De gustibus non est disputandum

Russo NY Pizzeria

Russo to Judgment?

The question, per last fall’s story, was this: Can you establish trademark rights in a flavor?  The court said, unsurprisingly, “no.” As usual, I let someone better inclined to do so do the heavy lifting first — and who better than Eric Goldman?

[A]pparently Russo’s New York Pizzeria restaurant chain–which is from Texas, not New York, despite its name–. . . sued a rival chain, Gina’s Italian Kitchen, for taste infringement. Russo’s claimed trademark rights in how its food tasted, and it said the rival chain copied that taste. Fortunately for the rival chain . . ., a federal court found Russo’s claim “half-baked” (the judge’s words, not mine). Typically, trademarks are words or logos associated with a marketplace offering, such as the Coca-Cola name or its swoosh logo. However, in limited circumstances, a product’s features (in addition to the product’s “brand”) also may be protected as trademarks when consumers view those features as signals of the product’s source.

Given the expansive view of what’s potentially trademarkable, it’s not ridiculous to think that a food’s flavor could qualify for trademark protection. However, no matter how consumers view a product feature, the feature isn’t trademarkable when it is “functional,” i.e., “if it is essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article.” In the case of food, flavor will almost always be functional. As this court explains:

The main attribute of food is its flavor, especially restaurant food for which customers are paying a premium beyond what it would take to simply satisfy their basic hunger needs….NYPI does not allege that its supposedly unique flavoring is merely an identifier, and any such allegation would be implausible given that the flavor of pasta and pizza has a functional purpose.

Tick Tock Diner

We Never Close

Right.  Good, except for Eric’s distressing repeated use of “trademark” as a verb.  But, on the merits, right, yeah? It seems that way.  Two practical concerns, after all, seem to militate heavily against “tastemarks.”

One, as Eric points out, is “the competitive implications if we allowed trademark protection for flavors. The first food vendor to popularize a flavor would get the perpetual rights to prevent all others from replicating the flavor.”

Another problem, as Robert Zelnick from McDermott Will & Emery LLP notes in this article, is enforceability.  “It’s hard to imagine how a subtle variation in a recipe for any of those dishes could be protected as a trademark,” he says. All true, but I’ve got a hankering for more on this question of trademarks for flavors.  Let’s take another look at the ingredients baked into this decision:

If the hurdle is high for trademarks when it comes to the flavor of medicine, it is far higher—and possibly insurmountable—in the case of food. People eat, of course, to prevent hunger. But the other main attribute of food is its flavor, especially restaurant food for which customers are paying a premium beyond what it would take to simply satisfy their basic hunger needs. The flavor of food undoubtedly affects its quality, and is therefore a functional element of the product.

Pull up a chair while we consider this analysis. And keep in mind that in this opinion, the court is splitting hairs.  So we can do that, too. Read More…

Major League Baseball – SDNY Balks?

Originally posted 2005-11-28 11:48:08. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

SoxA potentially troubling (from the teams’ point of view) thought from the Southern District of New York in a case brought by Major League Baseball against a company selling beanbags with team names, colors and logos on them, reported by the NY Law Journal (subscription required):

The Court finds that a genuine issue of fact exists as to whether MLB Clubs’ trade dress has achieved a secondary meaning in the marketplace. As such, summary judgment on MLBP’s Lanham Act claim is inappropriate.

Wow. In other words, are the logos and team colors of the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and other billion-dollar busineses protectable as trademarks? Think of the possibilities.

Full decision here.


Archer & Greiner

Hackensack, NJ office of Archer & Greiner, PC

It’s been pretty busy for me since I moved to Archer & Greiner, PC, so I haven’t blogged all that much lately.  And, after all, blogging is dead anyway, except for maybe 25 or so blogs, right?

Well, at least there’s microblogging, which I’ve tried to keep doing on Twitter.  As it turns out, I drive 20 minutes to work now instead of spending an hour or two a day on buses or trains.  The down side of that lifestyle improvement is that I used to do most of my topical tweeting while commuting,  But what’s still here is, I hope you’ll agree, pretty choice.

