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Trademarks can be trickier than a lot of people realize. Although it would be wonderful to simply tell the government you’re trademarking something and rest assured that it will be protected from that point on, the realities of applying for and protecting one’s trademark status are much more blurry.

This continues to be even increasingly the case as our markets become more and more globalized. Although a complaint for an alleged trademark violation would normally have to prove the defendant was infringing on the plaintiff’s market, defining the line between markets has gotten increasingly difficult with both the advent of the Internet and advances in technology that make travel easier and less painful.

A U.S. district court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Trader Joe’s for alleged patent infringement, but Trader Joe’s appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the appellate court decided to revive the grocery store’s claims. Continue reading

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Peter Doig isn’t exactly a common name, but the world-famous painter of that name had the bad fortune of bearing a similar name to that of Peter Edward Doige, who is apparently the true creator of a landscape painting at the center of a highly unusual lawsuit that was recently filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois.

Doige, not the painter Doig, served a short sentence in an Ontario correctional facility for LSD possession in the mid-1970s, which is where he met Robert Fletcher, who was allegedly serving as his parole officer. Fletcher said he watched Doige create a landscape painting that bears some strong resemblances to the paintings Doig is famous for and that regularly sell for $10 million or more. Fletcher said he bought the painting for $100 as a way to help Doige stay on the straight and narrow and helped him get a job.

The painting in question hung on a wall in Fletcher’s office for 40 years before a friend noticed it and told him it was by a famous painter: Peter Doig. Fletcher said he watched a talk Doig had given at a university and recognized his mannerisms as belonging to the man he helped all those years ago. Fletcher then got into contact with an art dealer in Chicago and they began making arrangements to sell the painting. Continue reading

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Non-compete agreements were initially included in employment contracts with high-level executives at tech companies, but in recent years employers have increasingly been including them in their contracts with almost all their workers.

Non-compete agreements were designed to protect the company’s legitimate business interests by preventing executives with trade secrets and/or valuable relationships with customers from taking those resources to a competitor across the street. However, in an attempt to make their employment contracts air tight, some employers have gotten a little carried away and created non-compete agreements that make it unreasonably difficult for their workers to find any other form of employment at all.

Despite the increased propensity for and strictness of these agreements, many companies don’t bother to enforce them when their lower-level workers start working for a competitor in another region. But when an employer does try to enforce what might be considered an overly restrictive non-compete agreement, workers have been known to fight back, arguing that the agreement is too strict to be legally enforceable. Continue reading

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With so many labor laws at the federal, state, and city levels, it’s no wonder employers and employees alike sometimes get confused as to which laws apply to them, and in the event of conflicting regulations, which ones take priority.

The federal Department of Labor (DOL) exists to help enforce labor laws, conduct investigations into employers suspected of violating labor laws, and help educate employers on how to implement and maintain proper labor practices. Recently, the DOL reached an agreement with Subway in which the department agreed to help the giant subway chain develop training materials in order to instruct its franchisees on how to abide by federal labor laws.

According to the agreement, labor officials will attend meetings of Subway’s owners, as well as the company’s yearly convention. The parties have also agreed to share data regarding completed investigations into the employment practices of franchisees so both Subway and the DOL can analyze the data and come up with new ways to promote compliance with federal labor laws among all of Subway’s franchisees.

Under the terms of the agreement, Subway will also be able to decide whether its franchises should have their status stripped as a result of its record of violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Continue reading

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Mortgage loan servicer Quicken Loans Inc. ran afoul of the National Labor Relations Act when it adopted a policy prohibiting its mortgage bankers from using or disclosing personnel information or publicly criticizing the company. That was the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Quicken Loans Inc. v. NLRB, No. 14-1231 (D.C. Cir. 2016), after the National Labor Relations Board had determined that Quicken’s rules unreasonably burdened its employees’ ability to discuss legitimate employment matters, protest employer practices, and organize.

Quicken mortgage bankers were required to sign “proprietary/confidential information” and “non-disparagement” rules. Confidential information included personnel files, rosters, and handbooks. Bankers had to agree not to “publicly criticize, ridicule, disparage, or defame” the company or its management, orally or in writing, including on websites, blogs, or emails.

Lydia G. was a mortgage banker in Quicken’s Scottsdale, Arizona office. After she took a job with one of Quicken’s competitors, Quicken sued her for violating her employment agreement. Lydia filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB alleging that Quicken’s confidentiality and non-disparagement rules interfered with its employees’ rights under the NLRA.

Section 7 of the NLRA protects employees’ rights to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment, criticize or complain about their employer or work conditions, and enlist others in addressing employment matters. Employers that restrict the rights guaranteed by Section 7 commit an unfair labor practice.

Whether workplace rules run afoul of Section 7 turns on whether they “would reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their statutory rights,” either facially, in effect, or in application (Lafayette Park Hotel, 326 NLRB 824 (1998)). Continue reading

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When a public figure’s reputation is tarnished, their decision regarding whether to give a press conference about the scandal may or may not be paired with a defamation lawsuit. In the case of Genesis Davila, the 24-year-old beauty pageant contestant chose to go with both the lawsuit and the press conference.

