DuetsBlog

Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

Warby’s Fast Food: Can Arby’s Take a Joke?

Posted in Branding, Infringement, Squirrelly Thoughts, Trademarks

Maybe you’ve heard of Warby Parker. The eye wear company has become quite successful in a previously monolithic industry. But a tongue-in-cheek advertising effort for a new onion ring monacle might just cross the line into provoking a trademark feud. See, Exhibit 1, below:

And, for the main course:

Even if Warby’s doesn’t actually sell the products, the packaging incorporates not only the entirety of the Arby’s trademark, but also the iconic, cowboy hat/maybe-its-a-fishhead logo. Has Warby Parker’s rebellious attitude finally crossed a line?

It turns out, no. No it hasn’t. According to AdWeek, Arby’s and Warby Parker specifically teamed up on this project as part of an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke (and, ICYMI, this is not Warby Parker’s first rodeo, either). So the joint use of the marks is authorized by both parties and not an infringement. As the companies explain in their joint press release:

Arby’s has an eye for meat. Warby Parker has meat for eyes. The result? A new partnership sandwiched somewhere between vision and at least eight different kinds of meat.

If you’re lucky enough to live in New York, New York, there will be two real life Warby’s restaurants, beginning this Friday, March 30th. The participating locations are at 121 Greene Street and 32 E. 23rd Street. I don’t know where those addresses are, but for marketing purposes I hope it isn’t Long Island (no offense, Long Island).

So yes, this isn’t an infringement issue. But this is still a trademark story. At some point attorneys on both sides of the equation received an email because “This sounds awesome, but I think we have to run it by legal first.” Thankfully, the attorneys didn’t get in the way of this project to prevent it from actually happening.

My only complaint is that the companies announced it as an April Fool’s Day joke. You have to at least try to trick people into falling for it. Come on.

Circle Me R, Bert

Posted in Mixed Bag of Nuts

“It just kind of spontaneously happened. Nobody at a production meeting said, ‘OK, now we are going to start circling Twins fans at the ballpark.’ It’s just something that happened spontaneously that has caught fire.”

— Dick Bremer, 2002

Although we still have snow on the ground here in Minnesota, spring is officially here and Twins baseball is about to start.  The Twins take on the Orioles for their first game of the season tomorrow, and the home opener at Target Field is April 5 against the Mariners.

Yesterday, Twins fans were alarmed when long-time color commentator and fan favorite Bert Blyleven announced on Twitter that his beloved “Circle Me Bert” on-air element in which he circles fans with a telestrator, was being replaced by a related Minnesota Lottery concept called the “Winners Circle.”  Fans were in an uproar.

But it was a false alarm – or at least, Fox Sports North reversed course fast enough to make it appear that way.  Instead, the “Winners Circle” is a apparently a complimentary addition, not substitution, that is FSN’s way of expanding the Circle Me Bert concept to a broader audience, to include fans watching the game at home, likely through social media.  As Michael Rand of the Star Tribune writes, perhaps the move by Fox Sports North was related to a reduced role for Blyleven on the air.  His contract for 2017 and 2018 is for just under half the games, down form essentially every game a decade ago.  The new name would allow FSN to promote the Minnesota Lottery without Blyleven.

Regardless, the good news for Blyleven is that with “Circle Me Bert” continuing for the forseeable future, he’ll likely be able to sling some additional merch and keep his Circle R or ®  for CIRCLE ME BERT, the mark he smartly registered more than ten years ago, and has since renewed, for clothing and toys, like this Circle Me Bert bobblehead and t-shirt.

The same cannot be said for one of the other pieces of this story.  Did you notice no ® attaches to the word “telestrator” used above?  That’s because ESPN cancelled the mark TELESTRATOR, registered in connection with “apparatus for generating video images which can be superimposed over background video images,” through a simple default judgment at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, back in 2001.

With no valid registration now for almost 20 years, no ®, and widespread, long-term use of the the word without pointing to a single source, it seems like an easy call – strikes one, two, and three – the telestrator is OUT, having become genericized, and sent to the bench with other former trademarks like “escalator“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Does My Pillow Become Your Windfall?

Posted in Advertising, Agreements, Articles, Branding, Goodwill, Infringement, Keyword Ads, Marketing, Television, Trademarks

Mike Lindell, has built an impressive business around a pretty simple brand name and trademark:

We’ve previously written about the MyPillow trademark, noting the apparently narrow scope of rights it enjoys, as a result of the coexistence with some pretty similar marks, including this one:

Earlier this year, My Pillow filed a complaint in federal district court in Minnesota, against LMP Worldwide, owner of the above federally-registered and incontestable trademark registration.