You may have missed some good stuff, in fact, from the @likely2confuse Twitter feed over the last few months.  Excluding tweets about the appeal regarding THE SLANTS trademark (because, you know, enough already), here’s some the stuff I broadcast about trademark, copyright and related topics recently — there’s actually so much that I think you’d like, if you read LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®, that I had to limit this post to the best of what I tweeted in May of this year (2015):

Read More…

Royal mess

Originally posted 2009-06-29 08:45:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Burger King’s trademark place is kind of funny.   If you Google His Majesty’s Monicker along with the word TRADEMARK, you get this link, which not only asserts, naturally, his royal BURGER KING® registered mark, but the far more dubious BK® mark down at the bottom, yet not at all (on that page) the ancient registered mark asserted at the Google search page, to wit:


Too much paranoia?

Yeah — HAVE IT YOUR WAY.  I mean, WAY®.  Are they really still using that phrase?  Is using it in the invisible text that shows up in a Google search good enough for non-abandonment purposes?

The whole thing was raised in my mind upon a visit to James Lileks, who notes:

Burger King is a brand mess anyway. The logo looks like Speed Racer’s gallstone. The old logo got stale, but I’ll bet they want it back, because it would look totally old-school on one of those pre-distressed-for-your-convenience retro T-shirts that use lousy 70s graphics to indicate your hipness quotient. Compare all this flailing and “repositioning” to the competition: McDonald’s ads have always been bland and corporate and stuck in the soft-focus world of happy people having happy burgers; BK has had to take different tacks.

Lileks walks through them all, and links in turn to this Gawker item (not quite safe for home) which notes, in an item entitled World’s Cleverest Ad Campaign Is Big Failure, that McDonald’s has lately been eating BK’s (ah!), um, lunch.

That’s because McDonald’s runs boring ads that show All-American people enjoying their McDonald’s food, with a little jingle at the end, and Burger King runs ads that win ad awards. If only the average burger-eater were clever enough to appreciate [Crispin Porter Bogusky]’s brilliant branding techniques! You slob Americans get what you deserve, as will Burger King.

Now that sounds subversive, and treacherous too.

Of course I can’t eat in either of those places, and kosher burger wars tend to be resolved far more peacefully, and without recourse to suggestions of regicide.  But don’t get me started about the chicken…

The color purple

Originally posted 2008-04-14 08:27:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Cadbury-PurpleCadbury is purple in the face over not being able to secure the wordlwide exclusive rights to the use of the color purple in association with the sale of chocolate — even as against an Australian company that’s been using the two together for almost a century:

Cadbury tells me it is “vigorously appealing” against a judgment over the use of purple. In a case that it has pursued for five years, Cadbury has tried and failed to stop Darrell Lea, an Australian chocolate manufacturer, from using the colour.

Despite the fact that Darrell Lea was established in 1927 and has been using purple for most of its existence, Cadbury insists that it has no right to the colour. Cadbury has registered one shade of purple in relation to block chocolate in tablet form in Britain but it has not been as successful elsewhere.

Purple, actually, may be the oldest legally-protected “trademark” color, of sorts. The color was, at certain times during ancient times and antiquity, permitted to be worn only by the nobility. To which, in the chocolate sense, Cadbury may or may not have a claim. I do like the stuff, and perhaps it is among the elite in the chocolate hierarchy. Certainly compared to virtually anything else the English make it is uniquely edible — but regal?

UPDATE:  Cadbury’s claim melts in its hands, not just in our mouths.

UPDATE II:  Settled, dismissed, whatever. It’s all over but the calories!  Via @IPThinkTank.

UPDATE III: Yes.  But no.  I mean yes.

Friends of the court, friends of the First Amendment

The approved and publishable amicus briefs in the appeal regarding the trademark registration of THE SLANTS are trickling in. Certainly interesting to see who is saying what.  So far, they all seem to be on the side of The Slants, though interestingly the INTA amicus brief does not take a position on the First Amendment issue (maybe because that’s usually a subject raised by defendants in infringement cases?) but instead addresses, as is appropriate given INTA’s level of trademark expertise, the issue of 43(a) of the Lanham Act.  INTA urges, understandably, that the constitutionality question “does not turn” on the availability or interpretation of 43(a) protection for unregistered marks.
The Slants - Chinatown Dance Rock
What do we have?  Here’s the amicus brief of Public Knowledge, styled as “in support of neither party”; here is Pro Football, Inc.’s (i.e., the Washington Redskins’) amicus brief very much in support of appellant; and now comes the First Amendment Lawyers Association (that’s Randazza and friends).

