DuetsBlog

Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

Celebrity Protects His and His Son’s IP

Posted in Articles, Civil Procedure, Counterfeits, Idea Protection, Law Suits, Non-Traditional Trademarks, Trademarks

DJ Kahled and his son’s company sued an online retailer named Curtis Bordenave and his company, Business Moves Consulting, Inc., alleging that they are illegally using he and his son Asahd’s intellectual property.

Most of you likely know who DJ Kahled is, but I had not heard of him before reading about this dispute.  When I asked my friend Friday night about him, she said “I know he is famous but I can’t tell you why.”  In looking at the Complaint, I found that “Kahled has enjoyed tremendous success in the United States and beyond as an entertainer, record producer, radio personality, radio label executive, and media celebrity.”  Wow.  It appears I have been missing out.

DJ Kahled himself owns the KAHLED mark in connection with musical sound recordings musical video records, Disc jockey services, and other entertainment services.

DJ Kahled’s son, Asahd Tuck Kahled, is frequently featured on Instagram. The complaint asserts that Asahd has become a social media phenomenon.  He has lots of followers on Instagram (a social media I need to start using more—I have an account that I only use right now to communicate with my niece and nephew).

In addition, DJ Kahled is challenging Bordenave’s filing an application for “We The Best Lifestyle,” which infringes on his trademark WE THE BEST®.  DJ Kahled has registered the WE THE BEST® trademark in connection with, among other goods and services, musical recordings, entertainment services, online retail clothing store services, recordings and clothing and e-cigarette liquid.

Khaled frequently uses the saying “We the Best.”  Forbes even wrote an article entitled “How many Times can DJ Kahled say ‘We the Best’ in 40 seconds?” in November 2014.

Kahled worked the circuit using his catch phrase “We the Best” on shows such as The Ellen Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Live with Kelly and Ryan, The Chew, Rachel Ray, The Daily Show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night With Seth Meyers, and Good Morning America.  Kahled formed ATK Entertainment, Inc. to protect his infant son’s interests.

The complaint alleged that “Plaintiffs bring this action to halt the brazen attempt by trademark pirates…to usurp and trade on the names and trademarks of world-famous entertainer Rahled M. Kahled, known popularly as “DJ Kahled, and his 18-month old son, Asahd Tuck Kahled.”  It further describes Bordenave’s actions as “parasitic  conduct and bad-faith act.”  Specifically,  DJ Kahled and his son’s company brought various claims of violation of both Kahled and his son’s trademark rights and right of publicity under New York state law.  Not all states have such laws. Minnesota does not. See a former Duets post on the subject, here.

Specifically, DJ Kahled and his son’s company have brought claims under the New York Right of Privacy Act (N.Y. Civ. Rights Law §§ 50-51), trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act and common law, state law claims under the New York Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349), and commercial defamation.  Finally, they brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that they are not violating any rights of Bordenave or his company.

Kahled alleges damage because Bordenave attempted to interfere with a deal that Kahled had made with Nike to use his son’s name in conjunction with Michael Jordan to sell clothes.

This is not Bordenave’s first rodeo. The complaint states that he is a “serial trademark infringer.” Bordenave and his company have previously applied to register:

  • CARDI-B—which is the name of a well-known rapper
  • STORMI COUTURE—which it applied to register within a month of the birth of Kylie Jenner’s daughter Stormi Webster.

The complaint also alleges Bordenave improperly filed six other trademark applications based on other famous people, television stations or radio stations.

This appears to be a new trend with the rich and famous:  promoting your kids names to sell products.  Other famous parents have sought trademarks in connection with their children’s names.  For example, Beyoncé and Jay Z applied for the mark BLUE IVY CARTER® in connection with numerous goods and services, including but not limited to, entertainment services, fragrances, cosmetics, skin care products, metal key chains and metal key rings, DVDs, CDs, and audio and visual sound recordings featuring musical performances, handheld and mobile digital electronic devices, baby teething rings, baby strollers and book, bags, and hair accessories. Beyoncé’s company is currently battling an Opposition filed by a company named Blue Ivy that is an entertainment and event planning firm focused on weddings and other elegant events.