Davila was awarded the coveted title of Miss Florida USA 2017, a position that comes with both a crown and an opportunity to compete in the pageant to become Miss USA.

But Davila was suddenly stripped of her crown following allegations that she used professional hair and makeup stylists who were not affiliated with the pageant, which is strictly prohibited by the rules of the pageant. Her crown and title were given instead to her runner-up, Linette De Los Santos.

Davila has responded by filing a defamation lawsuit that is asking for $15 million in damages, as well as an immediate injunction to return the crown and title to Davila.

Grant Gravitt, the pageant’s executive producer, claims there is plenty of evidence, as well as eye-witness accounts that support their decision to crown a new Miss Florida USA 2017 on the grounds that Davila allegedly used professional stylists to achieve the look that won her the crown. Gravitt added that the pageant has a zero-tolerance policy for contestants who don’t follow the rules. Continue reading

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With all the hate crimes going on these days, it can be hard sometimes to remember that it’s the 2010s and not the 1960s, but strides have been made and there are laws in place to protect everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

A resident of Mount Prospect, Illinois recently allegedly violated some of these rights granted to the members of an African-American family that moved in to her neighborhood. The members of the family in question (Iris Howe and her grown children, Samuel Mobley and Sidney Powell) filed a civil lawsuit against their neighbor, Terry Calliari, for allegedly making them the targets of racial harassment.

According to the civil complaint, Calliari allegedly made repeated use of racial slurs, tried to prevent Howe and her children from using the pool included in the complex, followed them, and blocked their paths with her car. The lawsuit alleges the harassment began the day they moved in – when Calliari allegedly used a racial epithet to refer to her new neighbors – and continued for the next five years.

In those five years, the civil lawsuit alleges that Calliari’s persistent racial harassment against the family prevented them from enjoying their basic rights to enjoy their own home, personal property, and community in peace. Continue reading

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Most of us are familiar with that little box that pops up every time we visit almost any website. It usually says something about agreeing to the terms of service, which are sometimes listed in the box, while other times there’s a link to a full web page devoted to a long list of legal terminology that few people bother to read. More often than not, users check the box without bothering to read all or any of the terms of service so we can go about our business. Reading all the terms of every service we ever use could very well take up most or all our time so we tend to skip over them.

Recently, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff recognized this fact when denying Uber’s motion to compel arbitration that was filed in Manhattan federal court.

Spencer Meyer, an Uber customer from Connecticut, sued the ride share company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, for allegedly participating in a price-fixing scheme with drivers that allegedly raised Uber prices during periods of high demand. Because Uber takes a certain percentage of every driver’s earnings, the lawsuit alleged both Uber and its drivers benefited from the allegedly calculated rise in prices. Although the consumer lawsuit was initially filed only against Kalanick, the complaint was later amended to include Uber as a defendant and that’s when the company asked the court to compel arbitration. Continue reading

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Despite the high number of lawsuits that get filed these days, actually taking a lawsuit all the way to trial isn’t as common as a lot of TV dramas would have you believe. It’s an expensive and time-consuming process, which means it’s usually a last resort for everyone involved. Most people try to use mediators or some other form of neutral third party before they resort to asking a judge to weigh in on their dispute.

Even after a lawsuit has been filed, the parties involved get together outside of court to negotiate a settlement agreement. If they can reach a consensus, then they can avoid the hassle of pursuing the trial and put an end to the matter. It’s certainly better than spending the considerable time and money involved in pursuing legal matters, but it takes more than just the two parties agreeing to a settlement in order to avoid trial: the judge presiding over the case has to approve the settlement agreement.

Settlement negotiations can take place any time between the filing of a lawsuit and the start of the trial, which means the judge usually does not have all the information when deciding whether to approve the settlement agreement. Nevertheless, the judge will have received at least the plaintiff’s complaint and some sort of response from the defense. The judge then has to use whatever information they have been given in order to make sure the settlement agreement is fair to both parties. Continue reading

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Most large companies have entire departments devoted to handling their public relations and part of their job description includes coming up with ways to counteract negative media attention. Most of those strategies don’t involve filing a defamation lawsuit against the news organization that published the unflattering statements, but that’s exactly what Hummingbird Defense Systems did after two news organizations reported a breach of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, an intelligence center that was set up by local government authorities after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Hummingbird Defense Systems is a small firm located in Phoenix and run by Steve Greschner. In 2007, a Chinese national was hired by Hummingbird Defense Systems as a computer programmer, which allegedly gave him access to the Arizona driver’s license database and possibly to a list of investigators and intelligence analysts. When the employee allegedly returned to Beijing with two laptops, as well as additional hard drives, the security breach was not immediately reported to the state’s attorney general, despite the fact that it may have affected as many as 5 million Arizona residents.

At the time that Hummingbird Defense Systems hired the Chinese national, Greschner was allegedly dating a Chinese immigrant who had been naturalized as a U.S. citizen and she allegedly urged Greschner to hire the Chinese national. She was never charged as a spy, although she was allegedly a suspect for a while and a federal judge did revoke her citizenship status. Continue reading