Here’s one we hadn’t counted on:  a submission by the Rutherford Institute together with the Cato Institute.  Cato’s blog post, authored by Ilya Shapiro, is here; the Cato / Rutherford amicus brief is here.

Hey, what happened to the ACLU, which, formerly (you should pardon the expression) confused, has now seen the light on this business?  Evidently the dog ate their ECF registration, and the ACLU amicus brief was filed a day late — today — along with a motion seeking permission to do that, for reasons set out therein.  Enough said — they are our friends (now) and, unlike those stinkers at Public Knowledge, say so right on the cover of their submission.

Okay, and what about those guys over at Public Knowledge?   Read More…

IP piggies

Originally posted 2008-01-30 20:27:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Ars Technica:

Not content with the current (and already massive) statutory damages allowed under copyright law, the RIAA is pushing to expand the provision. The issue is compilations, which now are treated as a single work. In the RIAA’s perfect world, each copied track would count as a separate act of infringement, meaning that a copying a ten-song CD evenpig_2_md.gif one time could end up costing a defendant $1.5 million if done willfully. Sound fair? Proportional? Necessary? Not really, but that doesn’t mean it won’t become law.

The change to statutory damages is contained in the PRO-IP Act that is currently up for consideration in Congress. We’ve reported on the bill before, noting that Google’s top copyright lawyer (and the man who wrote a seven-volume treatise on the subject of copyright law), William Patry, called the bill the most “outrageously gluttonous IP bill ever introduced in the US.”

Out. Of. Control.

Should we be doing something?

En Banc: Son of THE SLANTS Appeal Brief to the Federal Circuit

We’ve got your First Amendment right here:

Props to my partner John Connell and associates Darth Newman and, of course, the redoubtable Joel MacMull — who has now joined me at Archer & Greiner, P.C. and whose contribution to crafting the constitutional argument in the first round of CAFC briefing played a huge part in getting us here (in more ways than you will ever know).

From the Summary of Argument: Read More…

Trademark McCrisis? (Or, McArabia)

Originally posted 2006-02-15 12:28:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Angry at McDonaldsIs this good for McDonalds’ branding (click here for my personal favorite URL)?

I’m not so sure it’s that bad. Having your trademark publicly desecrated by the perpetually unhappy — the people, as Jonathan Rosenblum puts it, “for whom life itself is an insult” — because your mark is the happy symbol of American convenience, hospitality, tasty enjoyment and, well, let’s say free enterprise — isn’t the worst thing that can happen. (Via Instapundit.)

McDonald's AbroadBy the way, notice how the “angry” guy’s friends are cracking up as he does his performance for the cameras. Five will get you ten that he’s doing this to impress a girl.

Chicks love this stuff.

Yes, this cross-cultural business is confusing, isn’t it?

Keller & Cunard Go Deep on Copyright Law

PLI Copyright Treatise

Sell your soul to get this book.

I used to participate in a general-interest blog, back when my world was quite different, and my colleague over there, Dean Esmay (whose world and blog have changed even more), used to scold me for writing very long introductions that gave no hint of the topic of my post.  So here I’ve got a long introduction, and I can’t help but write it; but I’m telling you up front that this is a review of Bruce Keller and Jeffrey Cunard’s Copyright Law: A Practitioner’s Guide from the Practising Law Institute’s Intellectual Property Law Library.  And I’m telling you up front that if you just want to know whether to get this work, the answer is yes, and you can stop reading now.  It’s awesome — which is to be expected.  The authors are, of course, Satan’s spawn.

But before we go any further into the fiery depths of unforgivable excellence, some navel gazing.  Why bother with books?  Indeed, I shake my head in amazement when I ponder just how many CPU’s are under my control.  I’ve got far more computers, in the forms of desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones, than I can possibly justify, no matter how far I spread them out from each other.  Still, at the end of the day I believe in the value of books for enlightenment both spiritual and professional. And, you know, around the house.

Regarding professional reading, which is the topic of the blog, everyone with experience knows that notwithstanding the seeming ease of online research, it’s just good sense to crack open a treatise and familiarize yourself with the area of law you’re diving into before starting with the Boolean logic.  A string search for cases won’t teach you the lay of the land in an area of law that isn’t second nature to you.  Not only that, but rush headlong into case research without understanding the concepts and you may very well get, as top results, a handful of cases that are in the right jurisdiction, on point, “good law” (as in not having been questioned by another decision) and just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Having said that, it seems clear that the age of the massive treatise is over.  Like many readers, I had my gargantuan, costly, personal set of McCarthy for trademarks and my titanic, expensive personal set of Nimmer for copyright laid out across yards of bookshelf in my own little office for my own little use.  And what happened to them?  The fell into desuetude in every respect except the all important function of providing marginally interesting office decor.

