Tag Archives: Trademark Law

A theory of likelihood of confusion

Originally posted 2007-08-24 08:02:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Legal Theory Blog excerpts from a recent article on the the back story of trademark litigation, by one Michael Grynberg:

The plaintiff effectively represents two parties. She defends her trademark and simultaneously protects consumers who may be confused by the defendant’s behavior. The defendant, by contrast, stands alone.The resulting “two-against-one” storyline gives short shrift to the interests of non-confused consumers who may benefit from the defendant’s purportedly infringing behavior. Ignoring these consumers is especially problematic given the ease with which courts apply pejorative labels, like “misappropriation” and “free riding,” to the conduct of trademark defendants. As a result, courts are too receptive to non-traditional trademark claims, like initial interest and post-sale confusion, for which the case for consumer harm is questionable.

More rational results are available by appreciating trademark litigation’s parallel status as a conflict between consumers. This view treats junior and senior trademark users as proxies for different consumer classes and recognizes that likely confusion among one group of consumers may affirmatively harm others.

I like anyone who tries to push back harm-to-the-plaintiff-free trademark lawsuits based on “non-traditional trademark claims,” and I have not read the whole article (I don’t think it’s available on line), but I don’t quite think this works. As a practical matter I do not believe that this “two against one” burden is a meaningful one for defendants; on the contrary, it is a burden the plaintiff has to carry: He has to convince the courts that not only he, but consumers, are being harmed by the alleged infringement.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The problems is the opposite one from what it seems Grynberg is saying: Judges ignore the consumer-harm burden placed on the plaintiff, and treat trademarks as rights in gross. Or at least, some do; and the corporate trademark bar most certainly wants them to.

Thus the problem is the mirror image of the one posited.  The solution: Don’t add a factor to the defendant side; merely recognize it on the plaintiff side. It’s been there all along, feeling lonely, judges.

U.S. District of Arizona: “No automatic injunction upon a finding of copyright infringement”

Originally posted 2008-09-05 17:38:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Not that the plaintiffs in the Designer Skin case didn’t get an injunction:  They did (here it is); a narrow one utilizing proposed language by defendants explicitly permitting S&L to use its own photographs of Designer Skin merchandise on its website (see the prior post).  But the Court ruled that they were not entitled to it merely by virtue of proving copyright infringement.  Here’s an excerpt from the opinion, discussing the point:

The parties dispute the law governing the issuance of a permanent injunction in a copyright-infringement case. Relying on MAI Sys. Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 520 (9th Cir. 1993), Designer Skin argues that “a permanent injunction [should] be granted in a copyright infringement case when liability has been established and there is a threat of continuing violations.”  Conversely, S & L Vitamins argues that the MAI rule has been overruled by the recent Supreme Court opinion in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388 (2006), and that the traditional four-factor test reaffirmed by eBay applies.

MAI’s general rule may accurately describe the result of applying the four-factor test to a copyright-infringement case in which liability has been established and there is a threat of continuing violations. Nevertheless, as Judge Wilson persuasively demonstrated in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 518 F. Supp. 2d 1197, 1209-10 (C.D. Cal. 2007), this general rule, as a rule, is clearly inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay. Thus, for the reasons given by Judge White in Grokster, Designer Skin’s reliance on this pre-eBay rule is unavailing, and the Court will apply the traditional four-factor test. . . .

This is an important holding, making the District of Arizona among the handful of earliest courts to apply the rule of eBay to copyright infringement.  After the jump, you can see how the court did apply it to one particular factor of interest, the need for a plaintiff seeking an injunction to prove irreparable harm.  The court agreed with S&L that past infringement does not lead to a presumption of future infringement. Unfortunately, to our client’s (nominal) detriment, and despite our argument that, seeing as how Designer Skin enunciated no coherent description of harm it suffered by the infringement — and that, in fact, it probably benefited from it — an injunction should not issue, the court found that there was irreparable harm, for reasons best expressed in its own words. Read More…

But it is the Dark Side? Or just plain old The Force?

