Articles Posted in Trademark and Copyright Litigation

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With the economy still unsteady after the recession, more and more people are attracted to the idea of starting their own business. But one of the biggest challenges when doing that is making sure you have something unique to offer the market.

For people who have spent most of their career working at one company, that’s often all they know. If they’re going to try to branch off on their own, they’d better make sure their new operation is significantly different from their employer’s, or at least has a new approach to the industry. Either way, it’s important to note that just copying and pasting your employer’s business is not only unethical – it’s illegal.

According to officials, David Newman, a 34-year-old trader who worked in Chicago, stole more than 400,000 electronic files from his employer. Those files contained all of WH Trading LLC’s proprietary computer code and trading software. Continue reading

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If a patent holder is allowed to control what happens to their patented products after the first sale, where would it end? Would they be able to take a cut from thrift shops? Garage sales?

Lexmark International, a technology company that makes printers and ink cartridges for those printers, has been selling its ink cartridges on the condition that they could not be refilled and resold after the initial sale. Despite that contingency, Impression Products, a small company based in West Virginia, was buying Lexmark’s ink cartridges (in the U.S. as well as abroad), refilling and refurbishing them, and reselling them at a reduced price.

Lexmark responded by suing Impression Products, claiming the company’s refusal to abide by the limitations Lexmark provided constituted trademark infringement. The case went before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is located in Washington. That court supported both of Lexmark’s claims concerning the resale of patented items that were initially purchased both in America, as well as those bought in other countries.

The appeals court agreed that, in most cases, anyone who bought a patented product was free to use it however they saw fit once they had paid for it, but that the conditions Lexmark had placed upon the sale of its ink cartridges was valid. Continue reading

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What’s in a name? While some claim it’s nothing more than a word (or combination of words), some people work really hard to maintain their good name. So when something comes along that might threaten that good name, they’ll do whatever it takes to put a stop to the potential harm before it gets out of hand.

Christopher Bray said he was aware of Ariel Investments at the time he created his own firm, Ariel Capital, in early 2014. But Bray claims Ariel Investments had nothing to do with the naming of his own company. Instead, he claims he drew his inspiration for his company’s name from the Bible and his daughter, who is also named Ariel.

Although a federal judge found Bray’s reasoning credible, he said it didn’t change the fact that the name of Bray’s company could cause confusion for consumers, especially given the fact that both firms are operating in the same industry. Continue reading

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They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but Louis Vuitton doesn’t seem to think so.

The luxury brand has filed numerous trademark infringement lawsuits against small companies that parody the designer bags in some way. The lawsuits have been so far fetched as to have been called “bullying” and one judge even laughed out loud at some of the claims Louis Vuitton was making.

The latest such lawsuit to gain media attention was filed against a small company called My Other Bag that made inexpensive, canvas bags with “My Other Bag” printed on one side and a parody of a well-known luxury bag printed on the other side. In the case of Louis Vuitton, the print evoked the famous Vuitton bag design, but the LV emblem was replaced by MOB. My Other Bag also sells canvas bags that include parody prints of other luxury bags, but Louis Vuitton was the only one to file a lawsuit.

Trademark infringements like this one are generally considered to be a bullying tactic because they involve a giant company filing a practically baseless lawsuit against a much smaller company that’s not even operating in the same market. While the canvas bags have been promoted as great for things like carrying groceries and going to the beach, true Louis Vuitton bags are more likely to be used by women carrying around their personal effects to high-end shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. They’re the kinds of bags to be shown off, whereas the canvas bags are clearly meant to be fun and practical and used in more casual settings. Continue reading

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While there are many people who dream of becoming an internationally renowned singer/songwriter, the position does have its drawbacks. For starters, many of them don’t own the rights to their own songs for their most lucrative years, and even when the songs’ copyrights have ended, many songwriters still have trouble regaining rights to the music they created.

For example, Sir Paul McCartney, writer and cowriter of some of the most successful songs of all time (including “All You Need Is Love” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”) is currently suing Sony/ATV for allegedly refusing to give up the rights to his songs.

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, authors and creators are allowed to reclaim the rights to their art from publishers after a certain amount of time has passed. Since that amount of time has expired for many of the Beatles’ timeless songs, McCartney should be able to reclaim ownership of his songs, but Sony/ATV has decided to put up a fight. Continue reading

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Some companies will do anything to get their hands on valuable trade secrets from their competitors. According to Olaplex, a startup based in California, L’Oréal allegedly tried everything from poaching employees to allegedly offering to acquire the company in order to gain access to allegedly sensitive, privileged and secret information. What was at stake was a alleged secret formula designed to protect hair from damage during the dyeing process.

