Before we think predictions for 2019, let’s consider the vast ground we’ve covered in 2018:

Wow, I’m exhausted, and these highlights are only a small fraction of what we delivered in 2018.

You may recall, earlier this year, I predicted more informational and failure to function decisions.

As our friend John Welch reported, there were more than a few (here, here, here, here, and here).

Stay tuned, on March 13, in New York City, I’ll be diving deeply into the failure to function topic, among others, at Practicing Law Institute’s Advanced Trademark Law 2019: Current Issues.

In terms of my big trademark prediction for 2019, it will be revealed whether the scandalous bar to federal registration is invalidated, whether or not the Supreme Court agrees to hear Brunetti.

So, what is your big trademark prediction for 2019?

As I mentioned last week, Apple’s present iPhone Xs billboard advertising campaign is ubiquitous at the moment, especially this image, totally flooding the Minneapolis skyway system, and beyond:

Putting aside whether the unique lighting and reflective nature of the indoor billboards do justice to the art of the iPhone Xs ad, I’m also questioning whether the Xs repetition might be, excessive?

See what I mean? Above and especially below, with stretches of hundreds of feet — in the frozen tundra of our Minneapolis skyway,  nothing in sight, but the same, glaring and reflective Xs ad:

A few questions come to mind. Repetition in branding, yes it’s important, but are there no limits?

In other words, we know Apple can afford to dominate our skyway billboard space, but should it?

And, if so, with what? Apple’s user-generated content campaign was welcome, brilliant and unique.

But, what is the end goal of covering the Minneapolis skyway, with a train of identical Xs boxcars?

Isn’t the art of the ad lost when it is the only thing in front of you, or should I say Outfront of you?

A boring train of Xs boxcar ads builds no momentum to a destination, like Wall Drug ads on I-90.

Where is this train of repetitive ads supposed to take us, online to drive more holiday unit sales?

That seems doubtful, the ad doesn’t explain why one should replace an earlier version with the Xs.

Ironically, Apple’s current struggle is distancing itself from the stock market’s focus on unit sales.

Billboard advertising is said to be effective for brand awareness, but Apple hardly struggles there.

I’m not seeing the point of this ad, and repetition won’t solve the problem of a saturated market.

I’m just left feeling like I paid too much for my Xs, because Apple wasted too much on these ads.

Yeah, we usually mean this Apple, when we spill digital ink, not today, instead the edible varieties:

Hat tip to Erik Pelton who tweeted about the federal registration of LUDACRISP for fresh apples.

We know something about non-ludicrous trademark protection for apples > First Kiss and Rave.

They are newly minted brands for the MN55 Apple, a cross between HoneyCrisp and MonArk.

As it turns out, Honeycrisp might have been a trademark, but for its inclusion in a plant patent.

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, does that include juris doctors who are into trademarks?

Or, would it be ludicrous for Apple, you know the iPhone XS one, to name a device Honeycrisp?

If only Honeycrisp could be a University of Minnesota apple trademark; Apple still has a chance.

To grasp lessons learned from the Honeycrisp story, and fully digest the Best Buy brand refresh, join us in Minneapolis on Thursday, a few seats remain for our Creative Brand Protection II event:

Winthrop & Weinstine’s Trademark and Brand Protection practice group will host a few hours of trademark and brand protection education, food and drink, and networking!

For the educational portion of the evening, we’ll share valuable insights and guidance for those who love brands and want to learn creative strategies for maximizing their value.

Yours truly, will moderate a panel discussion joined by:

  • Karen Brennan, Senior Director, Intellectual Property, Best Buy
  • Anne Hall, Technology Strategy Manager-Life Sciences, University of Minnesota
  • Aaron Keller, Co-Author: The Physics of Brand; Co-Founder Capsule Design
  • Tim Sitzmann, Trademark and Brand Protection Attorney, Winthrop & Weinstine

The panel will share best practices and creative approaches to both launching new brands and refreshing a mature brand. The panel will develop a robust discussion using the University of Minnesota’s MN55 apple launch and Best Buy’s brand refresh to explore the following themes:

  • Transforming a commodity into a valuable brand
  • Strategies for selecting and owning names and marks
  • Carving a path for global trademark and brand protection
  • Legal considerations for refreshing a brand’s visual identity

Reserve your spot now, space is limited. We hope you will join this lively and informative event!

