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I wasn’t planning to be a lawyer. At least that was my thinking as I began law school. This degree was going to give me a leg up in my efforts to enter the business world. Lawyers live in the gray — where there’s never a right answer, only possibilities — and the favorite lawyer answer for any seemingly yes-or-no question is: “it depends.” I was an engineer. I enjoyed the absoluteness of knowing that my answer to any problem was correct or incorrect. Despite my resistance to lawyer thinking, at some point along my law school path, I discovered intellectual property. This world allowed me to be an engineer, to revel in mathematics and physics, while still practicing this thing they call the law. Through my newfound joy in IP, I grew to appreciate that there is a place for gray, and to understand that not every question has a correct answer.

When I’m not working, you’ll find me exploring the limits of my creativity in the form of DIY projects for my house. My husband and I recently purchased our first home and there is no limit to the number of HGTV projects I’ll attempt.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA)’s decision last year to end its boys-only policy was met with mixed reactions.  Some lauded it as a progressive victory.  Others, including former Girl Scouts, viewed it as a thinly-veiled corporate strategy and a loss for girls.  As part of an early adopter program, more than 3,000 girls have already signed up to be BSA Cub Scouts.

To help solidify its more inclusive policies, the Boy Scouts also announced a new branding strategy.  Beginning in 2019, the organization will be known as Scouts BSA.  The rebranding efforts include a new tag line: “Scout Me In.”

The Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) has been openly and decisively against the Boy Scouts’ policy change.  In a public letter to the Boy Scouts, the GSUSA expressed its concern regarding what it perceived as the “short-sightedness of thinking that running a program specifically tailored to boys can simply be translated to girls.”

In a blog post on its website, GSUSA wrote, “We believe strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides, which creates a free space for girls to learn and thrive.”  It continued, “The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs.”

The Girl Scouts are now suing the Boy Scouts for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.  The GSUSA asserts that its right to use the SCOUT and SCOUTING marks in connection with development programs for girls has been long recognized by the TTAB and the Boy Scouts.  GSUSA notes that the two organizations’ use of the SCOUT, SCOUTS and SCOUTING marks have, until recently, “either been preceded by words like BOY or GIRL . . . or appeared in a context making clear that the programs at issue were developed by one organization or the other.”  In the complaint, the Girl Scouts provide evidence of confusion among the public resulting from the Boy Scouts’ use of the ungendered terms.  Cited examples include cases of girls accidentally signing up for Boy Scouts programs and parents believing the two organizations have merged.

The GSUSA seeks an order blocking the Boy Scouts from using SCOUT, SCOUTS, SCOUTING, or SCOUTS BSA without “an inherently distinctive or distinguishing terms appearing immediately before it,” in connection with services directed to girls.

This is not the first time the two groups have fought over branding.  Prior to 1917, the Girl Scouts were instead known as the Girl Guides.  When the change to “Girl Scouts” was announced, the chief executive of the Boy Scouts accused the group of “trivialize[ing]” and “sissify[ing]” the term.  According to the Atlantic, the Boy Scouts even sued over the name change.

Amazon’s patent (U.S. Patent No. 9,280,157) for a “System and Method for Transporting Personnel Within an Active Workspace” has been in the news recently.

The invention is described as a device for keeping human workers safe in an automated (i.e., robotic) work environment.  In the Background, the patent discusses the rapid rise of automation in inventory-handling systems.  “Technological advancements have made an ever-increasing amount of automation possible in inventory-handling and other types of material-handling systems.”  ‘157 patent at col. 1, ll. 7-9.  “However, there may be circumstances where it is necessary for human operators to traverse, or otherwise go onto, an active workspace where the mobile drive units are carrying out their assigned inventory-related tasks.”  ‘157 patent at col. 1, ll. 14-18.  An automated work environment can be dangerous for human workers.  As a solution, the patent proposes a transport device to transport a human worker safely through an automated inventory-handling work area.  The premise, and the described need for the invention, sound reasonable enough.  However, it’s the drawings of this patent that are garnering some unwanted attention.

Amazon worker cages allow users to safely traverse automated work areas.
At least there’s a bench (414) to sit on?

