Thursday, 22 February 2018 23:44

Son of Playwright Sues Fox for "The Shape of Water"

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David Zindel has filed a lawsuit in the Central District of California against Fox, director Guillermo Del Toro, and others, for copyright infringement of a play penned by his father in 1969 titled Let Me Hear You Whisper, regarding the recent movieThe Shape of Water .  Spoilers follow the break.

The term “substantially similar” causes plenty of confusion in copyright infringement cases.  Beyond the amorphous nature of the term, itself, courts use this language with subtly different meanings when evaluating the separate prongs of the test for infringement: (1) copying, and (2) misappropriation. It’s not enough to merely copy; to be liable for infringement, the defendant must take elements of a work that are original. Copying can be demonstrated by circumstantial evidence of access to the plaintiff’s work and substantial similarity of the defendant’s work, calling for only a probative level of similarity to support a factual conclusion of copying. However, the second prong, misappropriation, requires a qualitative analysis of the plaintiff’s work to determine the scope of copyright protection, which in turn yields a sliding, legal standard for infringement, i.e., whether the accused work is similar in terms of copying a substantial amount of protectable expression. The Ninth Circuit recently took that to the extreme in Sophia & Chloe v. Brighton Collectibles, a case involving jewelry as a sculptural work. Because Sophia & Chloe’s “Buddha Kiss” earrings were deemed to be so minimally original, and thus entitled to narrow copyright protection, the panel ruled that the proper standard for the misappropriation prong was “virtually identical” rather than “substantial similarity,” thereby re-invigorating a legal test most often used in the past for obscure cases involving multiple listing services and other content of limited creativity. In copyright litigation, the various meanings of substantially similar are definitely not virtually identical.

Monday, 22 January 2018 16:06

The USPTO During Government Shutdown

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While many federal agencies are currently furloughed, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) has announced that it will be able to maintain regular operations for a few weeks due to excess revenue from last year’s fee collections. Should the USPTO exhaust its reserve funds, the agency will officially shut down but maintain a small staff to accept new applications and maintain information-technology (“IT”) infrastructure. There is no comment at this time on whether outstanding USPTO deadlines would be extended in the event of a closure, but the Firm will continue to monitor the USPTO’s status and advise clients accordingly.

One measure of damages for patent infringement is compensation for lost profits of the patent owner. Additionally, a patent owner may enjoin the export of parts of a patented invention from the United States, if the parts will be assembled or used for an infringing purpose. However, the Supreme Court is set to answer the question of whether lost profits may be awarded to the patent owner for service contracts, performed outside the U.S., making use of those parts exported from the U.S. in the case of WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp. If the answer is affirmative, then the scope of damages available to a patent owner may be drastically expanded -- up to USD $93 Million in WesternGeco's case.

On January 8, 2018, the Federal Circuit ruled en banc that judicial review is available for a patent owner to challenge the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s determination that a petitioner satisfied the timeliness requirement governing petitions for Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) codified in 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).  At its core, the opinion provides that if the Director of the PTO initiates an IPR ruling in contravention of the statute of limitations, an Article III court has the power to review that initiating decision.   

By way of background, Broadcom Corp. filed three separate petitions for IPR in 2013 pertaining to certain patents owned by Ericsson.  During the pendency of the IPR, Ericsson transferred ownership of the patents to Wi-Fi One, LLC ("Wi-Fi").  In opposition to Broadcom’s petitions, Wi-Fi contended that the Director lacked authority under Section 315(b) and was precluded from initiating review on any of the three petitions because Broadcom was in privity with certain defendants that were found to have infringed the asserted claims in a jury trial in the Eastern District of Texas.  Accordingly, Wi-Fi asserted that the petitions were time-barred under 315(b) because Ericsson (the prior patent owner) had already brought infringement claims against defendants that were in privity with Broadcom more than a year prior to its petitions.  Ultimately, the Board instituted IPR on the subject claims, and issued final decisions holding that the claims were unpatentable.  In those decisions, the Board held that Wi-Fi had not demonstrated privity between Broadcom on the one hand, and the defendants in the Eastern District of Texas litigation on the other hand, and as a result, the petitions were not time-barred under 315(b).  Wi-Fi appealed those final decisions, contending that the Federal Circuit should reverse the Board's time-bar determinations.  A panel of the Federal Circuit disagreed, holding that Section 315(b)’s time-bar rulings are non-appealable and unreviewable.