Starting around the middle of 2015, L’Oréal allegedly tried to hire Olaplex employees it thought were responsible for creating the revolutionary product. When that didn’t work, L’Oréal allegedly approached Olaplex about possibly acquiring the company.

As a direct result of talks between the two companies to negotiate the terms under which the French-based company might acquire the U.S.-based company, L’Oréal was allegedly given access to confidential and proprietary information that had not yet been made available to the public, including an unpublished application for a patent on a product designed to allow customers to dye their hair without causing damage. Continue reading

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Attorneys generally get a bad reputation from those who think they’re motivated too much by money and not enough by serving their clients, but according to a recent indictment against Paul Hansmeier and John Steele, these two attorneys were allegedly using the courts to extort money from their opponents, rather than their clients.

The two attorneys attended the University of Minnesota Law School together, and while Hansmeier still lives in Minnesota, Steele is licensed in Illinois. According to the indictment, the two attorneys allegedly created sham companies in 2010, which they used to acquire the rights to certain pornographic films, some of which they made themselves. Then Steele and Hansmeier allegedly uploaded their copyrighted porn to file-sharing websites, knowing people would download their porn. Steele and Hansmeier would then file a copyright lawsuit against the individual on behalf of their “clients” – which were, in fact, the companies they themselves owned.

Then Steele and Hansmeier would allegedly petition the courts to require internet service providers to provide the identities of the people who had downloaded the porn. Once they had acquired those identities, the attorneys allegedly offered to settle the lawsuit for about $4,000. The alternative was to face public exposure and fines that could potentially get as high as $150,000. Many of their victims were either too humiliated and/or financially incapable of dealing with the lawsuit, so they often accepted the settlement offer. Continue reading

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When business deals go bad, the parties have the option of suing for breach of contract, depending on how much money was at stake and whether they can prove the other party failed to uphold their end of the bargain. But those who consider taking their grievances to court would be well advised to make sure they were the only injured party. Otherwise they could find themselves being forced to pay the people they’re trying to sue, which is exactly what happened to Play Beverages and CirTran after they filed a lawsuit against Playboy for an alleged breach of contract.

In fall of 2006, Playboy entered into a license agreement with Play Beverages that gave exclusive international distribution rights to the beverage company. The contract was for 20 years and included an option for the parties to renew the agreement ever five years.

Almost a year after this contract was signed, Play Beverages signed a contract with CirTran giving it limited rights to the manufacture and distribution of Playboy’s energy drink.

By the time they filed their lawsuit against Playboy, Play Beverages and CirTran allege they had successfully launched Playboy’s beverage in more than 30 countries and acquired distributors for an additional 80 countries. Despite these gains, the plaintiffs admitted they had not managed to meet the minimum sales target required by the license agreement. Continue reading

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In addition to individual keywords playing an important role in digital marketing, strings of keywords, or phrases, are also important. They help people narrow down their search by providing content that’s more specific to what they’re looking for.

But when people search multiple keywords, unless they put quotation marks around the phrase, online search engines will produce results that include those words in various combinations. This is why one company’s name or trademark does not need to look identical to another’s in order to cause confusion.

According to a recent trademark infringement lawsuit against Houston College of Law (formerly known as South Texas College of Law), the school’s new name and logo bore remarkable similarities to those of the University of Houston Law Center. The University of Houston published a statement pointing out these similarities and the problems they might cause, and when the college refused to do anything about it, the university sued to get the college to stop using the new name and logo. Continue reading

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The only “Blurred Line” Robin Thicke is dealing with right now is the one between paying homage to another artist’s creation and ripping it off.

The question of when, exactly, a certain piece of art goes from evoking another to infringing on the earlier piece’s copyright is a question that all artists have to deal with at some point in their careers and it’s never easy to answer.

Thicke’s hit single, “Blurred Lines,” which was released in 2013 and named Song of the Summer, has earned profits of more than $16 million for the singer/songwriter and his co-songwriter, Pharrell Williams.

But according to Marvin Gaye’s family, the hit song sounded too much like Gaye’s own hit, “Got to Give It Up,” to be anything other than outright plagiarism. Frankie and Nona Gaye, two of Marvin Gaye’s children, sued Thicke and Williams for copyright infringement in 2013 when “Blurred Lines” was still ranked Number 1. Continue reading