And, I’ll say it again, if only Honeycrisp was an apple trademark, or an Apple trademark . . . .

In the meantime, since Honeycrisp is generic for fresh edible apples, is this stylization distinctive?

Nope, the pedestrian style is not striking enough to be trademark ownable, contrast Miller’s Lite.

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.

https://youtu.be/-3gw1XddJuc?t=29m7s

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.”

Love the new Minnesota State Lottery advertising slogan: I’MN. Or, as one of my college age sons often says, when he’s in agreement with someone’s idea or proposal, I’m down.

The lottery slogan cleverly plays off the affirmative and adoptive slang phrase “I’m in” (i.e., “Count me in”) — it also plays off the MN abbreviation for Minnesota. Congrats, Periscope.

How long before we start to see brand owners saying “count me in” when it comes to using the similar meaning “I’m down” phrase as a meaningful adoptive rally cry for action?

Maybe a more direct and hip version of Apple’s I’m a Mac campaign? Or, is the I’m Down phrase, simply too confusing (and assumed negative) across the general consuming public?

Dear readers and especially our beloved marketing types, who’s down for sharing their wisdom on the subject?

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

Far be it from me to criticize a company hoarding over $250 billion in cash reserves – but, hey Apple, why aren’t you filing trademark applications?

Perhaps no company’s IP portfolio is of greater interest to the general public than Apple, Inc.’s colossus. (If you disagree, find me another website dedicated solely to one company’s patent filings.) It’s certainly a company about which we (read: I) have posted before. So when Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference kicked off earlier this month, and the tech giant unveiled new products, it’s mere reflex to check the Trademark Office for new filings.

Two of Apple’s newest offerings – the HomePod smart speaker, and the macOS High Sierra operating system update – generated considerable buzz and, well, “mixedreactions for the naming decisions. Even Apple joked that the High Sierra software name was “fully baked.”

But a check of the Trademark Office reveals Apple has not sought federal trademark protection for these new names – at least not yet. A search of the TESS database for “HOMEPOD” finds only two dead applications from 2009 and 2008, and a “HIGH SIERRA” search produces 71 matches (including, naturally, HIGH SIERRA VAPES), but no applications owned by Apple.

It stands to reason this may be part of a change in strategy for Apple. One might think the “iPhone” trademark was a slam dunk for the company, as the name is so closely associated with its ubiquitous smartphone. But in fact Apple’s use of the iPhone trademark was made possible only after negotiations with Cisco, Inc., which continues to own a registration for IPHONE dating back to 1999, some eight years prior to the Apple smartphone’s introduction.

And a look at Apple’s PR page reveals a certain irreverence for typical trademark branding and notice standards. A press release for the new iPad models contains nary a single ® or ™ symbol, and makes deliberate use of “iPad” as a noun for the product itself (instead of, say, “iPad tablet”). Even Apple’s boilerplate press release biography shies away from any mention of a registered trademark:

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 7.05.56 AM

As the slogan suggests, when it comes to trademarks, Apple and outside trademark counsel may well Think Different.

— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney

Have you ever seen an ad for something and thought to yourself, “Hey, I had that idea years ago!” Some people take that thought a step further. One Florida man claims to have invented the iPhone in 1992, and is suing Apple to the tune of over $10 billion.

Thomas Ross filed a patent application for an “Electronic Reading Device” having a backlit LCD screen in 1992. Below are some images from Ross’s original filing, as presented in his Complaint against Apple.

1-main

1-main2

The application was ultimately abandoned in 1995 for failure to pay required fees. Ross therefore does not hold a patent on his invention. A patent application alone, without a resulting issued patent, does not itself grant any actionable rights. Even if Apple did copy the disclosed design in Ross’s patent application, he would not have a cause of action for patent infringement based on his abandoned application.

Since Ross cannot sue for patent infringement, he instead appears to hang his case entirely on copyright infringement. In 2014, Ross registered the drawings and text from his abandoned patent application for copyright protection. Importantly, copyright protection attaches to a work when it is initially “fixed” or written. Therefore, any copyright rights that Ross holds in the drawings and text originated when he initially wrote them in 1992.

