Trademark

Supreme Court To Decide Whether Trademark License Can Be Rejected In Bankruptcy

The U.S. Supreme Court decides very few intellectual property cases. And, it accepts review of few cases from the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston (my circuit). So, when the Supreme Court accepts an IP case appealing a decision from the First Circuit, as it has now, I pay attention.

The case under appeal involves a narrow but important legal issue that is of interest to both the intellectual property licensing and bankruptcy communities. Here is a brief summary of what’s at issue.

The decision on appeal is Mission Product Holdings Inc. v. Tempnology LLC (1st Cir. January 12, 2018), and the issue is a mashup of trademark and bankruptcy law.

When a company files for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, the trustee or the debtor-in-possession (the “debtor”) may secure court approval to “reject” any executory contracts to which the debtor is a party. An example would be a distribution agreement for a specific term (say five years) that has not run its course.… Read the full article

Federal Circuit: Disparagement Provision of Trademark Statute is Unconstitutional

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has issued a typically fractured en banc decision (12 judges, 5 opinions) holding that the 70 year old disparagement provision of § 2(a) of the Lanham Act (the federal trademark statute) is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

This law states, in relevant part:

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it—

(a) Consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute …. (emphasis added)

The background of this decision is straightforward.  Simon Shiao Tam named his band, “The Slants”, and attempted to register it as a trademark.  Tam asserted that he had chosen this name to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in the United States, and by chosing this name his band sought to “reclaim” or “take ownership” of Asian stereotypes.… Read the full article

Initial Interest Confusion – It’s Back

by Lee Gesmer on July 31, 2015

Initial Interest Confusion - It's Back

[Note: The decision discussed below turned out to be short-lived.  On October 21, 2015, less than three months after its publication dated, the decision was withdrawn and a new opinion was issued, upholding the district court’s ruling that Amazon’s search results did not violate the Lanham Act. ]

In an unusual decision the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the Amazon search results page for an “MTM Special Ops” watch — a product Amazon does not sell — has the potential to violate the Lanham Act. The Ninth Circuit reversed a decision holding to the contrary by the Federal District Court for the Central District of California, and remanded the case for trial.

MTM’s dealer agreements prohibit them from selling to Amazon, and MTM does not sell to Amazon directly. However, at issue were Amazon search engine results obtained when consumers searched for MTM’s Special Ops watch on Amazon.… Read the full article

The U.S. Supreme Court IP Year in Review

by Lee Gesmer on September 3, 2014

[As initially published in the September 1, 2014 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly]

A lot has changed in the realm of intellectual property law following the record-breaking ten intellectual property cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2013 term. Highlights of the six unanimously decided patent cases include suits in which the Court narrowed the scope of patent protection for inventions implemented on computers, made it easier to invalidate a patent for indefiniteness, and made it easier for the district courts to shift attorneys’ fees to prevailing defendants.

The Court issued two copyright decisions, including an important ruling that may have implications for cloud computing. And, one of the Court’s two Lanham Act opinions established a new doctrine for standing in false advertising cases.

Patent

Medtronic v. Mirowski Family Ventures (Jan. 22, 2014) was the first of five decisions overruling the Federal Circuit outright. The Court held that in a declaratory judgment action for non-infringement brought by a patent licensee, the burden of proving infringement lies with the licensor/patent holder, not the licensee. … Read the full article