On Wi-Fi’s petition for rehearing en banc, the Federal Circuit granted Wi-Fi’s request and considered whether judicial review is available for a patent owner to challenge the Board’s determination that the petitioner satisfied the timeliness requirement of 35 U.S.C. 315(b).  Section

35 U.S.C. 315(b) provides that: "an inter partes review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceeding is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.”

After analyzing the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (which created IPR proceedings), the Administrative Procedures Act (codifying the governing standards applicable to final decisions of the PTO), and the pertinent statutes, the Federal Circuit held that it will “abdicate judicial review only when Congress provides a ‘clear and convincing’ indication that it intends to prohibit review.”  In Wi-Fi One, however, the Court held that there was no clear and convincing indication of such congressional intent to overcome the presumption in favor of judicial review of agency actions.  Accordingly, the Federal Circuit remanded the case to the merits panel, affording Wi-Fi with an opportunity to have its arguments heard on the merits, to wit, whether Broadcom’s challenge to the subject patents were time-barred.  

Online service providers should note the approaching deadline in connection with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). Many websites, mobile apps, blogs, discussion boards, and the like qualify as online service providers: “those that allow users to post or store material on their systems, and search engines, directories, and other information location tools”. The DMCA has "safe harbor" provisions that may shield online service providers from copyright infringement liability with respect to content that is posted or uploaded by their users. In order to seek to take advantage of this "safe harbor" protection, online service providers must designate an agent that will receive notifications of claimed copyright infringement with respect to user-generated content. If you have designated an agent for this purpose in the past, please note that any designation that was made using the U.S. Copyright Office’s former registration system will automatically expire on January 1, 2018. Therefore, it is critical for online service providers to file a new designation before the end of 2017. Our firm handles these filings and has been appointed as the designated agent for DMCA take-down notifications for many clients. For more information about the process, or to speak to one of our attorneys about having our firm designated as your agent for take-down notifications under the DMCA's "safe harbor” provisions, please contact our office at 305-858-8000.

Online service providers should note the approaching deadline in connection with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). Many websites, mobile apps, blogs, discussion boards, and the like qualify as online service providers: “those that allow users to post or store material on their systems, and search engines, directories, and other information location tools”. The DMCA has "safe harbor" provisions that may shield online service providers from copyright infringement liability with respect to content that is posted or uploaded by their users. In order to seek to take advantage of this "safe harbor" protection, online service providers must designate an agent that will receive notifications of claimed copyright infringement with respect to user-generated content. If you have designated an agent for this purpose in the past, please note that any designation that was made using the U.S. Copyright Office’s former registration system will automatically expire on January 1, 2018. Therefore, it is critical for online service providers to file a new designation before the end of 2017. Our firm handles these filings and has been appointed as the designated agent for DMCA take-down notifications for many clients. For more information about the process, or to speak to one of our attorneys about having our firm designated as your agent for take-down notifications under the DMCA's "safe harbor” provisions, please contact our office at 305-858-8000.

This week the Eleventh Circuit ruled on service mark infringement claims brought by Savannah College of Art and Design ("SCAD") against Sportswear, Inc. for selling unlicensed apparel and other goods on its website. The district court in the Northern District of Georgia had found that though SCAD had registered marks in connection with education services, SCAD failed to establish its mark's rights extended to apparel. More specifically, in relying on precedent concerning unregistered marks, SCAD could not show common law priority because SCAD could not show prior use of the mark on apparel before Sportswear.

On appeal, Judge Adalberto Jordan published a decision reversing the district court's findings, relying on 1975 precedent Boston Prof'l Hockey Ass'n, Inc. v. Dallas Cap & Emblem Mfg., Inc., to find that SCAD's registered service mark protection may extend to goods as well. While recognizing that infringement claims under § 1114(1)(a) are based on federally-registered marks, claims under § 1125(a) can be based on federally-registered or unregistered marks, and the oft-blurred lines between both claims, both claims nonetheless required SCAD to establish the following: (1) enforceable trademark rights in the mark (validity and scope); and (2) likelihood of confusion from the infringer's unauthorized use of its mark. In informing the first part of the analysis, the Court found it instructive to follow Boston Hockey based on SCAD's registered service marks. The precedent, which is not without criticism, "extends protection for federally-registered service marks to goods, and therefore beyond the area of registration listed in the certificate." The case was therefore remanded for further proceedings under the § 1114(1)(a) and § 1125(a) claims in light of Boston Hockey.

See the full opinion here: http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/201513830.pdf

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