Originally posted 2010-09-22 15:59:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Evan Brown:  “Behold the power of in rem actions“:

In rem actions over domain names are powerful tools. A trademark owner can undertake these actions when it identifies an infringing domain name but cannot locate the owner of that domain name.  In a sense, the domain name itself is the defendant. . . .

An “impostor” registered mediavestw.com, and “tricked” at least one of plaintiff’s business partners into signing up for advertising services. Plaintiff owns a trademark for MEDIAVEST and operates a website at mediavestww.com.  Plaintiff filed an in rem action and sought a temporary restraining order (TRO). . . .

The court found that the TRO would serve the public interest because such interest favors elimination of consumer confusion. (Consider whether there really was any consumer harm that took place here if the alleged fraud was on a business-to-business level. Compare the findings in this case with the finding of no consumer nexus in the recent Reit v. Yelp case.)

The court found that plaintiff had made such a strong showing of the likelihood of success that it did not require plaintiff to post a bond. It ordered the domain name transferred into the court’s control immediately. Behold the power of in rem actions.

Oh, when the defendant is this naughty, Evan, a question such as “was it really consumer confusion”? — perhaps we could ask, instead, “Was there really LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION given the sophistication of consumers?”–is, as we say in yeshiva, “not really a question.”

You’ve got a copycat domain name, a competing business and, for heaven’s sake, the Golden Ring itself — actual confusion?  Don’t give me questions!  And as Evan says, it’s for cases such as this one where the wrongfulness of the act is, not surprisingly, matched by the ethereality of the defendant that Congress gave us the in rem action.  Powerful stuff!

Some intel on INTEL®

Originally posted 2010-04-07 03:15:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

CIA Headquarters - intel inside

There's intel inside.

BUMPED from January 1, 2010 and UPDATED due to decision (scroll to the bottom for the stunning conclusion):

Had you heard about this one from Mike Masnick?

Chip giant Intel has a bit of a reputation for being a trademark bully at times, threatening or suing many companies just for having “intel” in their name somewhere — including a travel agency and a jeans company. Now, before anyone brings it up, yes, as a trademark holder the law requires you to enforce your trademark against infringement, lest it become considered “generic” (such as xerox machines, kleenex tissues, aspirin and other brand names that became generic).  But, the key in all of those generic situations was that the use was applied to things that directly competed with the original brand’s products. People referred to other tissues as “kleenex” and it stuck. Intel’s lawyers seem to go out of their way to find potential infringement where there obviously is none at all.

Paul Alan Levy alerts us to the latest such case, where Intel has sued the operators of the Mexico Watch newsletter, because its domain is LatinIntel.com. Of course, the reason for that is that it is using the commonly accepted abbreviation of “intel” as short for “intelligence.” It’s common shorthand, especially within government circles, to refer to gathered intelligence as simply “intel.” . . .

More importantly, no one is going to look at LatinIntel.com and confuse it for the world’s largest computer chip maker. No one is going to look at that site and wonder how come they can’t order a Centrino processor. There’s simply no confusion at all. . . .

Well, when I first read that post, I thought Mike may just be on to something there. Here’s how I see it now:

UPDATE:  Intel loses (don’t get excited about the “decision” itself however!)

Yay us!

Glory and gratitude to my co-counsel Colby Springer who nailed it at oral argument.

MORE:  Is less.

Fat lady sings: Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law in Designer Skin v S & L Vitamins

Originally posted 2008-09-05 17:01:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The District of Arizona ruled today in a case we defended through trial and have reported on here extensively.  The decision is here; the minute entry on the electronic docket reads as follows:

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW – that S & L Vitamins has infringed Designer Skin’s copyrights in the electronic renderings of the 42 products styled [by various brand names] and that Designer Skin is entitled to a permanent injunction enjoining S & L Vitamins from any such future infringement of these copyrights;

FURTHER ORDERED that S & L Vitamins has not infringed Designer Skin’s copyrights in the electronic renderings of the 12 products styled [by various brand names];

FURTHER ORDERED that each party shall bear its own costs in this matter.

