The IP Law Blog

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

Inside Out: The Ninth Circuit Holds The Moodsters are No Batman

Posted in Copyright Law, IP

Certain literary or graphic characters may, in some cases, enjoy copyright protection. Think James Bond – or Batman and even his Batmobile.  Recently, the Ninth Circuit was called upon to determine whether the Moodsters, “anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions,” are subject to the same copyright protection as Batman.  Sadly, the Ninth Circuit concluded they do not.

The Moodsters were created by an expert on children’s emotional intelligence and development, Denise Daniels. She created the Moodsters to “help children cope with strong emotions like loss and trauma.”  In 2005, Ms. Daniels and her team released an initial product called The Moodsters Bible.  The Moodsters Bible told the story of five characters who were “color-coded anthropomorphic emotions” that represented a different emotion: pink–love, yellow-happiness, blue-sadness, red-anger and green-fear. Two years later, Ms. Daniels and her team released a 30-minute television pilot featuring the Moodsters called, “The Amoodsment Mixup.”  In 2015, Ms. Daniels and her team had developed a line of toys and books featuring the Moodsters that were sold at Target and other retailers. Continue Reading

No, Machines Cannot Be Inventors!

Posted in IP, Patent Law

Eventually, it was bound to happen. A patent application was filed by a machine. Well, not exactly. A human being filed a patent application naming a machine as the inventor.

The machine was an artificial intelligence machine described as a “creativity machine.” Its name was listed as “DABUS Invention Generated by Artificial Intelligence.” The invention was called “Devices and Methods for Attracting Enhanced Attention.” Continue Reading

The Ninth Circuit Affirms Ruling that COMIC-CON isn’t Generic for Comic Conventions

Posted in IP, Trademark Law

The battle started almost six years ago. A Utah-based company known as Dan Farr Productions (“DFP”) decided to use San Diego Comic Convention’s (“SDCC”) registered trademark COMIC-CON in conjunction with its own comic and popular arts convention, resulting in SDCC filing suit in the Southern District of California. SDCC alleged in its complaint that it has the exclusive right to utilize its COMIC-CON trademarks and has done so in connection with its comic convention since 1970.

After years of litigation, which was apparently filled with gamesmanship on the part of DFP and its counsel, SDCC prevailed on a motion for summary judgment. DFP met SDCC’s claim for infringement with an affirmative defense that SDCC’s marks were “generic ab initio.” In other words, DFP argued that COMIC-CON was generic before SDCC’s first use. The district court disagreed, finding that the evidence tendered by DFP was insufficient to support the argument that COMIC-CON was generic before SDCC’s first use. The Ninth Circuit reviewed this decision de novo and found that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of SDCC. Continue Reading

SCOTUS Considers Whether Adding a Top-Level Domain Makes a Generic Term a Protectable Trademark

Posted in IP, Trademark Law

On Monday, May 4, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com, B.V.  For the first time in the history of the Court, the argument was live streamed via multiple outlets, including CNN, enabling us trademark junkies to listen to the argument in real time. Although it was surely an unfamiliar circumstance for the Court and its litigants, the hearing was mostly without issue. Returning to the case at issue, in USPTO v. Booking.com, the Court addressed whether a business can create a registrable trademark by adding a generic top-level domain name like “.com” to an otherwise unprotectable generic term. Specifically, the Supreme Court addressed whether BOOKING.COM is entitled to trademark registration.

The dispute arose in 2012 when Booking.com sought to register BOOKING.COM as a service mark for its online reservation services. The USPTO’s examining attorney determined that “booking” is generic for hotel reservation services, relying upon dictionary definitions of “booking” and “.com” and the use of “booking” by various other third parties who offer similar services. The examining attorney ultimately refused registration arguing that combining a generic term like “booking” with “.com” simply communicates to consumers that the business offers its services online. Continue Reading

Trademark Infringers Beware – Willfulness Not Required for Disgorgement

Posted in IP, Trademark Law

For some time there has been a split among the Federal circuits as to whether evidence of willfulness is required in order to award disgorgement of profits for trademark infringement under Section 1125(a) of the Lanham Act.  The split stems from how each Federal circuit interprets Section 1117(a) of the Lanham Act which was amended in 1999.  The section reads as follows:

When a violation of any right of the registrant of a mark registered in the Patent and Trademark Office, a violation under section 1125(a) or (d) of this title, or a willful violation under section 1125(c) of this title, shall have been established in any civil action arising under this chapter, the plaintiff shall be entitled . . . subject to the principles of equity, to recover (1) defendant’s profits . . .