However, copyright and patent are two very different animals. Copyright protects creative works, such as literary, musical, dramatic, pictoral, graphic, and sculptural works. Copyright protection is not available for ideas, facts, or utilitarian aspects of an item. Ross’s copyright rights cannot protect the workings of an iPhone-like device itself. Copyright is not a substitute for a failure to obtain patent protection.

While Ross may have a valid copyright in the shape and other creative physical aspects of his Electronic Reading Device, an allegation of copyright infringement requires proof of actual copying.   That is, a plaintiff must show that the defendant actually copied the plaintiff’s copyrighted work, which may be shown by access to the plaintiff’s work and similarity between the works. This is required because copyright law does not protect against independent creation. If two people separately create the same glass vase or write the same poem, entirely independent of one another, they may both hold a copyright for the work. Ross does not appear to provide any evidence toward proving that Apple actually copied his works.

Based on the facts presented in Ross’s Complaint, he is unlikely to succeed in the copyright allegations.  The text of Ross’s 1992 patent application reveals what was likely an innovative design. He describes the device “greatly improve[ing] ready access to reading material without the traditional inconvenience of bulk associated with accessibility of large amounts of printed text, and bundled in a light, compact and easily portable device that would additionally function as a note-book (optionally), calendar, clock, timer, calculator, factsimile [sic] devices, cellular phone, [and] message handler.” Surely an innovative concept in 1992. Unfortunately, an idea itself, no matter how revolutionary, is not protectable intellectual property. Ross’s failure to obtain patent protection for his invention has led to a lack of enforceable rights.

 

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

No company’s branding strategy is studied more meticulously than Apple, Inc.’s — and of late, Apple has taken a turn for the descriptive with its various operating systems.

Every company wants its brands to be distinctive — and the arbitrary APPLE mark is among the most well-known. But its new operating system naming strategy has relied on descriptive (if not generic) wording.

From a naming standpoint, everything started out well with the Macintosh Operating System — or Mac OS (first coined in 1996) for its various desktop and portable computers, Macintosh and “Mac” already being famous trademarks. Then, when iPhone OS became “iOS” in 2010, it took the “iDevice” naming convention from the iMac, iBook, iPod, iPhone, and iPad and brought it to software. But Apple didn’t use this name without conflict — in fact, it licenses the iOS trademark from Cisco.

From there, Apple has continued to enter new markets — including smartwatches (with the Apple Watch) and set-top streaming devices (with the Apple TV). With them, new operating systems followed, this time named simply “watchOS” and “tvOS.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 7.25.35 AM

Perhaps these descriptive names were intended to ward off conflict with any other Silicon Valley brand owners, but Apple has put a different spin on this in public. Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, said the following in a Q&A last year (bolding added for emphasis):

Gruber: watchOS, with a lower-case “w”. Are you trying to kill me?

[Laughs.]

Schiller: [laughs] It’s, um… I think it works really well. I think it’s nice, it’s ownable, it’s special

I think, you’ll see. Give us time, we’ve been through many fun naming things. This is an easy one. There have been many fun naming things through the years — some very emotional, some very easy — and most of the time, when all’s said and done, you look back years later, people say “Yeah, you guys were right, it all made sense together.”

So I think we’re doing the right thing.

It’s not clear whether Schiller is referring to the use of a lower-case first letter or the entire mark, but the question still stands: is “watchOS” truly an ownable mark? No, or at least not yet.

Apple has a Supplemental Register registration for WATCHOS, which is the “junior” register for marks that are capable of trademark significance, but are merely descriptive at the time of registration. Apple’s also filed two pending applications for the same mark on the Principal Register (in classes 9 and 42), but each just received office actions earlier this week refusing registration on grounds of mere descriptiveness.

It’s clear WATCH OS is descriptive wording — it’s arguably even generic in the context of smartwatch operating systems. To overcome these refusals, Apple would either need to settle for the Supplemental Register again or prove to the Trademark Office that, just a year since its first use, “WATCHOS” has acquired secondary meaning as a brand name to the public.

Apple, in short, has yet to really prove that watchOS is truly “ownable.” We’ll see if Apple is able to put its enormous weight and brand equity behind WATCHOS and obtain Principal Register registrations. For the rest of us, it’s important to remember what’s ownable is not necessarily available, and what’s available is not necessarily ownable.

