Earlier this week, in Matal v. Tam, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Portland-based rock band, the Slants, finding that the section of the Lanham Act banning offensive trademarks was an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.
Slants founder Simon Tam attempted to trademark the band's name in 2011, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the request pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), the section of the Lanham Act that bans offensive or disparaging trademarks. The band members, who are Asian-American, selected the name to reclaim the derogatory term and to drain its denigrating force.
The Lanham Act contains provisions that bar certain trademarks, including 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a) (the disparagement clause), which prohibits the registration of a trademark "which may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute." When determining whether a trademark is disparaging, an examiner at the PTO applies a two-part test -- first, considering the likely meaning of the trademark, and second, considering whether a substantial composite of persons find the term offensive. Mr. Tam argued that the disparagement clause violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
The Government argued that the disparagement clause did not violate the Free Speech Clause because: (1) trademarks are government speech, not private speech; (2) trademarks are a form of government subsidy; and (3) the constitutionality of the disparagement clause should be tested under a new "government-program" doctrine. The Supreme Court rejected all three arguments, and ultimately concluded that the disparagement clause was the "essence of viewpoint discrimination," as it reflects the Government's interest in preventing speech expressing offensive ideas.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week handed a trademark victory to Pom Wonderful, reversing a district court decision denying its request for an injunction against competitor Pur Beverages.
Pom Wonderful, maker of the popular POM pomegranate juice drinks, requested a preliminary injunction to bar the defendant from using the word “pŏm” for its pomegranate flavored energy drinks, as seen below.
The district court denied the request, stating that Pom Wonderful did not establish a likelihood of confusion between the marks.
On review, the Ninth Circuit focused on the Sleekcraft factors for likelihood of confusion. Regarding the physical similarities of the marks, the Ninth Circuit found far more in common between the marks than not. “Balancing the marks’ many visual similarities, perfect aural similarity, and perfect semantic similarity more heavily than the marks’ visual dissimilarities – as we must – the similarity factor weighs heavily in Pom Wonderful’s favor.” Furthermore, when considering this factor, strong marks are given greater weight than weak marks. As such, the district court clearly erred by giving more weight to the marks’ differences than their similarities.
The district court also erred in its “brick-and-mortar” trade channels analysis. “Because Pom Wonderful and Pur sell highly similar products in supermarkets located across the country, the marketing channel convergence factor weighs in Pom Wonderful’s favor. The district court clearly erred in . . . requiring Pom Wonderful to prove that its beverages were sold in the very same brick-and-mortar stores as Pur’s ‘pŏm’ beverage.” Though a perfect overlap of retailer locations increases likelihood of consumer confusion, its absence does not undermine the convergence of the marketing channels.
Finally, the district court mistakenly weighed the remaining factors – actual confusion, defendant’s intent, and product expansion –against Pom Wonderful. The absence of any evidence supporting these factors is to be considered merely neutral in a likelihood of confusion analysis.
In weighing the totality of the factors, the Ninth Circuit review revealed that five of the Sleekcraft factors weighed in favor of Pom Wonderful, none weighed in favor of Pur Beverages, and three factors were neutral. Since the district court’s errors created a ripple effect, influencing its decision regarding the remaining preliminary injunction requirements, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded.
There is little debate that the Lanham Act, 15 USC 1125(a), entitles direct competitors to sue each other for false advertising, while consumers (including business consumers) lack standing to sue under the Act. For parties that are neither competitors nor consumers, however, the landscape has been far from clear. In Lexmark International v. Static Control Components, Inc., the United States Supreme Court last week clarified that the class of plaintiffs entitled to assert a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act includes any party that suffers injury to a commerical interest in reputation or sales flowing directly from the deception.
