In the 9th Circuit (as well as the 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 11th Circuits), the test for determining whether the use of a third-party trademark in an expressive work (i.e., use of a brand within a movie, TV series, video game, etc., including as part of the title of an expressive work) is
©2021. Published in Landslide, Vol. 13, No. 3, January/February 2021, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued numerous landmark decisions in 2020, among those—for trademark scholars and practitioners—Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc.1 The Court, with Justice Gorsuch delivering the majority opinion, held that a plaintiff in a trademark infringement suit is not required to show that a defendant willfully infringed the plaintiff’s trademark as a precondition to a profits award. But Justice Gorsuch’s opinion and Justice Alito’s and Justice Sotomayor’s concurrences were clear that mental state is still a highly important consideration in determining whether to award profits. To that end, even with the Romag decision clarifying that willfulness is not a precondition for a profits award in a trademark infringement suit, the lower courts are likely to still require plaintiffs to prove that defendants had high levels of culpability before awarding profits for trademark infringement. Practitioners should expect that juries will ﬁnd that defendants who knew of infringement or were reckless concerning the possibility of such conduct deserve to lose their profits.
Romag solidiﬁes the threat posed to companies that rely on third-party manufacturers. By allowing a profits award when infringement is perpetrated with a mental state less than willfulness, this decision incentivizes companies using Chinese and other foreign manufacturers to innovate in order to mitigate these risks, either by strengthening supply chain oversight or (more likely) by writing contracts to control the risk as much as possible. Considering the importance of Chinese manufacturing to global trade, the Chinese legal system and its evolving trademark enforcement system will likely cause companies to get creative.
Continue Reading Meeting of the Minds: The Price of Recklessness: Disgorgement of Proﬁts in a Post-Romag World
Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. has petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for certiorari following an unfavorable ruling from the Ninth Circuit in the matter of VIP Products LLC v. Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. In that case, VIP Products sued Jack Daniel’s after receiving a cease-and-desist letter concerning its Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker dog toy. The toy is intentionally similar to the famous Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 whiskey bottle, but is clearly intended to be a joke.
Instead of saying Jack Daniels, the bottle says Bad Spaniels and includes a cartoonish cocker spaniel. Below that, where the Jack Daniel’s bottle usually says “Old No. 7,” the toy says “The Old No. 2” above “on your Tennessee Carpet” where the real bottle says Tennessee Whiskey. The squeaky toy is clearly intended as joke for dog owners, and I don’t believe it would confuse consumers into believing the product is actually associated with Jack Daniel’s. Jack Daniel’s apparently felt differently.
The district court agreed with Jack Daniel’s. While ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the district court held that the Rogers test, which is used to balance the interests between trademark law and the First Amendment, was inapplicable because the toy is not an expressive work. Later, after a four-day bench trial, the District Court ruled against VIP Products and found it had infringed Jack Daniel’s IP.
Continue Reading Dogs, Whiskey, and Intellectual Property: Need I Say More?
Imagine litigating an infringement case for two years, and after a nine day jury trial, obtaining a jury’s verdict that says you’ve established infringement and awards your client $5,000,000. Then you realize that the jury has awarded your client $0 in actual damages, and the entire $5,000,000 sum is for punitive damages. The Ninth Circuit in an unpublished opinion in Monster Energy Company v. Integrated Supply Network, LLC (July 22, 2020), reiterated that a party is not entitled to punitive damages without a finding of actual damages.
Monster Energy Company is a well-known energy drink giant that does a lot of sponsorship in the motorsports area with its distinctive green M logo. In 2017, it sued Integrated Supply Network for infringement of its Monster marks. Integrated Supply is a Florida automotive-supply company that sold various Monster Mobile and ISN Monster lines of goods that Monster Energy Company claimed infringed on its marks.
Continue Reading You Must Prove Actual Damages if You Want Punitive Damages in an Infringement Action
What was once illegal is now a thriving industry. That’s right—I’m talking about cannabis. But my initial statement isn’t entirely accurate. Although Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have legalized cannabis, the drug remains a Schedule I narcotic under the federal Controlled Substances Act. While buying, selling, and using cannabis is legal under state law in certain jurisdictions, such conduct is arguably a federal crime in every jurisdiction due to the Controlled Substances Act. It’s a lot to take in, and it gives rise to numerous issues and questions concerning our government’s federalist system. But you all know this blog focuses on intellectual property, so by now I’m sure you’re wondering: what’s the significance to intellectual property of the dichotomy between the way federal and certain state law treats cannabis? Well, to oversimplify the problem, it means that businesses in the cannabis industry are without federal intellectual-property rights, which are by far the most powerful and expansive intellectual-property rights in the country.
Continue Reading Navigating the Hazy Intersection of Federal and State Law on Cannabis and Advising Clients on Protecting Their Trademarks