Signed by Judge James A Teilborg

No attorneys’ fees for either side.  The injunction reads as follows (per the minute entry); prefatory language is omitted and emphasis is added:

FINAL JUDGMENT AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION in favor of Designer Skin, LLC against S&L Vitamins, Inc. . . . S & L Vitamins . . . are hereby immediately and permanently ENJOINED from publicly displaying, using, copying, or otherwise infringing Designer Skin’s copyrights in these electronic renderings for any purpose whatsoever. Nothing herein, however, shall be construed to enjoin S & L Vitamins from taking, using, or displaying original photographs of the physical Products themselves in connection with S & L Vitamins’ sale of the Products on the internet.

Signed by Judge James A Teilborg

Interested persons may wish to ponder how, and to what extent, the Court addressed the issues framed by the counsel for the respective parties, including identification of what indeed are “Designer Skin’s copyrights in [its] electronic renderings,” by considering the proposed findings and facts and conclusions of law submitted by the plaintiffs, and by the defendants, respectively.

For practitioners interested in the law of injunctions, the most interesting part of the decision concerns the court’s application of the rule in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388 (2006) that there is no automatic entitlement to an injunction upon a finding of infringement to a copyright infringement case.  We have made a separate post addressing that part of the decision.

S&L’s website is here, by the way.  Buy Designer Skin lotion from S&L!  It’s the way both sides pay their lawyers!

1600 tweets, and whaddya get?

Originally posted 2010-04-27 13:36:08. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Fortune
Here’s what I’ve got the last couple of weeks, in terms of tweety things.  This is as good a way to focus on and round up topical developments as any, I say–short of Blawg Review, which, by the way, is hosted by the IP Kat this week and is a must-read.

But here’s my selection, lightly annotated, of my recent 140-character expression via @roncoleman:

That should be plenty for now.  Gotta fly.

Where you stand depends on where you sit

Originally posted 2009-12-28 09:00:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I’ve never had a guest post in response to a LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® item before, but that’s only because no one with the stature to respond to something I’ve written here based on personal knowledge of the facts has ever had the nerve to ask for one — not until I entered the rock and roll world of the fascinating Ritchie Fliegler, that is.  Ritchie’s a marketing guy, not a lawyer, so, naturally, he’s not afraid to speak truth to, uh, whatever it is this thing we have here is.Here’s what I would love to be able to say is the first of many replies to a LOC blog post from someone with a different point of view, and in a position to know. — RDC

 

“Where you stand depends on where you sit” – Nelson Mandela

This is one of my favorite quotes.  Not only does it ring true on so many levels, it’s also easier to understand than Einstein’s theory of relativity, which says basically the same thing —“Two events, simultaneous for some observer, may not be simultaneous for another observer if the observers are in relative motion.”

What does this have to do with trademark law? Not much actually, but it has a lot to do with a spirited and interesting conversation I had recently, with Ron.

Like many of you, my Google alerts are set to tick off on a number of subjects near and dear to me, classic cars, family members, former employers and the like. A few days ago the Google light went off alerting me to a blog post about a former employer, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) and their failed attempt to register trademarks for their famous guitar-body shapes – Strat, Tele and P-Bass. The article was well written, and thoughtful, however, in a vortex of relativity that would do ol’ Albert proud, my blood started to boil at what I perceived as purposeful errors and omissions by an uninformed outsider.

Now, I have been away from FMIC for well over two years, but I still have many dear friends at the place as well as a lingering vested interest… so I sprung in to action and sent a message with a requisite level of rancor. Read More…

How many points is INFRINGEMENT?

Originally posted 2008-07-27 16:19:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

We had been wondering who had the “Z.” Now the other tile drops, and probably right onto a triple word score — Hasbro, owner of the SCRABBLE trademark, has sued Scrabulous (complaint here; exhibits here):

The general manager for digital media and gaming at Hasbro said yesterday that the company had waited until there was a “legal” version of Scrabble on Facebook before it took action against the Scrabulous creators.