Lexmark manufactures and sells laser printers, including the toner cartridges for those printers. Static Control does not sell printers or toner catridges but it manufactures a microchip that remanufacturers may use to refurbish Lexmark toner catridges. Although Lexmark and Static Control are not direct competitors, Static Control sells its microchips to Lexmark's competitors. Lexmark allegedly informed consumers that it was illegal to use Static Control's microchips to refurbish Lexmark toner catridges, and then sued Static Control for copyright infringement. Static Control countersued Lexmark under the Lanham Act for false advertising. The District Court dismissed Static Control's counterclaim on the ground that only a direct competitor has standing to sue.
The Supreme Court ruled that direct competition is not required to assert a Lanham Act false advertising claim, and that Static Control stated a claim for relief against Lexmark where Lexmark disparaged Static Control and its products, thereby causing injury to Static Control's reputation.
A federal judge in Illinois recently ruled that a Chicago company's long-term use of the term "vault" to describe its product did not defeat an Oregon company's use of the term as a registered trademark.
Edsal Manufactoring Company, Inc., an industrial steel cabinet manufacturer, sued Vault Brands, Inc., an Oregon designer of custom cabinetry and the owner of the registered mark VAULT, for trademark infringement on the grounds that Edsal had been using the word "vault" for its locking metal cabinets more than 10 years before Vault had used its VAULT mark for custom cabinets. Soon after answering the complaint and denying the allegations, Vault filed a motion for summary judgment on Edsal's claim for trademark infringement. Vault contended that, although Edsal used the word "vault" to describe its locking metal cabinets, Edsal never used the term as a trademark to identify the source of the goods. Sitting in the Northern District of Illinois, United States District Judge Dow agreed with Vault and granted summary judgment on Edsal's claim of trademark infringement because Edsal used the word "vault" as merely a desciptor or generic for its locking metal cabinets.
Ater Wynne litigator Dan Larsen represented Vault Brands. See the opinion in Edsal Manufacturing Company, Inc. v. Vault Brands, Inc., here.
The Ninth Circuit recently measured the scope of a safe harbor for service providers accused of copyright infringement, holding that it's broad enough to protect operators of filesharing websites. In UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners LLC, the Ninth Circuit interpreted and clarified the part of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that created the safe harbor, 17 U.S.C. § 512(c).
UMG offered three reasons for denying to Veoh Networks safe harbor protection. First, UMG argued that the automatic copying of uploaded files to enable access fell outside the plain meaning of "infringement of copyright by reason of the storage [of material] at the direction of a user." (emphasis added). The Ninth Circuit disagreed, holding that the service provider safe harbor encompasses the access-facilitating processes that automatically occur when a user uploads a video to Veoh Networks.
Second, UMG insisted that Veoh Networks had actual knowledge of infringement or was aware of facts from which infringing activity was apparent, in violation of specific provisions of the safe harbor. Again, the Ninth Circuit rebuffed UMG's argument, holding that a service provider must have specific knowledge of particular infringing activity to have actual knowledge. It is not enough that a service provider has general knowledge that its services could be used to share infringing material. With respect to the facts from which infringing activity was allegedly apparent, the Ninth Circuit held that the red flags were insufficient because a service provider has no duty to determine whether stored materials are actually infringing.
Finally, UMG argued that Veoh Networks was ineligible for the safe harbor because it received financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, which it had the right and ability to control. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court and held that the "right and ability to control" under the safe harbor requires control over specific infringing activity the service provider knows about.
With this opinion, the Ninth Circuit has reassured the operators of filesharing websites that the safe harbor in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is real.
The Ninth Circuit recently rejected a small computer manufacturer's copyright misuse defense against Apple's claim that it had infringed on Apple's copyright in Mac OS X. In Apple, Inc. v. Psystar Corp., the Ninth Circuit attempted to distinguish the Fifth Circuit's acceptance of the copyright misuse defense in Alcatel USA, Inc. v. DGI Techs., Inc. Careful review of the two opinions reveals they are more similar than the Ninth Circuit has let on. It remains to be seen whether the circuit courts will harmonize Apple and Alcatel or whether they will split on the copyright misuse defense.