The complaint alleges breach of a 2013 settlement, federal trademark infringement and unfair competition, Minnesota deceptive trade practices, Minnesota unfair competition, and asks for damages, lost profits, and cancellation of the above-referenced federal trademark registration.

The complaint is interesting reading, and it appears the notion of any peaceful coexistence is no longer an option if Mr. Lindell has his way, especially given the allegations regarding breach of contract, actual confusion, keyword violations, and false advertising.

Pillow talk about the settlement terms will be most interesting, as only cryptic passages are public.

Suffice it to say, when you’re spending $4 Million each week on advertising the MyPillow brand, as the complaint alleges, I’m thinking it’s hard not to believe LMP isn’t enjoying an enormous windfall.

Glade No. 1, 2, 3, 4, and… Chanel No. 5?

Posted in Advertising, Articles, Branding, Famous Marks, Fashion, Infringement, Look-For Ads, Marketing, Non-Traditional Trademarks, Product Configurations, Sight, Smell, Squirrelly Thoughts, Trademarks

Recently, a friend and I were watching The Bachelor—I know, I should be ashamed. During one of the commercial breaks, a spot appeared on-screen showing a woman wearing an elegant dress walking through a hallway. She turns into a doorway, and blue, shimmering light projects onto her face, as if she was underwater. A speaker off-screen says, “Open the door to a beautiful new experience for your home.” The commercial cuts to a small bottle with a spray nozzle on top. The bottle has a typical shape, but its packaging includes, near the top of the bottle, a “No. 3.” Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Immediately, my mind goes to Chanel’s timeless No. 5 perfume.

The speaker continues, introducing “Glade Fine Fragrance Mist.” The woman then crosses through a vertical air-water surface, as if she is entering a Stargate. She passes the boundary and floats in the adjoining room, which is filled with water. The speaker describes the “mist” as a bouquet of “florals, beechwood, and lush fruits that whisper a story on the air.” We also learn that the mist is infused with “essential oils” and “artfully crafted. Imagination? We have a fragrance for that.” The screen then shows the “Glade” logo, and the speaker identifies “S.C. Johnson, a family company.”  Take a look for yourself:

After watching the commercial, my friend remarked, “Hey, doesn’t that sound a lot like Chanel No. 5?” I thought the same thing. Just take a look at the branding for the advertised “Glade Atmosphere Collection”:

Now compare the “No 1,” “No 2,” “No 3,” and “No 4” for the above bottles to the Chanel No. 5 registered mark (which, by the way, has been registered since 1960, whereas the “Glade Atmosphere Collection” mark has only been registered since 2017):

Notice the similarities? The ‘o’ of the “No” is super-script in both marks. And, as anyone who passed Kindergarten will surely agree, one cannot help but intuitively notice that No. 5 follows 1, 2, 3, and 4. Combine that with the fact that air fresheners are similar to perfume, in a sense, and you have a formula for some potential consumer confusion. The use of small bottles and elegant advertising furthers the connection. And when you consider the historical fact that Coco Chanel picked No. 5 from a batch of perfumes labeled 1 through 5 (as well as 20 through 24), one cannot help but think that the similarities are more than just coincidence and happenstance.

Although floral scents are common, that Chanel No. 5 has a distinct smell of jasmine, bergamot (citrus/spicy orange), rose, lemon, linen, neroli (bitter orange), ylang-ylang (woody, an “essential oil”), lily of the valley, and iris makes the comparison to Glade’s Atmosphere Collection even more uncanny. Indeed, Glade “No. 1” has scents of jasmine and rose, in addition to cedar and apple. No. 2 smells of sweet pea and pear. No. 3 exudes beechwood, starfruit, and coconut—not that far off from No. 5’s tropical notes.  And No. 4 is a “velvety kiss of patchouli [a member of the mint family] and amber.” These scents certainly seem similar to Chanel’s No. 5, even if spread across multiple bottles.

What do you think? Do Glade Nos. 1 through 4 come dangerously close to No. 5? Given the similar marks and smells, one cannot help but make the comparison.

Did She Or Didn’t She?

Posted in Audio, Copyrights, Idea Protection, Infringement, International, Law Suits

This is the question a court in the Southern District of New York will be dealing with in a recent lawsuit filed against Destiny Hope, a/k/a Miley Cyrus and others.  Does Miley’s chart topping 2013 hit song “We Can’t Stop” infringe on a song written by Michael May?