We will have to see if DJ Kahled can stop Bordenave from capitalizing on his young son’s fame.

Velcro Sequel Sticks With “Hook and Loop”

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Genericide, Loss of Rights, Marketing, Trademarks

On the heels of discussing trademark genericide through the Anything is Popsicle prism yesterday, let us turn our attention back to Velcro, who is at it again, this time making a genericide sequel.

The sequel is called “Thank You for Your Feedback — Don’t Say Velcro.” Like any sequel I’ve ever seen, I’m not feeling Velcro’s second attempt either, so Napolean Dynamite, please, don’t do it.

What the Velcro sequel does offer are many crowd-sourced generic alternatives to Velcro’s “hook and loop” preference. No thanks, Velcro says it’s sticking with its chosen noun and generic term.

The thing is, Velcro doesn’t get to decide this one. What I’d really like to see from Velcro next time, is whether the videos moved the needle on whether Velcro has at least 51% brand meaning.

Mission Popsicle: Telling You It’s a Brand?

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Food, Genericide, Loss of Rights, Marketing, Television, Trademarks

Welcome to another edition of Genericide Watch, where we consider brands on the edge, working hard to maintain brand status and exclusive rights, while trying to avoid trademark genericide.

The primary meaning to the relevant public decides genericness, so trademark owners will try to influence how consumers understand the word, to maintain at least 51% brand meaning.

As we’ve written before, one of the ways to spot a brand on the edge is to find the word “brand” on product packaging, usually with the claimed owner’s preferred generic name for the goods.

That is one way of telling or reminding consumers it’s a brand name, but saying so, doesn’t necessarily make it so, especially when the “preferred” name is a mouthful or unnatural.

Popsicle is one of those on a mission to prevent its trademark rights from melting away. Having said that, even if Popsicle dips below 50% brand meaning, the visual identity is still ownable:

The word was coined almost a century ago, so Unilever is asking the folks to not use it as a noun, instead as an adjective modifying the noun: ice pop. So, will the folks follow the instructions?

By the way, love this vintage typeface for Popsicle, which used to be the subject of registration:

Ironically, it calls to mind a similar typeface, questioning whether Mission Popsicle, is eh, possible:

Anything is possible, but do uses of visual puns like this help (or hurt) to melt Popsicle as a brand?

Dog Toy Manufacturers Really Like Parodies

Posted in Dilution, Famous Marks, Fashion, Food, Infringement, Law Suits, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Product Packaging, Trademarks

A dog toy display at a local pet store caught my attention recently.

I did a double take on seeing the familiar fonts, coloring, and packaging.  Not long after, I happened to find these at a different pet store.

Once again, the familiar labels, coloring, and bottle designs caught my attention.

While certainly reminiscent of the actual brands, these all appear to be clear examples of parody.  The Chewy Vuiton case is particularly instructive here.  In that case, Louis Vuitton sued dog toy manufacturer Haute Diggity Dog for trademark infringement and dilution over a Louis Vuitton-themed dog toy.

The court held that the dog toy was indeed a successful parody, and Haute Diggity’s use of CHEWY VUITON did not constitute infringement or dilute the Louis Vuitton trademark rights.  In analyzing Haute Diggity’s parody defense, the court defined a parody as a work that (1) references the original/famous brand, (2) but makes clear that the work is not the original/famous brand, and (3) communicates some articulable element of satire, ridicule, joking, or amusement.  While recognizing the similarities between the dog toy and Louis Vuitton’s designer bags, the court also articulated several differences.  For example, the court highlighted that the dog toy is smaller, plush, and inexpensive—clear distinctions over LV purses.  The court characterized the dog toys as “simplified and crude,” rather than the “detailed and distinguished” purses.