A copyright holder has a limited monopoly that it can protect by suing persons who infringe on its copyright. The copyright misuse doctrine is a defense against copyright infringement. The purpose of the doctrine is to prevent a copyright holder from leveraging its limited monopoly to areas outside the monopoly. With respect to software, a copyright holder does not misuse its copyright through licensing as long as it does not prevent the development of competing products. The plaintiffs in both Apple and Alcatel imposed restrictions on the use of their software. The question was whether these restrictions prevented the development of competing products.
In Alcatel, DSC sold switches and expansion cards to long-distance telephone service providers that enabled the providers to route calls through their networks. These switches ran on software in which DSC held a copyright. To increase network capacity, the service providers could buy expansion cards, but the expansion cards also ran on DSC's copyrighted software. DSC licensed this software to its customers under the conditions that they not copy the software and that they use the software only in conjunction with equipment manufactured by DSC. In essence, DSC was using its copyright to monopolize the market in expansion cards. It is important to note that DSC was not preventing other switch manufacturers from developing their own software or selling their own switches. Nonetheless, the Fifth Circuit upheld the jury's finding that DSC's licensing agreement constituted copyright misuse.
The Ninth Circuit, in Apple, rejected the copyright misuse defense under circumstances that bear many similarities to the facts in Alcatel. Psystar is a small computer manufacturer that makes Apple clones. To avoid blatant copyright infringement, Psystar includes a shrink-wrapped copy of Mac OS X with each computer it sells. Like the licensing agreement in Alcatel, Apple restricts the use of Mac OS X to hardware manufactured by Apple. The Ninth Circuit held that Apple's licensing agreement does not constitute copyright misuse because Mac OS X was designed to operate on Apple computers and the licensing agreement does not prevent competitors from developing their own computers or operating systems.
The Ninth Circuit attempted to distinguish Alcatel by noting that DSC's licensing agreement effectively prohibited its licensees from using any competing expansion cards, whereas Apple's license does not restrict competitors from developing their own software or using non-Apple components with Apple computers. According to the Ninth Circuit, Apple's license simply limits the use of Apple's software to its own hardware.
This distinction does not hold up under scrutiny. DSC, like Apple, had a licensing agreement that required its customers to use its software on only its products. In addition, DSC did not prevent competitors from developing competing switches and software. In fact, many of DSC's customers were dual-sourced, meaning they bought switches from DSC and one of DSC's competitors. It is difficult to understand how DSC misused its copyright while Apple did not. It will be interesting to see whether the Fifth and Ninth Circuits attempt to harmonize the two cases or whether they turn this inconsistency into a full-blown circuit split.
The Ninth Circuit this week cast doubt on whether an advertiser that uses the name of a competitor's product in keyword advertising is liable for trademark infringement. In Network Automation, Inc. v. Advanced Systems Concept, Inc., the Ninth Circuit vacated a preliminary injunction preventing defendant from purchasing the name of plaintiff's product as a keyword to display sponsored ads. The court expressed skepticism about whether such trademark use creates consumer confusion, which is the essence of trademark infringement.
Plaintiff Network Automation, Inc. (Network) and defendant Advanced Systems Concepts, Inc. (Systems) are competitors. Systems markets software under the trademark ACTIVEBATCH. Network purchased the keyword ACTIVEBATCH from Google AdWords in order to display a sponsored ad for Network's products when users searched the term ACTIVEBATCH. The district court found that this use likely created initial interest confusion -- meaning that defendant used plaintiff's mark in a manner calculated to capture intial consumer attention even though no actual sale is made. On that basis, the district court granted injunctive relief.
The Ninth Circuit rejected that analysis, emphasizing that the owner of the mark must demonstrate "likely confusion, not mere diversion." To determine the likelihood of confusion, the court applied the Sleekcraft factors, of which one is the degree of "consumer care." According to the court, the degree of consumer care on the Internet is greater now than in years past, as the novelty of the Internet evaporates and online commerce becomes commonplace. That makes confusion from a competitor's keyword advertising less likely.