This happened not because the value of legal learning through dead trees changed, but because these works cost a fortune, and required a small army of support staff to insert the updates even if you did spring for them.

And what was being updated in exchange for all that gold and all that business?  No small percentage of these treatsauruses consisted of statutes, regulations and forms that certainly don’t make any sense to pay for updating, or even keeping around in paper form.  As a result, the stuff you need is so spread out you have to spend 20 minutes just figuring out which volume to dust off.  At the end of the day, both works are available online (McCarthy’s on Westlaw, Nimmer on Lexis, alas), are nominally updated regularly, and cost a lot less that way, all told, than buying and feeding old-school updates.  So, heck with that.

Read More…

More digital law

Originally posted 2007-08-31 00:28:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

It’s the fingers again. By now you heard about the dispute about the “thumbs up” “trademark” claim being bandied with respect to Roger Ebert, the movie reviewer. A trademark in “thumbs up”? Yes, I was mighty skeptical. Now the Chicago Tribune interviews IP lawyer E. Leonard Rubin (e-ven his name says high-tech IP!) and he explains it all:

Q: So if Richard Roeper or his new semipermanent guest host, Robert Wilonsky, flashes a thumbs-up sign, Ebert could sue him?

A: In the opinion of intellectual property/entertainment lawyer E. Leonard Rubin, no. Ebert and Siskel trademarked the “thumbs up”/”thumbs down” catchphrases in relation to movies, and “Two Thumbs Up” has become a powerful identifier for the show as well as a potent marketing tool for the studios. But the gesture of raising or lowering thumbs to indicate approval or disapproval dates back to ancient Rome, so it’s not original and cannot be trademarked.

I agree with E. (I’d like to think someone of his stature wouldn’t use “trademark” as a verb and will ascribe that to some editor at the Trib coming back to the office after a long lunch across the street.) So what about the fuss we made a while ago about the Jay-Z / Diamond Dallas silly hand gesture dustup? Would the same reasoning apply?

It would — only the result might well be different, because (despite the sarcasm displayed at the time here) unlike the thumbs up / thumbs down gesture, the particular combination of joints at issue in the rapper-wrestler case seems relatively novel and, for its utter incomprehensibility, pleasantly arbitrary — as a good trademark should be.

Infringements of the heart

Would you ever have thought that the question of whether a party is tortiously liable for inducing another to infringe a patent depends on what is in the inducing party’s (or parties’) heart? If you did, today the Supreme Court decided in Commil v. Cisco (opinion here) that you were in error, holding that a defendant’s belief regarding patent validity is not a defense toan induced infringement claim.

Mistakes, I’ve had a few. But this wasn’t one of them. And in this 2013 brief in a patent case, we tried to address why it could not possibly be enough for a party defending against such a claim to take the position that it cannot have induced infringement because when it acted as alleged it did not subjectively believe the patent is valid.

What made this argument particularly interesting was that the defendants’ position was premised in part on the state of the law at the time, in particular with respect to the controversial, and still-evolving, matter of joint infringement under Akamai Techs., Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc., 692 F.3d 1301, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2012).  Still, we argued, this legal question can’t come down to feelings.  We wrote against this subjective concept of the intent requirement for inducement, resisting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the ground of non-infringement, as follows:

[Defendants] argument that the pre-Akamai law made it “impossible” to form the necessary intent to infringe—which is restated in a different form in part (D) of their moving brief, which regurgitates their invalidity defense—is preposterous. By that logic, the defendant in Akamai itself, and every case that follows it, could and would say the same thing. . . .

The issue . . . is not whether a criminal-law-type mens rea to act unlawfully must be alleged or proved to show “intent” for purposes of contributory liability. Rather, it is whether “the accused inducer . . . “knew of the asserted patents”and performed or induced the performance of the steps of the claimed methods.”

Defendants’ statements regarding “good faith intent” on this score are, therefore, irrelevant, besides typically being inappropriate issues on which to base dismissal on summary judgment. . . . Read More…