The patent illustrates and describes the transport device as, well, a cage for workers.  The Detailed Description describes the device as a “cage-like structure configured to substantially prevent the user from sticking an appendage through the enclosure.”  ‘157 Patent at col. 13, ll. 51-53.  Importantly, the claims of the patent (i.e. the scope of protection) are relatively broad and do not specifically require the cage-like structure.  Claim 1, for example, is directed to an inventory-handling system to transport a user within a workspace, the system including a first device to transport users within the workspace, a second device to transport users within the workspace, and a management module directing movement of the two devices.  Of course, this doesn’t render the imagery of work cages any less concerning.

A recent study conducted by two artificial intelligence researchers drew attention to the patent.  The authors referred to the patent as: “an extraordinary illustration of worker alienation, a stark moment in the relationship between humans and machines.”  News of the patent quickly reached major outlets and social media.

Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Operations, Dave Clark, responded on Twitter:  “This was never used and we have no plans for usage.”

This patent, the resulting blowback, and Amazon’s response highlight a couple of important points about patent protection.

First, patents (and, typically, patent applications) are publicly accessible documents.  At the heart of the patent system is an exchange.  The inventor obtains the right to exclude anyone from making or using the invention, but in exchange, must disclose that invention to the world.  Thus a company seeking to obtain a patent, and particularly a high profile company like Amazon, should keep in mind that every word and drawing will be viewable by the public.

Second, Clark’s statement that the company has no plans to implement the cages is a reminder of the value a patent can have.  A patent grants the owner a right to exclude others from practicing the invention.  A patent owner need not actively practice the invention herself in order to enforce it against others.  Even when a company is not looking to implement a particular invention, an issued patent on the concept may provide a leg up on competitors.  The relatively broad claims of the Amazon patent, which do not rely on the cage design, allow Amazon to exclude its competitors from employing a system for transporting humans through an automated work space.

Trademark enforcement, particularly in an age of social media and internet shaming, is tricky business.  Some brands (I’m looking at you, Louis Vuitton) seem to have enough market share to ignore the social backlash from their heavy-handed demand letters.  But companies that lack that kind of brand power could benefit from a bit more finesse in their enforcement efforts.

Aloha Poke Co. is a Chicago-based poke restaurant.  Poke—a traditional Hawaiian dish of raw fish—has spread through the mainland in the form of fast-casual rice bowls topped with colorful veggies and sauces.  Aloha Poke opened its first store in 2016.  The company now boasts 15 locations across the U.S., including one right here in Minneapolis.  Aloha Poke holds two trademark registrations, one of which is a word mark for ALOHA POKE.  Despite the questionable trademark use of a word as ubiquitous as “Aloha,” the Trademark Office registered the mark without a single Office Action.  The Trademark Office only required Aloha Poke to disclaim rights to the word “poke.”

Recently, Aloha Poke sent cease and desist letters to various poke shops across the country having “Aloha” in their names.  “Aloha Poke would prefer to settle this matter amicably and without court intervention,” the letter read.  “We therefore request that you immediately stop all use of ‘Aloha’ and ‘Aloha Poke.’”  That doesn’t sound particularly amicable.

At least some of the restaurants receiving the letter were native Hawaiian-owned.  Tasha Kahele is a native Hawaiian and the owner of what was formerly the Aloha Poke Stop in Anchorage, Alaska.  After receiving Aloha’s letter, she changed her shop’s name to Lei’s Poke Stop.  Aloha Poke’s demands that native Hawaiian people stop using two Hawaiian terms is not sitting well with many.  Many have called Aloha Poke’s efforts a clear case of cultural appropriation.  An online petition demanding that Aloha Poke stop using “Aloha” and “poke” has garnered over 150,000 signatures.  Last week, hundreds of people gathered in protest outside the company’s Chicago headquarters.

In a statement on its Facebook page, Aloha Poke explained its reasons for sending the letters, indicated its respect for the Hawaiian culture, and apologized for “the confusion that this has caused.”

A company is wise to monitor and enforce its trademark rights.  And indeed, Aloha Poke’s potential claims against poke restaurants with similar names do not appear legally frivolous on their face.  But in terms of public image and even cultural awareness, Aloha Poke could have gone about its enforcement in a different way.

