You Can Trademark That?  They Can Own What? Who Knew?

There are many reasons we have IP laws – but primary among them is to encourage creative types like artists and inventors to profit from their efforts by way of royalties or exclusive rights.  To encourage those efforts, the intellectual property laws give authors and creators a relative monopoly over something they’ve created – a trademark, an invention, a script, a computer program, etc.  It’s like society is saying “you made it, so you can own it – at least for a while…”

But a natural tension immediately presents itself when we grant these exclusive rights.  Our culture wants to embrace, use and assimilate all that is cutting edge and new without having to ask for permission.  We take – no, we borrow Pharrell Williams’  “Happy” riffs and make them background music to our YouTube® videos of our cats and our dogs.  We expropriate “just a” screen capture from the Godzilla movie and create e-cards or embed them on our Facebook® pages.  Our post-90s, crowd sourced, media-centered sensibility has created this “if it’s out there it must be free” (or “it wants to be free”) ethos … Keep reading

Scam AlertThere are few things more annoying than the feeling that you have been duped into paying for something that you neither need nor want.   IP owners, and particularly trademark owners, are common targets for scammers seeking to obtain fees for bogus, unnecessary or questionable services offered at outrageous prices.  No doubt these scams work because people are busy – but the notices also are steeped in what looks like official language, may appear to come from official governmental auspices, and seem to suggest that the fees cover “renewal,” “registration” or “publication.”  These activities are all items that IP owners are accustomed to paying for, so when they see notices requesting payment (rather than merely soliciting interest in a service) they tend to pay the invoice rather than ask questions about the content or source of the purported services.

Here’s how it works.  A trademark owner files to protect its mark in the U.S. or abroad.  They might use a law firm for that service or file directly.  Regardless, information about the applicant and the mark is publicly available through the online database maintained by the U.S. Trademark Office (or other international offices).  The purported scammer service provider picks up

Keep reading
Should Colors Be Protected as Trademarks? If Not, Should Letters? How Shoe Soles and Mobile Apps Might Be Related

One of the pleasures of practicing law, perhaps especially in the technology space –is in observing how technology trends and legal theories n Qualitex v. Jacobson, determined that single colors could be protected as trademarks—as long as the color, as applied to the relevant products, was not merely functional. Previously, some feared that granting trademark protection to single color (even if the color was non-functional) would be anti-competitive because colors were in short supply. Hence, no one should own one color exclusively. The Qualitex ruling seemed to provide closure on the issue by focusing the analysis on the functionality of the color shade rather than the potential for that color to be removed from the designer’s pallet.

But recently, as the trademark community knows, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals took up the appeal in Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent, a case that revisits the protectability of color, this time as used to identify a brand of shoes. The District Court opined that the use of red on a shoe sole (or on any fashion item) was “functional” by its very nature and that granting a monopoly to color on a fashion item was outside the bounds … Keep reading

Settlement

As of July 2, 2012, the World Trademark Review and its blogger, Helen Sloan, are reporting that Apple has agreed to pay $60 million to Proview Technologies for the IPAD mark in China.  As I previously summarized in an earlier post, Apple thought it had already acquired all the rights to the IPAD mark, but it learned after a transaction with Proview’s sister company that it had not (allegedly) obtained a complete assignment in China from the record owner of the rights there.  Apple’s proffered settlement is quite a bit larger than the $16 million it was rumored to be offering, but given the popularity of the Apple device and the potential market in China, the sum is a worthy investment.

Lessons from Apple’s experience include:

1)  Diligence needs to be thorough.  Mixed ownership of assets in related, sister and subsidiary names is not uncommon.  Making sure the papers are signed by the right entity is critical to finalizing a deal and getting genuine closure on the acquisition of any intellectual property right.

2) Negotiating through an acquisition subsidiary can be perilous.  Apple used a separate corporation to purchase rights to the IPAD mark in various countries … Keep reading

Nora Ephron

Last night, Nora Ephron passed.   Already the internet andblogosphere are filled with this news and discussion of the loss of an incredibly prolific, comical and impactful artist.  While she is associated with a broader feminist agenda, her real contributions were in giving comic and touching voice to life experiences that happened to be shared primarily by women.   Her clarion call to women, especially younger women, to “…be the heroine of your life, not the victim,” might have been her most poignant gift.

But what, you may well ask, has Ephron’s passing to do with intellectual property or the law of information?  Well everything and nothing at once…  I was once asked to opine upon the intersection of intellectual property protection and gender.  I was flummoxed by this question at first, feeling that certainly there was gender blindness when it comes to IP rights and their exploitation.  But if you scratch beneath the surface — as Ephron always did — the story is much more complicated.It’s breathtaking to remember that women were still considered chattel until several hundred years ago.  Then, having thrown off that burden, we still could not own property for another huge block of … Keep reading

Why or what or who is Lex Indicium?  Roughly translated, and with apologies to the classical scholars who may happen upon this blog, Lex Indicium means “law of information,” or “law of data” in Latin.  In a broad sense, the “law” that applies to data, and/or rights in data or information is what this blog seeks to explore.  In my law practice, I might say that I am an “intellectual property lawyer, who specializes in trademarks, copyrights, and information law.”  But my passion and interest have been drawn to this craft by fundamental questions  – “who owns or should own information—any information, be it text, raw factual data, art, etc?  Should it be free or should it be exploitable and monopolized and monetized?  And which answers lead to the greatest good for society?”
Since I began practicing law almost 20 years ago these questions really have been asked repeatedly in the context of one burgeoning cultural phenomenon known as digital technology—which technology has had one primary (and largely freely available) medium– the internet.  But the questions themselves and the issues that flow from them are ancient, stretching back to ancient times.  This, combined with my own background in
Keep reading