The lawsuit, filed in a US district court in New York, accused Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla – two software developers based in Calcutta – of violating Hasbro’s copyright and trademarks. Facebook was not named as a defendant.

Neither brother nor any representative from their web design company, RJ Softwares, could immediately be reached for comment today.

More here. The complaint is not online yet.* We’ll try to keep you posted.

UPDATE:  For what it’s worth — maybe, someday, my descendants will read this — I just remembered that my first-ever trademark research project as a paid legal professional was as a summer associate at Kaye, Scholer, where I was assigned to research a question involving some aspect of the Scrabble trademarks on behalf of client Selchow & Righter, which had then recently been purchased by Coleco and owned the rights to Scrabble before Hasbro bought them out of bankruptcy.  Of course the nature of the research I did is still confidential… even to me.  But I can say confidently that in the summer of 1987, it did not involve Scrabulous.

UPDATE:  The offending “app” is now gone from Facebook, while a thousand utterly idiotic — but non-infringing — ones live on!

UPDATE:  Victoria Pynchon does the heavy lifting:

If Player 1 opens with “fringe” (double word) for 24 points; Player 2 follows by slapping an “i” on the triple word score followed by an “n” for “infringe” and 33 points; and, Player 1 responds with “ment” for 19 points, the combined score for “infringement” is 75 points. Our readers can do the math and moves on “trademark” and copyright.”

UPDATE:  And… what ever did happen to Scrabulous, you ask?

* Even though, like all District Courts, the Southern District of New York, which describes itself as the Mother of District Courts, has mandatory electronic filing, you have to file the initial pleading or case-opening document in person, then go back, scan the file and mail it back to the clerk. If t They filed on Thursday the 24th;  the complaint should be was online some time Monday or Tuesday.

H.R. Pufnstuf, Call Your Lawyer

Originally posted 2005-07-12 13:45:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Via Techlaw Advisor [UPDATE:  shuttered], a link to a very smart copyright blog from a member of the firm that cleaned my clock in 1998. The item by Bill Patry, Clothing and Costumes Redux, is surely everything you ever needed to know about whether dressing up in funny costumes is going to be a ticket to federal court, in light of (or despite, as he suggests) two recent decisions. (Oddly, however, he does not address the Barney decision, nor the H.R. Pufnstuf kerfuffle stuff from a few years ago.)

It’s not every day that I say this, but Patry’s blog is one H-E-double-hockey-sticks of a good IP blog, if you’re into that sort of thing (and who isn’t*)? I bookmarked it and you should, too.

 

I enjoy being a trademark lawyer

Originally posted 2009-03-27 17:28:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

John Welch at the TTABlog® has up what even he acknowledges is an “excit[ing]” post, in which he both imagines himself a woman and quotes this lively Trademark Trial and Appeals Board opinion excerpt concerning the resolution of the Chippendale’s dancer-boy trademark appeal I discussed a while back:

The TTAB appeal was a washout

The TTAB appeal was a washout

Judge David Bucher . . . asked “what purpose is served by prosecuting this application in light of applicant’s [incontestable] registration,” particularly in light of the burden it placed on the PTO? “Trademark Examining Attorneys laboring under demanding production requirements cannot afford to be time travelers, and few have advanced degrees in dramaturgy and theatre arts.”

Nonetheless, he found that the subject mark “would appear to be an original creation and an immediately recognizable symbol belonging to applicant alone, and hence, inherently distinctive.”

Judge Bucher accepted [drama iconology expert] Dr. Shteir’s conclusion that “the expectations of the all-female audience to whom the show was originally presented are critical to our decision herein.”

Yay for Judge Bucher!  Unfortunately for Chippendale’s, however, as well as LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®, which opined that the seedy purveyor of undercooked beefcake should (not “would,” Mr. Welch!) win this one, the ellipsis above elides the words, “in a lively dissent.”

See John’s blog for learned analysis of the opinion, as well as thoughtful consideration of the practical lawyering and IP-strategy issues originally addressed in the comments here.