 

Earlier this month, the United States Postal Service (USPS) was ordered to pay $3.5 million in damages to a sculptor for copyright infringement.

Seeking a unique redesign for its “Forever” stamps, the USPS searched stock photos for images of the Statue of Liberty.  They found a particularly striking photo on Getty Images and paid $1,500 for a license.  Between 2010 and 2014, the USPS produced and sold 4.9 billion Forever stamps featuring the Statue of Liberty photo obtained through Getty Images.  There was only one problem—this was not the Statue of Liberty.  Instead, the photo was of the Lady Liberty replica statue displayed in front of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.  The differences may be subtle, but on a side-by-side comparison, the distinction becomes clear.

On close inspection, you can even see the small plaque affixed to the crown of the Las Vegas statue.  “This one’s for you, mom”–the sculptor’s dedication to his mother-in-law.

The USPS discovered the mix-up in 2011 after only a few months of production.  They stated that they still would have selected the image had they known it depicted the Las Vegas statue, and continued producing the stamps.  Robert Davidson is the sculptor of the Las Vegas replica statue.  Recognizing that the USPS was profiting from his original work of art, Davidson sued the USPS for copyright infringement.

After a two-week bench trial, the court found in favor of Davidson.  The $3.5 million damages amount was calculated as a 5% royalty on the USPS’s profits on the stamp.

 

How can someone claim copyright on a replica of a famous statue?

The short answer is: it’s not an exact replica.  As the court in this case explained, “a work of art need not be wholly original to be copyrightable.”  Rather “it need only be a new and original expression of some previous work or idea.”  The standard for obtaining any copyright protection is relatively low.  To demonstrate that Davidson’s statue is eligible for copyright protection, he need only show a “modicum of creativity.”  In a 1991 case, the Supreme Court described the level of creativity required as “extremely low” and stated that “even a slight amount will suffice.”  Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 345 (1991).  In addition, to obtain protection for his sculpture, Davidson needed to show some nontrivial variation from the New York statue that distinguishes it in some meaningful way.

The court found that Davidson met this burden.  The court seemed particularly persuaded by Davidson’s testimony that he sought to give his sculpture a more “feminine” and “fresh” face, as compared with the “harsher” and “more masculine” look of the original.  Questions about the application of societal beauty standards to the Statue of Liberty aside, the court determined that the softened jaw line, rounded face, and modified eyes and lips were sufficient for copyright protection in the derivative work.

 

Since the USPS obtained rights to the image through Getty Images and paid a licensing fee, how was this an infringement?

This was my first question when I learned the USPS paid a licensing fee for the photo.  However, it turns out the photo itself was an infringing work.  According to Davidson’s complaint, the photographer took the photo and posted it for sale on Getty Images without Davidson’s permission.  Thus although USPS paid a licensing fee to the photographer, the license was still based on use of an infringing, unauthorized work.  Continued sale and distribution of the photograph, whether by the photographer or USPS, constituted additional infringement.

 

Isn’t this protected fair use?

The USPS raised the issue of fair use as a defense to the infringement.  Fair use does not have a clear-cut definition.  In determining whether an otherwise infringing use constitutes fair use, courts look to four factors: (1) The purpose and character of the use; (2) The nature of the copyrighted work; (3) The amount of the copyrighted work that was used; and (4) The effect of the use on the author’s market.  The USPS’s argument for fair use relied in part on its low profit margin on the stamps and a lack of any harm to Davidson’s ability to capitalize on the sculpture.  The court sided with Davidson.  As the court explained, although the profit margin for individual stamps was low, the USPS collected over $70 million in pure profit from the stamps.  The court also noted that the USPS never offered a public attribution or apology to Davidson.

 

Shouldn’t the sculptor have sued the photographer instead of the USPS?

It seems Davidson had options here.  Both the photographer and the USPS unlawfully used Davidson’s work.  The photographer produced and sold a derivative work (the photo) based on the original copyrighted work (the sculpture).  The USPS then reproduced and sold the same infringing photo.  Both the photographer and USPS used, and profited from, Davidson’s underlying original work.  It is likely that Davidson also could have sued Getty Images for displaying and licensing the infringing work.  It seems Davidson probably made the strategic decision to sue the U.S. government, rather than the photographer or Getty, as the potential for damages was considerably higher.