Jamaican songwriter and deejay Michael May goes by the stage name “Flourgon.”  This name was given to him because of his love of dumplings.  Specifically, Flourgon alleges that Miley and others, including her co-songwriters and record company, infringed on the copyright he has for the song “We Run Things.”  In the complaint, Flourgon alleges that  Miley’s co-writers acknowledge the Caribbean musical influence behind Miley’s song.

Trying to shake her sweet Disney image (i.e., Hannah Montana), Miley came out with her fourth album with the edgy song “We Can’t Stop.”  The sexy star in the racy video for the song stands in stark contrast with her wholesome Disney image.

The lawsuit highlights Miley’s lyrics “We run things/ Things don’t run we.”   Flourgon asserts that his “unique, original and creative lyrical phrasing ‘We run things, Things no run we’ is not syntactically correct, and is a conspicuous departure from proper English grammar with its improper sentence construction such that it is noticeably unique, creative and original thereby mandating further inquiry, which should have been conducted by Defendants . . .”

In addition to damages, Flourgon seeks injunctive relief to prevent Miley from selling or performing the song. Miley and the others will be filing an answer denying the allegations or another pleading in the coming weeks.

You can compare the lyrics of Miley’s song by looking at the lyrics here versus Flourgon’s song here. What do you think?

Familiarity Breeds Content, or The Power of Fait Accompli

Posted in Advertising, Almost Advice, Guest Bloggers, Look-For Ads, Marketing, Television

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Awhile ago, I wrote about how casting decisions almost always make someone cranky. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of commercials that speak to the flip side of the crankiness factor.

Creative teams are always on the lookout for ways to connect with the zeitgeist. Most of the time, if you see a “hip” reference in an ad, it’s already gone mainstream and it ain’t hip anymore.

But advertising can move the social needle and get more people to migrate their views from the fringe of the bell curve into the big bulge of it. The more we’re exposed to an idea, circumstances or conditions, the more we tend to accept them as within the norm.

Case in point is the increasing portrayal in advertising of nonconventional families and pairings.

The first time or two some people see this, it can be jarring for them. But for the majority of people, I venture, this reaction fades over time as the imagery becomes part of the mainstream. I think one result is that while an individual’s feeling about, say, mixed-race couples might not change, regularly seeing nonconventional portrayals helps move people closer toward at least tolerance, if not acceptance.

Incidentally, despite the popularity of nonconventional casting in ads, there isn’t some vast coordinated conspiracy at work here, though some may suspect that. The advertising/communications community isn’t monolithic, except in its desire to connect with target audiences and to appear tuned in. That means independently latching on to the latest nifty trend.

So how do you “authentically” ride a social trend? In a word, subtly.

Here’s an example:

Years ago, we did a marketing video that included a planning session in a typical conference room and featured a half-dozen people representing various departments and responsibilities.

One of the actors we cast was a young woman in a wheelchair. The crew made two shots of her delivering her lines; one where the wheelchair was obvious, and the other, where only elements of the chair were visible and not immediately noticeable.

I told the editor to use the second shot.

“But don’t you want people to see that she’s in a wheelchair?” the producer asked.

“Not obviously so,” I replied. “The idea here is for the audience to focus on her and what she’s saying. The power of the wheelchair is that you don’t see it right away, if at all, and that it’s irrelevant to a person’s ability to contribute and be good at the job.”

The point? When nonconventional casting is not the star of the show, advertising can influence attitudes as well as sell product. When you make it the star—”look how hip we are”—you’re more likely to irritate people rather than influence them.

JD Supra Readers’ Choice Awards for 2018

Posted in Articles, Branding, Marketing, Trademarks

We’re humbled and honored to share some exciting news about an accolade just announced today.

For the second year in a row, we have been recognized as the Top law firm writing on Trademarks.

Actually no other law firm has received this particular honor before, as it only has been around two years. I’m speaking about the Trademarks category, recognized by JD Supra, a very large online platform that helps distribute our content and the content of almost 50,000 authors last year.

The list of contributors to the JD Supra platform is quite impressive, and the multitude of law firms that contribute to it include many of the largest in the world, so we’re in pretty good company, especially if law firm size is to be considered an important factor or unit of measurement.

Some of you have found us through JD Supra, some through LinkedIn, some Twitter, and others have been with us since the beginning, more than 9 years ago, finding us the old fashioned way.

However you found us, welcome aboard, and dear readers, thanks for helping us continue to prove that “we punch well above our weight class” — we’re so happy to have you join us on this journey!

UPDATE: The Godard Group did a helpful piece summarizing advice from recognized thought leaders, here.