 

A little nominative trademark fair use might have saved these little gems from going right back to Costco, as gently used merchandise, with opened and not so gently mangled packaging to boot:

TyltBatteryImageLittle did I know when grabbing this impulse item at Costco over the weekend (without my expert child companions) that — after anxiously tearing open the packaging, plugging these babies in until they were full of juice, and then trying to charge my iPhone 6 with one — I’d discover with great disappointment, they are incompatible with my phone, they just don’t fit.

Not exactly a square peg and a round hole, but close enough.

Should I have been able to discern the incompatibility from the images on the packaging? Maybe, and perhaps my kids would have, but again, I was alone, without those who pay closer attention to those kinds of details, while maneuvering their hand held devices like ninja warriors.

Moreover, I searched high and low for words to communicate about compatibility, thought there might be a listing of branded products and models that work with these chargers, some helpful nominative fair use would have been nice, but none could be found.

Nowhere could I find verbiage on the packaging specifying the specifics of compatibility, just this definitive and prominent statement:

“Works with SMARTPHONES, TABLETS and all USB chargeable devices.”

I’ve always considered my iPhone 6 to be a smartphone, and I’m pretty sure it is a USB chargeable device too, so part of the subset within the universe of “all,” but I’m apparently a technology dunce. So, what’s my greater point?

Nominative trademark fair use is an important public service; and a legitimate need of brands that don’t want to have to deal with returned products and mangled packaging, especially when some of their shoppers might consider purchasing technology items without an accompanying minor.

As ubiquitous as Apple’s iPhone smartphones are, would it make sense to include at least some negative nominative fair use references?

Perhaps something like: “Does NOT work with Apple products” or “Incompatible with iPhone products” or “Don’t buy if you like Apple or iPhone products”?

Would Donald Trump be more likely to endorse these chargers with that kind of nominative fair use?

Emojis – those cute images you may find in a keyboard on your Android or iPhone device – have changed the way many people communicate thoughts, ideas, feelings and concepts.  They can add a certain level of pizzazz to an otherwise ordinary text message, Facebook post, or tweet.  And, if I may borrow a line from a more famous Martha, they certainly are “a good thing.”  For Apple/Macintosh fans, I always was fond of the Zapf Wingbats font – so you might call me an early adopter of this phenomenon.

Emojis have been accepted as part of the Unicode – the computing standard for text.  But each platform has a different expression of that Unicode.

So what about when emojis, or even glyphs, are used as part of an advertisement?

We like to reference billboards in our posts here, so take for example this use:

deadpool-emoji-billboard-pic

First of all, what is that?

Skull Poople?

A Super Bowl 50 reference?

Death to Poopy Face L (did I miss the others? and an ode to Death to Smoochy, one of my favorite Robin Williams movies)

Ohhh Dead Pool.  Like DUH.  (Insert sarcastic emoji).  And there is a pool, or at least a guy swimming in a pool, emoji.

Adweek last week called this billboard “so stupid it’s genius.”

We have written before on the use of emoticons and rights associated with it, but this was one of the first examples that I’ve using emojis as part of commercial speech.  So who owns the “skull” and “poo” emoji?

Well, like most legal questions, the answer is:  it depends.  Because emojis are part of the Unicode, their expression is dependent upon the platform in which the viewer sees the emoji.  An emoji viewed as part of an iMessage is different than one on an Android device or one in a tweet or one on Facebook or in your Google chat.  Because of that, it’s important to consider potential copyright issues before using this in an advertisement.  Assuming this was not a permissive use, the Dead Pool example shown may not qualify as a fair use of the skull or poo emojis.  Fair use is a subjective test that considers:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

It’s clearly a commercial use and may be considered to take the whole of the copyrighted work, but whether it’s effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (to the extent it is one) remains to be determined.

Is life in 140 characters or less moving us into a glyphful culture?  Bachelor Farmer recently launched a new cafe with no name but cleverly and brilliantly branded with a unique logo from iconography (designed by our good friends at Capsule), a logo that has even spurned a hashtag.

bachelor

Maybe once again Minneapolis’  prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Glyph, who’s playing sold out shows at Paisley Park tonight, was well ahead of the times.  Sort of surprisingly, with the benefit of 15+ years, there’s an article about how to write his glyph in Unicode.