While Jose Perro, Dr. Pooper, HeinieSniff’n and the others I recently stumbled on are probably parodies as well, they beg the question of where the parody line falls.  The Chewy Vuiton court made clear that there must be some readily identifiable differences between the original mark and the parodied work.  But how many differences are enough?

Consider the Snif peanut butter jar, for example.  While the words and the items themselves are different, there seems to be some room for suggested association between peanut butter and dog toys.  Peanut butter is frequently used as a dog treat by many owners.  Surely a dog owner might believe Jif peanut butter had entered the dog toy market.

What do you think?  Are all of these clear cases of parody like the Chewy Vuiton toys?

Although perhaps the most important question is: why are there so many dog toy parodies?

It’s Not a Wonderful Trademark Examination

Posted in Articles, Branding, Food, Infringement, Marketing, Trademarks, USPTO

It’s a wonderful life, collaborating with brand owners and marketing teams to advance their goals.

Our work for brand owners also involves a collaboration of sorts with the U.S. Trademark Office.

We work with the USPTO to obtain registrations for our clients and this triggers USPTO obligations.

As such, when examining applications, the USPTO must search its records for conflicting marks.

It also must refuse applications for marks that are confusingly similar to prior registered marks.

Mistakes happen, but sadly, if the USPTO misses a proper refusal, the brand owner holds the bag.

So, when the USPTO doesn’t do its job well, the brand owner is put in a position to spend money.

Several weeks ago, I expressed near certainty that the USPTO would refuse registration of Kevin O’Leary’s (of Shark Tank fame) application to federally register his nicknameMr. Wonderful — given another’s well-established, federally-registered trademark rights in WONDERFUL for nuts:

Surisingly, the USPTO has issued no refusal, and the Mr. Wonderful mark -for nuts- has been approved for publication. If you’re at a loss how that can be, here is the USPTO’s search summary.

As it reveals, the “session duration” lasted 218 seconds; not a single “wonderful” mark was “viewed” during examination, yet hundreds of “mr” trademark records were, maybe even him?

The “mr” portion of the search was narrowed to focus on the nuts class of goods (IC 29), but strangely this wasn’t done for the “wonderful” portion, leading to zero “wonderful” viewed records.

Let’s just call this oversight for what it is, not exactly a wonderful trademark examination by the USPTO — literally and figuratively. The Mr. Wonderful approval — for nuts –looks like clear error.

Were we in Wonderful’s camp, we’d be thinking about a Letter of Protest to have the USPTO issue the likelihood of confusion refusal, because it costs peanuts compared to a full-blown opposition.

Trademark types, would you get crackin’ on a Letter of Protest, were you holding Wonderful’s bag?

Marketing types, how nuts would you be spending a lot more than peanuts, if the USPTO doesn’t acknowledge clear error and issue the refusal, to help make a Notice of Opposition unnecessary.

To the extent you’re in Mr. Wonderful’s camp, how would you approach a registration refusal, knowing that 15 of the 16 live “wonderful” marks at the USPTO for nuts are Wonderful’s marks?

Can a YouTube Video Invalidate a Patent? It’s Certainly Possible

Posted in Articles, Audio, Infringement, Law Suits, Patents, Search Engines, Squirrelly Thoughts, Technology, Television, USPTO

One of the most common defenses to patent infringement is that the asserted patent is invalid. The reasons for invalidity regularly range from lack of utility, to incorrect inventorship, and even to fraud (as I’ve recently written about). Often, the defendant asserts that the patent is invalid for lack of novelty or non-obviousness–pointing to some piece of evidence that the defendant says conclusively shows that the invention was already in the public domain before the plaintiff even applied for the patent. That evidence is called invalidating “prior art.”