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?

Branding a social movement is tricky.  Many individuals following (and leading) social movements tend to view IP rights as antithetical to the spirit of the movement itself.  Moreover, success in the PTO for these types of marks is by no means guaranteed.  The purpose of a trademark being to identify a source for goods or services, efforts to register the names of social movements are often met with refusals for failure to function as a trademark.

Organizers of the Women’s March held in Washington, D.C. last year are facing opposition in their attempt to register the brand name.  Shortly after the march itself, Women’s March, Inc. filed to register WOMEN’S MARCH as a trademark.  The proposed mark is for use with certain clothing items and for promotion and lobbying services related to women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial equality.  The application faced two Office Actions, including one refusal for failure to function as a trademark.  Women’s March, Inc. overcame the refusals, and the mark published for opposition in March 2018.

Several parties have now expressed an interest in challenging the mark.  Organizers of fourteen so-called “sister marches” across the country filed an extension seeking additional time to oppose the mark.  Women’s March Los Angeles also filed a letter of protest challenging the mark as generic.  The protest letter included evidence pointing to genericness of the phrase, such as Wikipedia articles discussing the 1789 “Women’s March on Versailles” and the 1956 “Women’s March” in South Africa.

The groups opposing the WOMEN’S MARCH mark cite fears that Women’s March, Inc. will use the trademark to charge licensing fees and severely restrict usage of the mark by smaller march organizers.  Women’s March, Inc., however, maintains that filing the mark is a “matter of course.”  Bob Bland, co-president of Women’s March, Inc. stated: “We have to be able to control it or else anyone could use it.  We need to be able to protect the brand, which represents the Unity Principles and is rooted in Kingian Nonviolence.”

While a registered trademark can help a movement shape and protect its identity, movement organizers seeking to protect their brands should consider the potential backlash in both obtaining and enforcing IP rights.  Attempts to protect the brand may appear exploitative and cause divisions within the movement.

Interestingly, I did not find any trademark applications or registrations for the Women’s March three faces logo, which appears prominently in the company’s branding.  Organizers might have more success (and face less backlash) seeking protection for the logo than for the standard character mark alone.

 

WWE wrestler Randy Orton has some unique ink on his arms and back, created by tattoo artist Catherine Alexander.  Orton—and his tattoos—are featured in the WWE 2K video games.  Alexander claims ownership of copyright in the tattoos, and is suing WWE and the makers of the video games for their depiction of the original tattoos.

This case is one in a string of lawsuits alleging copyright infringement based upon celebrity or athlete tattoos.  In 2017, tattoo artist James Hayden sued the makers of an NBA video game for depicting several tattoos he’d created for LeBron James.  And remember that Mike Tyson-like tattoo on Ed Helm’s face in The Hangover 2?  In 2011, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill brought a copyright infringement suit against Warner Brothers Entertainment in an attempt to block the release of the movie.

 

 

Nonetheless, the copyrightability of tattoos remains in question.  These cases frequently settle out of court, and thus we do not yet have a clear judicial determination of whether tattoos on skin constitute copyrightable works of art.

Much ink has been spilled over the legal merits of whether a tattoo is copyrightable.  But legal theory aside for a moment, should tattoos be copyrightable?  Do we want our copyright jurisprudence to venture down a path of allowing one person or entity to have a property right in another person’s skin?

The artistic nature of tattoos makes it difficult to square the tattoo artist’s creative rights with with the tattoo bearer’s bodily autonomy.  Under copyright law, the mere act of displaying a copyrighted work can be an infringement.