A breath of fresh air!

Originally posted 2011-03-30 21:30:45. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Cascade Mountains

Other mountains, somewhere else. Seen from indoors.

Sometimes you just get to enjoy the view.  Ain’t I an environmentalist too?  Here, courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune, is nature at its vicious, and revealing, best:

Utah environmental activist Jeff Salt has been quarreling for two years with the green network started by Bobby Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Now, with the help of one of Houston’s most prominent business law firms, he’s taking on Kennedy’s Waterkeeper Alliance directly in a countersuit, claiming it has no right to stop him from calling himself the Great Salt Lakekeeper.

The case, which Salt and his attorneys declined to discuss, is not the sort of thing you might expect from environmentalists fighting for cleaner water, land and air.

Oh, it’s not, huh?

Have these people ever met Bobby Kennedy?

 

Turning back that Crimson Tide

Originally posted 2009-11-03 13:50:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Trademark law does not trump the right to make and sell artistic depictions of real life after all, it turns out.  Or even NCAA football.

Almost exactly four years ago I wrote about the suit by the University of Alabama urging the obnoxious claim that artistic depictions of its players at play were, by virtue of utilization of the familiar uniforms and colors of those players, infringements of the Alabama trademarks in its corporate sports machine.  Amazingly, the first judicial ruling in that case has just come out — and, blessedly, it gets it right (even if the Tuscaloosa News reporting of it is a little, er, sic):

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Propst said in an opinion that Moore did not violate trademark laws by painting scenes of Crimson Tide football without licensing the work through the university. He rejected UA’s argument that the football team’s uniform and colors are iconic enough to trump First Amendment rights in fine art.

‘This court concludes that the depiction of the uniforms in the paintings is incidental to the purpose and expression of the paintings; that is, to artistically depict and preserve notable football plays in the history of University of Alabama football,’ Propst wrote in his memorandum opinion.

UA attorneys had argued before Propst in a hearing two weeks ago that Moore’s paintings showed trade dress, which they said is any symbol associated with UA, including the crimson and white color scheme.UA sued Moore for trademark violations in March 2005, alleging that he painted scenes of Crimson Tide football games without permission from the university and reissued previously licensed prints without paying royalties. The university is seeking back pay [sic] for more than 20 paintings and wants Moore to license any future paintings. . . .

Propst knocks down nearly every claim made by UA attorneys against Moore, even writing that Moore did not violate previous licensing agreements with new or reissued paintings. At the center of the issue, Propst dismisses UA’s assertion that painting Crimson Tide football violates [sic] trademark because the uniforms and their colors are not protected.

Also, UA argued that Moore’s paintings were too realistic and did not transform the original scene enough to constitute artistic expression. However, Propst writes the reality of the painting is needed to relate the play and adds to the level of artistry.

Propst also writes there isn’t enough confusion among customers as to who sponsors the paintings. ‘It is likely that people who buy the Moore paintings do so, at least partially, because of their loyalty to the University of Alabama and its football team,’ he wrote. ‘That, however, does not create any reasonable inference that they do so because of confusion based on the color of the uniforms.’

The whole opinion is here.

There will be no end to the greed or the attempt to utterly distort the entire purpose of trademark here — this will be appealed, it has been promised.  In the Eleventh Circuit (as everywhere else), “To show a likelihood of success on the merits for [either a] trademark and trade dress infringement, [a plaintiff] must show that consumers will likely confuse the [plaintiff's] mark or dress with [the junior user's product or service]. See Carnival Brand Seafood Co. v. Carnival Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1307, 1309 (11th Cir. 1999) (trademark); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., v. Samara Bros., Inc., 529 U.S. 205, 146 L. Ed. 2d 182, 120 S. Ct. 1339,1343 (2000) (trade dress).”  So what’s the argument — the public will think that the paintings are the Crimson Tide’s latest run defense?

Of course, consumer confusion is never, ever seriously considered in naked rent-seeking cases such as these — Read More…