A number of Federal Circuits, including the Second and the Ninth, have interpreted the above to require a showing of willfulness for disgorgement in Section 1125(a) cases.  Six Federal Circuits do not.  On April 23, 2020 the United States Supreme Court made clear where it stands. Continue Reading

Supreme Court Limits Appeals to Prevent More Bad Patents

Posted in IP, Patent Law

A party accused of infringing a patent may challenge the validity of the patent in the federal court infringement litigation or in separate administrative proceedings in the Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). One of the methods available in the PTAB is an inter partes review (IPR), which was created by the America Invents Act.

In order to file a petition for IPR, the challenger must argue that some or all of the claims of the patent are invalid on certain grounds, including novelty and nonobviousness, and must show that there is a “reasonable likelihood” that they will prevail on at least one claim.  The statutes require that a petition for IPR be filed within one year of the challenger being served with a complaint for patent infringement.  35 USC section 315(b).   The PTAB reviews the petition and decides whether to institute IPR.  The decision whether to institute IPR is not appealable.  35 USC section 314(d).  Continue Reading

Burbank High School Jumps with Glee over Copyright Victory

Posted in Copyright Law, IP

Burbank High School runs a music program that reportedly provided the inspiration for the hit TV show, Glee. It is nationally known for the competitive show choirs its students participate in as part of the program. To defray the costs of fielding several choirs, a non-profit booster club was formed to help fundraise for the music education program. The booster club puts on a couple of annual fundraising shows, Burbank Blast and Pop, which include both the Burbank High School choirs as well as a number of other competitive choirs. The choirs’ music director serves as the liaison between the school’s choirs and the booster club.

The music director hired an arranger to create custom sheet music for two shows to be performed at the fundraisers: Rainmaker and 80’s Movie Montage. In creating these performances, the arranger used snippets from the following songs: Magic (originally performed by Olivia Newton John) and (I’ve Had the) Time of My Life (by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes) as well as Hotel California and Don’t Phunk with my Heart. After several performances, Tresona Multimedia, LLC, sued the music director, the booster club and parent-members of the booster club for copyright infringement. Tresona Multimedia alleged that it owned the copyrights to the above songs and that its copyright interests were infringed upon because no licenses were obtained to allow the use of the above songs in the performances. Continue Reading

Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Deadlines Extended Due to COVID-19

Posted in Copyright Law, IP, Patent Law, Trademark Law

On March 31, 2020, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced that, pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, certain deadlines for patent and trademark applications would be extended. The CARES Act authorizes the PTO to toll, waive, or modify any patent or trademark deadline in effect during the COVID-19 emergency. The announcements were made in written Notices of Waiver, one each for patents and trademarks, posted on the PTO’s website.

In order to exercise the power under the CARES Act, the PTO Director must determine that the COVID-19 pandemic materially affects the functioning of the PTO; prejudices the rights of patent applicants, trademark registrants, or patent/trademark owners; or prevents patent applicants, trademark registrants, or patent/trademark owners from making a filing or paying a fee in the PTO. Continue Reading

Federal Circuit: Sequenom’s Fetal DNA Claims Are Patent Eligible

Posted in IP, Patent Law

An unborn baby’s DNA (“fetal DNA”) can be used to determine the sex of the baby as well as to test for conditions such as Down’s syndrome.  In the past, procedures to get samples of fetal DNA for testing involved sticking a large needle through the abdominal wall and into the uterus of the mother to obtain amniotic fluid, but such procedures are invasive and can be life threatening in some cases.  Sequenom Inc. devised and patented less invasive options and licensed them to Illumina, Inc.  Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. and others, however, challenged the patent eligibility of those options when accused of patent infringement.

Specifically, the various lawsuits have repeatedly brought into question whether the patent claims for these new prenatal tests and related methods are patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. §101 or if they are merely directed to ineligible natural phenomena.  In fact, in 2015, the Federal Circuit found Sequenom and Illumina’s patents (the “Original Patents”) were invalid as unpatentable because they were directed to a natural phenomenon.  This ruling raised many concerns in the industry as to which, if any, inventions of this type could be protected. Continue Reading

SCOTUS Rules That North Carolina is Protected from Copyright Infringement Claims by Sovereign Immunity

Posted in Copyright Law, IP

The Supreme Court of the United States has held that the state government is free to infringe copyrights without fear of retribution. In Allen v. Cooper, the Supreme Court decided whether the state of North Carolina could be held liable under the Copyright Act for infringing filmmaker Frederick Allen’s copyright relating to Queen Anne’s Revenge. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is, in fact, the flagship of the infamous pirate Blackbeard.

The facts giving rise to this dispute go back to the 1990s. Well, to be clear, the facts giving rise to the dispute go back to 1717 when Blackbeard was using Queen Anne’s Revenge to carry out his plunderous activities. In any event, in the 1990s, a research firm located the shipwreck and hired Frederick Allen to film their recovery efforts. During this process, Allen’s company recorded video and took photographs, which were registered with the United States Copyright Office. Continue Reading