Nimmer on Copyright is likely the most widely used treatise on American copyright law.  David Nimmer himself submitted a lengthy declaration for the defendant in the Hangover case.  In his declaration, Nimmer described some of the bizarre outcomes we might see if we decide tattoos are indeed copyrightable:

  1. With particular respect to celebrity and athlete tattoos, magazines, TV networks, documentary film makers and others could be required to obtain licenses from tattoo artists behind the celebrity’s or athlete’s tattoos.  If those licenses are not obtained, the celebrity or athlete herself could be liable for contributory infringement.
  2. An adjacent or overlapping tattoo might constitute a derivative work, which could itself be an infringement of the original artist’s rights.  Nimmer suggests this could lead to a court order to have the offending work laser removed.
  3. The Visual Artists Rights Act allows certain works of art to be granted “recognized stature,” which allows an artist to prohibit intentional or grossly negligent destruction of a work.  Under this Act, if a tattoo were granted “recognized stature,” the artist could obtain a court order barring removal or destruction of the tattoo.
  4. Even if the tattooed person goes so far as to obtain an exclusive license of all rights from the artist, that does not necessarily solve the issues described above.  Some copyright licenses can be subject to an inalienable right of the artist to terminate the license 35 years after grant.  As Nimmer explained, “For example, a 20-year old actress might get a tattoo from X, subject to his agreement (negotiated by her counsel) to assign to her all copyright interests in the image and never to terminate the grant.  When she turned 55, she might nonetheless be shocked to learn that X now has the right to block merchandising of her image.”

These may be extreme examples, but they serve to illustrate the difficult intersection of tattoo artistry with existing copyright jurisprudence. Accordingly, Nimmer suggests the best solution might be legislative.  When courts could not square the realities of computer software with existing copyright laws, the Computer Software Copyright Act of 1980 was passed.

Eventually, a tattoo copyright case is bound to reach a court decision.  Until then, the uncertain legal grounds will continue to rest on selective enforcement and out of court settlements.

In an age of rising healthcare costs, pharmaceutical companies can be an easy target in calls for patent reform.  Patent protection helps drug manufacturers recoup their investment in developing the new drug,.  It also prevents generic manufacturers from releasing the same drug formulation at lower cost.  The Hatch-Waxman Act provides a pathway for generic manufacturers to challenge branded drug patents, but this type of challenge requires costly litigation.

 

Inter Partes Review

Enter the Inter Partes Review.  An Inter Partes Review (IPR) is a procedure before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) for challenging the validity of a patent.  IPR proceedings provide an expedited and cost-effective alternative to litigation.  The IPR process was introduced in 2012, and since then, hundreds of patents have been invalidated using this process.  In the pharmaceutical industry, IPRs provide generic drug manufacturers with an additional or alternative path to challenge branded drug patents.

 

The Allergan Case

In 2016 and 2017, generic drug manufacturers filed IPR petitions seeking to invalidate patents owned by drug maker Allergan on its branded prescription eye drops, Restasis.  In response, and less than a week before a scheduled hearing before the PTAB, Allergan transferred its patents to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.  Like states, Native American tribes have sovereign immunity, and therefore are not subject to private lawsuits.  The idea of sovereign immunity is codified in a Constitutional Amendment, and it stems from the basic notion that you cannot sue a monarch.

The Allergan-Tribe agreement provides for an initial payment of $13.25 million, plus an annual royalty of $15 million paid to the Tribe.  In exchange, the Tribe agreed to exclusively license the patent rights back to Allergan.

Shortly after the agreement was finalized, the Tribe moved to terminate the IPR proceedings on the basis of its sovereign immunity.

There are many opinions about both the legal and moral implications of this agreement, with some calling it a sham transaction.  In a highly unusual move, the PTAB authorized interested third parties to file amicus curiae briefs.  A total of 15 briefs from outside parties were filed, including some from other Native American Tribes.  Seven briefs were filed in support of the Tribe’s (and Allergan’s) sovereign immunity argument, while eight argued against it.  Briefs siding with the Tribe cited prior PTAB decisions recognizing sovereign immunity for states, and dismissing IPR proceedings initiated against state universities.  Briefs arguing against the Tribe’s motion cited a lack of precedent with respect to tribal-specific sovereign immunity, and asserted the question should be left for Congress.

 

The PTAB’s Sovereign Immunity Decision

Ultimately, the PTAB decided last month to deny the Tribe’s motion to terminate the proceedings.  See the decision here, courtesy of Patent Progress.  The PTAB differentiated tribal sovereign immunity from state sovereign immunity, and broadly held that tribal sovereign immunity does not insulate a patent from an IPR proceeding.  The Tribe and Allergan are seeking to appeal the decision.

