, 2015), reveals the risk an employer or company faces in failing to update their older employment agreements to remove or revise such provisions.

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Hey, that’s my beer! I think…

Posted in Trade Secrets

In the bustling craft brew transparenteconomy brewers are faced with new issues every day. One that recently came to my attention arises when the craft brewery’s brewmaster or head brewer decides to either start his own craft brewery, or go to work for another brewery. While this may not initially seem like a big deal, it gets much more complicated when that brewmaster or brewer is responsible for the creation of your flagship brew. The question arises: who owns the intellectual property rights to that brew? Of course, the brewery is going to say that they have been selling, distributing, and promoting the brew, so it must be theirs. On the other hand, the brewer is going to say that he created it, so it must be his. The truth is that determining who owns the intellectual property rights to the brew formula can get quite complicated, encompassing numerous factors. But it does not have to be.

With a booming industry such as craft brew, it is imperative that the appropriate precautions be taken to protect the craft brewery’s most lucrative asset: the beer itself. In order to protect a brew formula from being taken from your company and utilized by a competitor when one of your brewers, the creator of the formula or not, leaves the company, the formula must be treated as a trade secret. The California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) defines a trade secret as:

information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, or technique, or process, that:
(1) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public, or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and
(2) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

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Federal Circuit Continues to Nix Financial Patents

Posted in Patent Law

Patents covering software for use in the financial industryAudrey-Millemann-03_web are increasingly being invalidated by the courts. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014), district courts are holding these patents invalid on the grounds that they are unpatentable abstract ideas, and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals is affirming the district courts’ decisions.

Patents may cover one of four statutory categories of inventions: (1) machines; (2) articles of manufacture; (3) processes; and (4) compositions of matter. 35.U.S.C. §101. These types of inventions are called “patent-eligible subject matter.” The longstanding exceptions to these four categories are: natural phenomena, laws of nature, and abstract ideas. These types of inventions are called “patent-ineligible subject matter.”

In Alice Corp., the Supreme Court established a two-part test to determine the patentability of claims directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. The first step is to decide whether the claims in the patent are directed to patent ineligible subject matter, such as an abstract idea. If so, the second step is to determine whether the elements of the claim transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible application.

Two recent cases illustrate the trend. In both cases, the claims covered software for use in the financial industry, as was true of the claims invalidated in Alice Corp.

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Air Jordan Grounded in China

Posted in Trademark Law

Michael Jordan is considered by many Scott-Plamondon-03_web to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Beyond his five MVP trophies and six NBA championship rings, however Jordan also was the one of the most widely marketed athletic personalities in history. His name and image ultimately became iconic when Nike developed a new type of basketball shoe named “Air Jordan,” marked with the “Jumpman” logo – a silhouetted image of Jordan in mid-flight on his way to delivering a one-handed slam dunk.

Jordan’s fame knows almost no boundaries. He and former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming are the most popular international basketball stars in China, where Jordan is known as “Qiaodan.” Not surprisingly, and in the marked absence of any “Air Ming” footwear, Air Qiaodan sneakers have become popular in China. “Air Qiaodan” products are not endorsed or backed by Michael Jordan, rather they are manufactured and distributed by Qiaodan Sports Co. Beyond merely using Jordan’s Chinese name, Qiaodan’s products carry a logo closely resembling the “Jumpman” used on Nike’s “Air Jordan” products.

Believing that Qiaodan’s actions were causing confusion among Chinese consumers by misleading them into believing that Qiaodan Sports Co. was affiliated with His Airness, Jordan sought to cancel Qiaodan’s trademark. The Chinese lower courts refused to cancel Qiaodan’s trademarks, and the case was appealed to the Beijing Higher People’s Court. The Beijing Higher People’s Court has now ruled against Jordan.

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Fair Use and YouTube – a Creator’s Take

Posted in Entertainment Law, Speaking Engagements

Scott-Hervey-10-webScott Hervey, an entertainment attorney and shareholder with Weintraub Tobin, and Rian Bosak, VP of Network Operations with Fullscreen presented “Fair Use and YouTube – a Creator’s Take” to a packed house during VidCon 2015.


Will Lenz v. Universal Make Online Copyright Enforcement More Challenging for Copyright Owners

Posted in Copyright Law

Pending before the 9th CircuitScott-Hervey-10-web is a case which may change the landscape for online copyright protection. The case, Lenz v. Universal, may make it more difficult for copyright owners to protect against infringement in today’s environment of hyper infringement. Defenders of Lenz argue that this case represents the quest for a legitimate balance between overzealous copyright enforcement and legitimate, non-infringing use.