The court also added as a factor to the Sleekcraft test the labelling, appearance and context of the sponsored ads. Network's ads did not clearly identify their source, and in certain cases that may cause initial confusion. But the surrounding context of the ads may eliminate that confusion; Google and Bing segregate sponsored ads from search results to highlight that the ads are not the result of an objective search result. Because the district court failed to properly consider the heightened care of consumers and the context of the ads, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court abused its discretion in granting injuctive relief.
In UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Augusto, the Ninth Circuit earlier this month held that a music company can't prevent resale of CDs it distributed for free, even though the CDs bore labels saying they were distributed for promotional purposes and not for sale. Plaintiff UMG is a music company that sends promotional CDs to music critics and radio programmers. Defendant Augusto was not a recipient of the CDs, but he nevertheless obtained a number of them and offered them for sale on eBay. UMG sued for copyright infringement, contending that the restrictive label on the CDs granted only a license and prevented resale. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, holding that the promotional distribution was a "sale" for purposes of copyright law, and once plaintiff transferred title it could not prevent re-sale. The court applied the "first sale" doctrine, which provides that, once a copyright owner places a copyrighted item in the stream of commerce, it cannot prevent resale of that copy.
Last week the 9th Circuit held that, if a software manufacturer licenses rather than sells its software, and if a licensee sells the software outside the restrictions of the license, copyright law prevents the sale of the software by the subsenquent purchaser. The result in the case turns on the interpretation of the first-sale doctrine, and on the distinction between sale and license of a copyrighted work.
In Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc., the court found in favor of Autodesk, a manufacturer of computer-aided design software, and against an individual who sought to sell on eBay copies of Autodesk software that he purchased from one of Autodesk's direct customers. The Autodesk license agreement prohibits transfers by licensees. Vernor, the thwarted eBay seller, argued that he was protected by the first-sale doctrine, which provides that the seller of a copyrighted work may not place conditions on subsequent sales.
The Ninth Circuit held that the first-sale doctrine applies only when the copyright owner sells the copyrighted work, and not when it licenses the work. According to the court, the transferee of a copy of a copyrighted work is a licensee if the copyright owner (1) specifies that the user is granted a license; (2) significantly restricts the user's ability to transfer the software; and (3) imposes notable use restrictions. In this case Autodesk's transfer to its direct customer was a license and not a sale, and the subsequent eBay sale was an infringement of Autodesk's rights.
On-line auto brokers triumphed over Toyota last week when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals approved of the use of the Lexus trademark in their domain names.
Toyota Motor Sales USA is the exclusive distributor of Lexus vehicles in the United States and guardian of the Lexus mark. Independent auto brokers used the Lexus mark in domain names "buy-a-lexus.com" and "buyorleaselexus.com." This and other conduct by the brokers prompted Toyota to sue for trademark infringement and to seek an injunction to prevent use of the Lexus mark. The brokers defended the action pro se. The district court, applying the eight-factor test for likelihood of confusion from AMF v. Sleekcraft Boats, concluded that the brokers had infringed Toyota's mark. The court then enjoined use of the Lexus mark in any domain name or metatag.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit in Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. v. Tabari reversed, holding that the brokers' use of the Lexus mark in their domain names was a lawful nominative fair use. According to the court, consumers who use the Internet for shopping will not be confused as to the sites' sponsorhip or affiliation because they are sophisticated and accustomed to domain names that incorporate marks but are not affiliated with the trademark owner. Moreover, even if the use of the Lexus mark leads Internet consumers searching for the official Lexus website to the brokers' sites, these consumers expect trial and error in exploring websites and know at a glance that certain websites are not what they want. Without an affirmative suggestion of sponsorship or affiliation, the Ninth Circuit reasoned, mere use of the mark in the domain name does not cause Internet users to believe there is sponsorship by, or affiliation with, the trademark owner.