What do you think?  Just as a matter of policy, should companies be permitted to transfer their IP to sovereign entities to avoid this type of challenge?  The PTAB’s distinction between tribal and state sovereign immunity suggests that if Allergan had made this same agreement with a state university instead of a tribe, the IPR would have been terminated.  Is that the right distinction to make?

For anyone unfamiliar with internet cat personalities, Grumpy Cat is a well-known feline whose dwarfism and underbite culminate in a perpetual—and adorable—sour expression.  Grumpy Cat’s real name is Tardar Sauce.  In 2012, when Tardar Sauce was only a few months old, she became an internet sensation after a photo of her endearing scowl was posted on Reddit.  Since that time, Tardar Sauce has made several public appearances, and was named to Forbes’ list of Top Pet Influencers.

Tardar Sauce’s owner, Tabatha Bundesen, formed Grumpy Cat Limited to handle licensing and merchandising of the Grumpy Cat brand.  Grumpy Cat Limited holds eight federal trademark registrations, including five registrations for the standard character mark GRUMPY CAT, and three registrations for this design mark:

Grumpy Cat Limited also owns multiple copyright registrations, including these:

 

In 2013, Grumpy Cat Limited entered into a licensing agreement with Grenade Beverage LLC.  Under the agreement, Grumpy Cat Limited licensed the Grumpy Cat trademarks and copyrights to Grenade in connection with a line of iced coffee products (appropriately named Grumppuccinos).

Three flavors of Grumppuccino

The licensing agreement additionally permitted Grenade to develop other Grumpy Cat beverage products, but only with the permission of Grumpy Cat Limited for each new product.  Under this provision, Grenade sought approval from Grumpy Cat Limited for a new line of Grumpy Cat-branded coffee beans.  Grumpy Cat Limited withheld approval for the coffee beans.  Grenade nonetheless moved forward with the new product.  Grenade also began selling unauthorized Grumppuccino t-shirts.

The offending beans

In late 2015, Grumpy Cat Limited sued Grenade for breach of contract, copyright infringement, and trademark infringement.  Namely, Grumpy Cat Limited asserted that Grenade’s use of the Grumpy Cat name and likeness on the coffee bean products and unauthorized Grumppuccino t-shirts was outside the permissible scope of the licensing agreement.

After a week-long trial, during which Tardar Sauce herself made an appearance, a jury decided in favor of Grumpy Cat Limited.  The jury awarded $710,001 to Grumpy Cat Limited: $230,000 in statutory damages for copyright infringement, $480,000 in statutory damages for trademark infringement, and $1 for breach of contract.  Presumably, the statutory damages awarded to Grumpy Cat Limited equal more than any actual damages the company could have obtained–a reminder of the value of statutory damages in trademark and copyright infringement suits.

Twitter, the social media giant, is being sued by its internet cousin, TWiT.  TWiT, which initially stood for This Week in Tech, is a netcast network providing audio and video tech-related content.  TWiT owns the registered service mark TWIT for visual and audio entertainment performances.

According to the Complaint, TWiT founder Leo Laporte and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams had some discussions about the similar brand names in the mid-2000s.  The Complaint is available on Scribd, courtesy of TechCrunch.  In 2007, Laporte invited Williams on TWiT’s net@night show to promote Wiliams’s new company, Twitter.  Laporte alleges that although the two founders recognized their companies’ similar sounding names, at the time, they provided entirely different platforms—Twitter was text-based microblogging, and TWiT was video and audio streaming and downloading. The two founders apparently agreed informally that their companies would continue to coexist on their respective platforms.

Now, after ten years and still no formal agreement, Twitter is planning to launch original video streaming content.

Last year, TWiT sent a letter demanding that Twitter abandon its planned expansion into video content.  The parties’ subsequent attempts to resolve the dispute without legal action apparently have not been successful.

TWiT alleges twelve causes of action in total, including infringement of the TWIT mark.

Perhaps the moral of this story is: put it in writing (preferably more than 140 characters).  Presumably in Twitter’s early days, no one could have foreseen the future success of the social media platform and an eventual expansion into video content.  But maybe TWiT should have sought something more than a handshake coexistence agreement.  What do you think?