Prior art can spell the unexpected demise of an otherwise valid patent, and it comes in many forms. For several decades, published prior art (not to be confused with prior art in the form of prior uses or sales) consisted of already-existing patents (and applications), trade journals, drawings, articles, websites, standards, whitepapers, etc. But Congress expanded the scope of published prior art dramatically in passing the America Invents Act in 2012. Whereas before prior art consisted merely of “printed publications,” post-AIA, prior art also encompasses things that are “otherwise available to the public.”

The larger–and more modern–universe of possible published prior art is easy to imagine. For example, prior art references are no longer limited to traditional publications and documentary evidence. Instead, additional forms of multimedia come into play–which is fitting in today’s multimedia-packed times. Videos, movies, broadcasts, and recordings all now qualify as prior art, so long as they are available to the public.

But despite this expansion, litigants have not yet fully taken advantage of the change. There have been a few recent uses of video as prior art, such as the iconic iPhone keynote speech made by the late Steve Jobs demonstrating a technology described in an Apple patent. Ironically, in commenting on the “bounce-back” effect that was the subject of the patent, Steve Jobs stated, “boy have we patented it.” But Apple failed to patent it fast enough after the speech.

Samsung used clips from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to argue that Apple’s design patent for the shape of a tablet was invalidating prior art.

Apple really seems to be taking the brunt of video prior art challenges.

Just one week ago, a Federal district judge in the Northern District of Florida addressed–apparently for the first time–whether a YouTube video could constitute prior art. The court, in HVLPO2, LLC v. Oxygen Frog, LLC, 4:16-CV-336 (MW/CAS) (Dkt. No. 133), held that a YouTube video can constitute prior art and that YouTube videos are “sufficiently accessible to the public interested in the art.” Not exactly a groundbreaking finding to someone of my generation, who grew up with YouTube and the internet. Indeed, the USPTO’s own training guides (slide 15) specifically state that YouTube videos are a perfectly acceptable form of prior art. The USPTO has stated that videos qualified prior to the AIA, but there is conflicting authority.

The plaintiff in HVLPO2 had argued that the particular YouTube video in question was uploaded on a random account, so no one interested in the art would have found it. The court pushed back in eccentric fashion, stating:

It appears that Plaintiff is unfamiliar with how YouTube works. A familiar user would know that you don’t need to search for a particular channel to watch the videos uploaded on it. For example, if you want to watch a video of a cat skateboarding, you can search “cat skateboarding”; you don’t need to know that it might have been “CatLady83” who uploaded the video you end up watching.

The court held that the YouTube video in question appeared within the first 20 videos when using appropriate search terms on the site. “Surely, the effort involved in composing a basic search query and scrolling down the page a few times does not exceed the ‘reasonable diligence’ that the law expects of a hypothetical prior art subject.” I couldn’t agree more, and I recommend this fun cat skateboarding video:

But even though most YouTube videos are generally accessible, not all are available to the public. For example, YouTube videos may be “private” or “unlisted,” potentially removing them from the “otherwise available to the public” category or at least undermining the argument for their accessibility. Thus, as even the court in HVLPO2 noted, the defendant still has to prove the existence of public access to the video prior to the applicable date. This can be accomplished by proffering screenshots of the video in the browser and evidence of that video’s publication date (which is disclosed on the YouTube website and many other video sharing platforms).

Besides the above, there are few other examples of videos (online or otherwise) being used as prior art. This is probably due in part to the current difficulty of searching the vast amount of video and audio–as opposed to text, for example–available on the internet. But as computer learning gets better and better, I expect audiovisual prior art will play a bigger role in both patent prosecution and litigation, so long as that prior art is “otherwise available to the public.”

Copyright Law on Embedded Images Gets Blurrier – Goldman v. Breitbart

Posted in Copyrights

A few months ago, a federal district court in New York held that several publishers violated a photographer’s copyright when they embedded a photograph from one of the photographer’s Twitter posts. Goldman v. Breitbart News Network, No. 17-CV-3144 (KBF) (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2018). The photographer, Justin Goldman, had sued Breitbart News Network, TIME Inc., The Boston Globe and other online publishers last year for copyright infringement, alleging they displayed in various online news stories, without permission, a photograph he took of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, which he had posted on Twitter.

