First Sale Doctrine May Not Apply to Goods Purchased in Foreign Countries

Generally, an individual who has purchased a copyrighted book has the right to re-sell that book under the “first sale doctrine” of the Copyright Act. The Supreme Court may soon refine the boundaries of the first sale doctrine, limiting it to purchases made within the US.  Thai student resold textbooks originally purchased in Thailand.   A publisher recently brought suit (Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons) after finding that a Thai student had been reselling textbooks purchased in Thailand.  The publisher claims that the books were illegally imported and are therefore not entitled to the protection of the first sale doctrine. 

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UPDATE: 

Supreme Court recently held that US Copyright law does not prohibit unauthorized imports and sales of copyrighted material manufactured outside the US.

Publicity Rights Held to Expire 50 Years After Death

General Motors recently ran an ad featuring the head of Albert Einstein placed on a very masculine body with the quote “ideas are sexy too.”  The Hebrew University, owner of the rights, filed suit against GM claiming infringement.  The court held that rights of publicity expire fifty years after the individual’s death.

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3D Printers and Emerging IP Issues

3D printers allow users to create a multitude objects out of a wide range of materials. If you can create a computer model of the object, you can print it. A growing number of people are sharing modeling files and using printers to create three dimensional objects… protected designs, machine components, and even records with music.  Now that these printers and modeling files are becoming more commonplace, there is growing concern with the protection of intellectual property. 

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Is it Legal to Resell Your Digital Music?

ReDigi has created software that purports to remove old digital music files from the user’s equipment and then allow that user to resell these files through ReDigi’s on-line marketplace.  Capitol Records filed suit against the company in 2012 claiming copyright infringement.   The first sale doctrine seems to suggest that a purchased copy can be legally sold.  But is a digital copy a true “copy” under copyright law?

UPDATE:  In April 2013 the Court granted summary judgment for Capitol Records, finding that ReDigi’s online sale of digital music constitutes copyright infringement. This ruling creates a distinction between physical items and digital ones.  While this case applies to digital music, it may affect the resale of all digital works including e-books. ReDigi may appeal.

Theft of Trade Secrets Act Signed into Law

 On December 28th, President Obama signed the Theft of Trade Secrets Act into law (18 U.S.C. §§ 1831-39).  This act amends the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA) and grants federal courts much broader jurisdiction over trade secret misappropriation cases. In the past, state laws governed trade secret protection and federal jurisdiction was only granted in cases where the trade secret misappropriation involved a product that the company used or sold in interstate or foreign commerce. Items used internally within a company did not fall within federal jurisdiction.  The current law expands federal jurisdiction, allowing oversight in trade secret cases involving “a product or service used in or intended for use” in commerce.

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Trade Secret Protection

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.  

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The Trouble with Patent Trolls

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.

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Using the International Trade Commission to Protect your Intellectual Property

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.