Walmart was recently ordered to pay Variety Stores after a jury found that the company infringed Variety’s registered trademark BACKYARD. The jury concluded that Walmart’s use of the mark in a line of grilling products constituted willful infringement, resulting in a $95.5M treble damage award.
Since 1936, Levi has been placing a small fabric tag with the name LEVI on the pockets of its denim products. The company recently filed a trademark suit against Barbour, an English clothier that has been in business since 1894. Levi claimed that the blue fabric tags placed in the pockets of Barbour clothing created a likelihood of confusion. On February 1st, a Judge dismissed the case calling Levi Strauss a “bully.”
The United States has charged tech company Huawei with trade secret theft, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice. The DOJ alleges that the company took photos and measurements of a phone-testing robot and used that information to build a similar device. Huawei denied the theft, claiming it was the work of miscreants; however, recent emails offering bonuses to employees stealing information from competitors was recently uncovered.
The President recently signed the Music Modernization Act into law. This legislation streamlines payment to songwriters by creating a single mechanical licensing database for streamed music. The database is managed by music publishers and songwriters and paid for by digital streaming services.
USPTO Director Iancu recently proposed new patent eligibility guidelines at the quarterly meeting of the Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC). Iancu noted that clarity is needed both by examiners and applicants asking, “how can a claim be novel enough to pass 102 and nonobvious enough to pass 103, yet lack an “inventive concept” and therefore fail 101? Or, how can a claim be concrete enough so that one of skill in the art can make it without undue experimentation, and pass 112, yet abstract enough to fail 101? How can something concrete be abstract?” Hopefully the new guidelines will address these issues and give some much needed clarity.
Drug company Allergan transferred its Restasis drug patents to a Mohawk tribe in upstate NY. Under the deal, Allergan paid the Indian tribe $13.75 million and agreed to further payment of $15 million in annual royalties while the patents were in force. In exchange, the tribe agreed to lease the patents back to Allergan and promised to claim sovereign immunity in any USPTO patent challenges. Under the law, Indian tribes possess inherent sovereignty; however, this sovereignty may be limited through treaty or federal statute. Additionally, Congress possesses plenary power over tribes, allowing it to alter or abolish tribal sovereignty at will. The US Supreme Court recently held that Indian tribes cannot use sovereign immunity to shield themselves from patent challenges brought within the USPTO. The court did not decide whether sovereign immunity claims could be used by states.
The Supreme Court recently granted a petition for writ of certiori in Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. The court will be asked to determine whether the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) bars an inventor from selling to a third party when that third party has a duty of confidentiality to the seller. Such an “on-sale” bar would prevent the inventor or assignee from filing a patent for that invention.
Update: Supreme Court holds that that a secret sale qualifies as prior art.
Cancellation of a trademark registration does not extinguish common law trademark rights. If the owner continues to use the mark after abandonment or cancellation by the USPTO, that owner will still enjoy common law protections allowing for use within the current “zone of commerce.” While it may possible to register a canceled or abandoned mark, one should think carefully and research any potentially confusingly similar uses.
A hand bag company called My Other Bag (MOB) has been engaged in a long legal battle with Louis Vitton. The company claimed that MOB’s canvas tote bags depicting images of Louis Vitton bags was an infringing use of their copyrights and trademarks and was diluting their brands. The District Court for the Southern District of New York held that such use amounted to parody and was an acceptable use. The Second Circuit affirmed and the Supreme Court rejected Louis Vitton’s appeal.
In July 2016, Amazon submitted an application to trademark the blue rings that encircle the top of their Echo product. This type of trademark has been granted in the past and will turn on whether the general public associates these cyan rings with the voice-controlled speaker.