March Sadness? No, Our Memories, Priceless!

Posted in Articles, Branding, Marketing, Trademarks

Besides some team tournament sadness, the only thing sad about our remarkable Creative Brand Protection Event was our camera problem, so these few photos are all we have to share, so sorry:

From left to right above, special thanks to Shaelyn Crutchley (former PepsiCo, now Volo Creative), Aaron Keller (Capsule), and Rosalie O’Brien (University of Minnesota), they were fantastic, and their valuable insights about Super Bowl LII, Ambush Marketing, and Brand Protection Strategies were nothing short of brilliant.

Equally exceptional were our three alumni Trademark and IP attorney panelists, special thanks to Sarah Lockner (Ecolab), Sharon Armstrong (3M), and Susan Perera (United Health) — their energy and passion, as guardians of the “most important assets” of their companies, was wonderful to witness and experience. Amazing leaders, they offered very balanced, matter-of-fact, and pragmatic insights on how they approach their important brand protection work and certain trademark enforcement tools.

Duey certainly wasn’t sad either, he was the star of this 9th birthday cake (thankfully captured on my iPhone before cutting), congrats Duey, and thanks for ALL those who joined us, as we look forward to Creative Brand Protection II, date to be announced soon, likely late June, so stay tuned.

Patent IPRs and Allergan’s Sovereign Immunity Defense

Posted in Agreements, Contracts, Law Suits, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Patents

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?

MARCH MADNESS…or Bust

Posted in Trademarks

I’m counting down the minutes to leaving my office later today to begin my favorite weekend of the year – the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament!  Even though my bubble was bursted on Selection Sunday – my team didn’t make it this year – I am always thrilled by the drama of tourney time and watching unpaid athletes play their hearts out hoping to bask in their one shining moment.  Incidentally, not a single team from Wisconsin made the tournament?  When was the last time that ever happened?  To take that even a step further, when was the last time not a single team from Minnesota, Iowa, or Wisconsin was in the tournament?  That must be a rarity.

There have always been a number of trademark issues surrounding the tournament – whether it’s a team’s name or mascot, the rights of a student-athlete, or using NCAA marks in any advertisement.

I’ll just get this well-worn recommendation out of the way – MARCH MADNESS, unless you’re a paid sponsor of the NCAA, don’t use it.  Not on an ad.  Not on a beer-themed bracket, like this one from last year (and I didn’t find one yet for this year on the site).  Not even as MARKDOWN MADNESS for something as seemingly unrelated to basketball tournaments as automobile dealership services or MUNCH MADNESS for providing information about restaurants; restaurant reviews; and an online tournament allowing people to rank restaurants.  (Psst…the NCAA even owns the mark MUNCH MADNESS, after it was transferred from a NY Times entity).

Unless you’re an official NCAA bracket game, you may even want to avoid using the word BRACKET in advertisements during this time.  Yes, the NCAA recently challenged a filing for DON’T LET ONE TEAM BUST YOUR BRACKET only on the basis of their alleged continuous use of “images of brackets, and marks consisting of or referring to the term BRACKET, in commerce in connection with entertainment services, and related promotional and sponsorship services.”  After two years, the applicant withdrew the application.

Since the NCAA purchased the trademark registrations, and associated rights, to MARCH MADNESS in 2010 (yes, can you believe DuetsBlog has been around longer than that?) purportedly for about $17 million, the NCAA has taken legal action against more than a dozen other marks, like MARCH WAGNESS, and likely many others through demand letters and discussions.

Aside from not using the NCAA’s marks and purchasing rights to protect your marks, there are a couple other important trademark considerations that the NCAA tourney tips off:

Meddle with unitary marks with caution (and preferably not at all). Despite all they hoopla (haha) about MARCH MADNESS, the NCAA filed an application for MARCH TO THE MADNESS, inserting two small but critical words into the well-known MARCH MADNESS mark.  It’s a clever play on the mark, but in some circumstances could ultimately could serve to weaken the strength of MARCH MADNESS.

– Employment contracts can impact trademark rights.  A CBS Sports reporter and online columnist filed an application for THIS IS MARCH. for apparel.  Employment agreements – as well as legal precedence with respect to the employee-employer relationship – often deem any intellectual property related to the employee’s work for the employer as being owned by the employer.  Given the discussion about paying student athletes (and the scandal surrounding payments or favors surreptitiously made to court high school players), could players potentially be “employees” thereby creating questions of ownership of player-related trademarks like Anthony Davis’ UNI-BROW?

Enjoy the games this week – the best week of the year!