Two recent trade secret decisions held that products and processes comprised of a combination of components qualify for trade secret protection even if the individual components are in the public domain. Trade secret protection may be available if the combination of these elements is not readily known or easily ascertainable.
A growing number of companies are amassing enormous IP portfolios, often purchasing patents from underfunded inventors. Those in the warehouse patent business generally have no intention of bringing these inventions to market; they profit through licensing and litigation. Oftentimes the purchased patents have overly broad claims, allowing these “patent trolls” to bully would-be infringers into a licensing agreement. Those who refuse find themselves in court and are forced to spend huge sums on their legal defense.
The International Trade Commission (ITC) is a valuable resource in preventing the importation of counterfeit goods. While the ITC cannot award damages, they can issue exclusion orders that will keep infringing products out of the United States. These orders are generally much easier to obtain than court ordered injunctions.
A court in the United Kingdom recently held that Nestle cannot trademark the shape of its chocolate Kit Kat bar. This may pave the way for competitors such as Cadbury to make a similarly shaped bar. Nestle plans to appeal this decision.
The Plaintiff artist in this case claimed that she was approached to create an advertising campaign for Starbucks. She declined but argued that Starbucks stole the core of her style, creating an ad that had the same shapes and colors as much of her art. While “look and feel” claims are common in Copyright suits, “style” is not protectable under copyright law. The fact that Starbucks used similar shapes and colors was not sufficient to support her claim and the suit was dismissed.
Irish fast food chain, Supermac, has successfully challenged McDonald’s EU trademark BIG MAC. After reviewing the mark, the EU Intellectual Property Office found that evidence submitted by McDonald’s was insufficient to support its use. The BIG MAC trademark registration was canceled and Supermac is now free to expand within the UK and EU.