In their defense, the publishers invoked the “Server Test,” based on the prominent Ninth Circuit decision, Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., 508 F.3d 1146 (9th Cir. 2007), which held that the unauthorized display of Google Image search engine results, of photographs stored on third-party servers, did not constitute copyright infringement, provided that such images were not hosted on Google’s servers. Essentially, the Server Test provides that website publishers are not liable for copyright infringement if they embed content hosted on third-party servers, but not their own servers.

But in the Goldman case, the New York court (under the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit), questioned the validity of the Ninth Circuit rule, because the court concluded that the Copyright Act does not require physical possession of the copyrighted material. The court relied on Supreme Court precedent supporting that merely transmitting copyrighted material can constitute infringement, regardless of “invisible” technical distinctions regarding the means of the infringing display or distribution, see American Broadcasting Co.s, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2498 (2014). Therefore, the court declined to apply the Server Test, and concluded that the publisher defendants “violated plaintiff’s exclusive display right [and] the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result.”

Furthermore, the court emphasized a “critical” distinction with Perfect 10 regarding the “paramount” role of the user. The web users in Perfect 10 were required to click on the thumbnail images in the Google Image search, in order to see the full-size images hosted on third-party servers. By contrast, in the Goldman case, visitors to the defendants’ websites would immediately see the full-size image, without any volitional act of clicking to connect to a third-party server.

On March 19, the district court granted the publisher defendants’ motion to certify the decision for interlocutory appeal to the Second Circuit, acknowledging the parties’ representations that the decision created “uncertainty for online publishers” with a significant “impact beyond this case” due to the popularity of Twitter and “retweeting.” Some commentators, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggest that the Goldman decision threatens in-line linking and, if followed by other courts, could require monumental changes to online news publishing. One amicus brief in the New York case also predicted that the Goldman ruling will “transform the internet as we know it.” While some of these gloomy predictions may be overstated based on a single district court decision, the appeal to the Second Circuit will certainly be closely watched, so stay tuned for updates.

 

A Minnowsotan Perspective on TM Disclaimers

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Marketing, Trademarks, USPTO

There is at least one more 2018 Rapala billboard out there, just netted this one over the weekend:

Rapala’s clever Minnowsotan billboard inspired me to cast a few lines about the law concerning trademark disclaimers, as they often reel in some great questions from branding professionals.

Tim did a helpful post on trademark disclaimers, guiding why the USPTO requires them, their legal implications, and encouraging brand owners to properly resist them when they are unwarranted.

Let’s suppose Rapala sought to register Minnowsotan as a trademark for fishing lures. Putting aside wondering whether this little fish might ever attack, Rapala should lose no sleep wondering whether it would be required to disclaim “minnow” from the would-be Minnowsota trademark. No.

While it is true that “minnow” is an element of Minnowsotan, and there should be little debate that “minnow” is either descriptive or generic for a fishing lure depicting a minnow, a disclaimer is not required under the law by the USPTO when the applied-for mark is unitary (TMEP 1213.05):

“The test for unitariness inquires whether the elements of a mark are so integrated or merged together that they cannot be regarded as separable.”

“A unitary mark has certain observable characteristics. Specifically, its elements are inseparable. In a unitary mark, these observable characteristics must combine to show that the mark has a distinct meaning of its own independent of the meaning of its constituent elements. In other words, a unitary mark must create a single and distinct commercial impression.”

Using Minnowsotan as a trademark school hypothetical, it would be a pretty clear example of unitariness — with no need for a disclaimer, but what about Minnow Spoon for fishing lures?