The facts of Lenz are fairly simple. Lenz posted to YouTube a very short video of her young child dancing to a Prince song playing in the background. At the time, Universal Music Publishing was managing Prince’s music publishing. An attorney at Universal manually reviewed the posting but acknowledged that he did not consider whether the Lenz video was fair use. Universal sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube and YouTube removed access to the video. Most normal takedown situations end there; however, Lenz was upset and, after trying and failing to remedy the situation herself, sought the aid of attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The DMCA was enacted in 1999 as an attempt by Congress to stem the tide of rampant online copyright infringement. The DMCA offered copyright owners a streamlined process for taking down from the Internet allegedly infringing material and online service providers had great incentive to follow the process laid out in the DMCA; to not do so opened one up to potential secondary liability for their users’ activities. Congress included a requirement that the allegation of infringement in a takedown notice include a statement that the sender had a good faith belief that the posting of the allegedly infringing content was not authorized by law. Specifically, Section 512(c)(3)(A)(v) requires a takedown notice to include “[a] statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”

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Patent Infringement and Appellate Jurisdiction

Posted in Patent Law

In general, any appeal from a civil action involving claims of patent infringement must be made to the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. A recent case from the Ninth Circuit, Amity Rubberized Pen Company v. Market Quest Group, illustrates this principle as well as demonstrating the practical measures an appellate court will take to help an appeal survive.

In Amity Rubberized Pen Co., Amity held a patent for a device that dispensed both toothpicks and tablets such as breath mints. In 2006, Amity sued Market Quest Group alleging infringement of its patent and brought various other federal and state law claims. Counsel for Amity withdrew from the case during trial and the court declared a mistrial and ordered that Amity substitute in new counsel. It also awarded Market Quest its attorney’s fees and costs for the mistrial and warned Amity that it would dismiss the case if it failed to pay. Amity did not pay the fees and in 2010, the Court dismissed the case with prejudice.

Approximately three years later, in 2013, Amity filed a new lawsuit against Market Quest alleging similar claims as the previous action, including claims for patent infringement. Market Quest filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds of res judicata, arguing that the present actin was barred by the dismissal with prejudice of similar claims three years earlier. The District Court agreed and dismissed the 2013 lawsuit. Amity appealed this dismissal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals instead of to the Federal Circuit.

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Lloyd’s Likeness: A Hat Trick to Superstardom and Mega Endorsements

Posted in Entertainment Law

Unless you have been living undertransparent a rock for the last week, you know who Carli Lloyd is. If, however, you do not, she is the reigning World Cup MVP for Team USA. On Sunday, in perhaps the most astonishing World Cup performance of all time, Lloyd scored a hat trick in just the 16th minute of the game, and propelled Team USA to its third Women’s World Cup championship. You may be wondering, how is this related to intellectual property, and I promise you, I am getting there.

After Lloyd scored her second goal in the first five minutes of Sunday’s World Cup final, her official website’s server crashed because it was getting so much traffic. Just eleven minutes later, Lloyd scored her third goal and transitioned into a household name. During the game alone, Lloyd gained 50,000 Twitter followers. By now, the connection between this article and intellectual property may be evident: Lloyd’s spike in popularity also caused a spike in the value of her likeness.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines likeness as (1) a picture of a person; or (2) the quality or state of being alike or similar especially in appearance. California law provides that the appropriation of a person’s name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness for a commercial use is actionable. Thus, a celebrity is entitled to control the use of their likeness in the commercial context to their financial gain if they so desire. Simply put, Lloyd’s hat trick may have not just cemented her spot in World Cup history, but also greatly increased her wealth.

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Keep Calm and Sip Some Sparkling Wine

Posted in Trademark Law

Many who enjoy champagne have noticed that theirScott-Plamondon-03_web favorite cuvée has quietly changed its label. Many of the world’s bottles of bubbly now indicate that they contain “sparkling wine” when they used to be “champagne.” Those who enjoy Basmati rice or Camembert cheese also have noticed changes to the names of their favorite products. What happened? Why we are now drinking sparkling wine when we used to enjoy champagne, or why we must settle for brie when we previously enjoyed Roquefort?

Although the names have changed, the products probably have not. Rather, many countries have created a system which recognizes and protects the value of the intellectual property associated with the geographic origin of certain products. Functioning like a trademark, a geographical indication can represent valuable intellectual property by identifying a particular region as the source of a certain product. Although not traditionally protected by trademark laws, geographical indications and designations of geographic origin have traditionally been afforded protection by various countries. Long known for its famous varieties of cheese, wine, and, of course, champagne, France introduced one of the first systems designed to protect geographical indications, known as appellation d’origine contrôlée, or the “AOC.” Sacre bleu! The AOC makes it unlawful to manufacture and sell a product under a geographical indication identified by the AOC unless that product complies with a set of strict criteria, including production of AOC-protected products in particular regions.

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