In other words, is Minnow Spoon unitary for a fishing lure that depicts a minnow on a spoon lure?

Perhaps a cloudier answer than for Minnowsota, but usually two-word marks without compression, telescoping, or hyphenation, will require disclaimers of any descriptive or generic wording.

As it turns out, Minnow Spoon once adorned the Supplemental Register, as a merely descriptive composite mark, only capable of being distinctive, with no disclaimer of the generic “spoon” word.

Reading between the lily pad leaves, it appears the USPTO twice has considered Rapala’s Minnow Spoon to be unitary, as it allowed Rapala to federally-register the two-word mark on the Principal Register too, without a disclaimer of the obviously generic second term “spoon” for fishing lures.

Yet, that consistent disclaimer treatment appears inconsistent with the USPTO’s previous disclaimer requirement for “spoon” with the four-word Rapala Weedless Minnow Spoon mark.

Without getting too tangled up in the weeds at the USPTO, while generic matter must be disclaimed from marks registered on the Supplemental Register and the Principal Register (even under a showing of acquired distinctiveness, as was the case with Minnow Spoon), a disclaimer should not be required by the USPTO, if the composite mark is unitary.

Given that guidance, what would you expect with the “Original Finnish Minnow” mark? Well, that one was treated as not unitary, it appears, since a disclaimer of “minnow” was required. And, the same is true for Minnow Chaser and Clackin’ Minnow, as each one had “minnow” disclaimed.

The crazy thing about the “minnow” disclaimer for Clackin’ Minnow is that it was a Supplemental Registration, so the disclaimer should mean that “minnow” actually is generic for fishing lures.

A school of minnows in trademark class might be left thinking that both of the terms “minnow” and “spoon” are generic for lures, highlighting the importance of resisting them when appropriate.

Scandalous Trademark Applications On Hold

Posted in Articles, Branding, First Amendment, Marketing, Trademarks, USPTO

Trademarks consisting of or comprising “scandalous or immoral” matter still won’t be granted federal registration “in the name of the United States of America,” at least for the time being.

Immediately on the heels of the International Trademark Association’s 140th Annual Meeting in Seattle, and our well-received panel discussion concerning Trademarks and Free Speech, the United States Patent and Trademark Office announced it will continue to hold on to and suspend trademark applications containing scandalous or immoral matter, until further notice.

The Trademark Office is waiting to see whether the federal government will appeal the Brunetti decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. What I would give to be a fly on the wall in those discussions.

As you may recall, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), ruled last December that the “scandalous or immoral” statutory bar to registration violates a trademark applicant’s Free Speech, overturning a part of trademark law in existence since 1905.

Since the federal government’s request that the entire CAFC reconsider the three-member panel decision Brunetti was denied in April, the government now has until July 11 to seek Supreme Court review or ask for more time to decide, stay tuned. Learned John Welch predicts no appeal.

During our INTA panel discussion, I predicted the government will seek review of Brunetti by the U.S. Supreme Court. I also predicted the Supreme Court will pass on the request, stay tuned.

Even if it might be tempting to believe that — in our present culture — anything goes and nothing can rise to the level of scandalousness any longer, so why bother trying to salvage a statutory relic from more than 100 years ago, I’m thinking the federal government won’t throw in the towel yet.

As we’ve written before, the Brunetti decision, didn’t anchor itself to the viewpoint discriminatory requirement from the Supreme Court in Tam, instead focusing on mere content discrimination to justify invalidation of a more than a century old part of federal trademark law.

This much easier test for invalidation puts at risk many other portions of federal trademark law, so I’m thinking the federal government can’t let the mere content discriminatory requirement of Brunetti stand without at least trying for Supreme Court review for further direction and guidance.

It’s also hard to believe the federal government is truly ready to have the USPTO knowingly begin to federally register obscene, profane, and sexually explicit matter as trademarks, “in the name of the United States of America,” for the first time in history. What’s your prediction?