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“AVATAR” ALLEGED TO INFRINGE NOVEL BY LOCAL AUTHOR

A local author named Cynthia J. Clay recently filed a copyright infringement lawsuit alleging that the motion picture Avatar infringes her novel, entitled Zollocco: A Novel of Another Universe.  The complaint, which was filed in the Southern District of Florida federal court, alleges instances of “strikingly similar” copying of portions of the novel, and claims that the name of the novel, Zollocco, was used as a war chant by principal characters in a critical scene in the movie (allegedly “Zha-lah-coooh”). 

The Defendants in the lawsuit include James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox.  As with any lawsuit alleging copyright infringement, the issues to be determined will include: (1) the Defendants’ access to the novel; and (2) the degree of similarity between the accused work and the copyrighted work (“substantial similarity” if access can be proven, otherwise the alleged infringing work must be “strikingly similar”).  

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NAKED COWBOY SUFFERS IRREPARABLE INJURY.

Robert John Burck, better known as Time Square’s “Naked Cowboy”, has filed a federal trademark infringement suit against another New York City entertainer known as “Naked Cowgirl”.    Burck, who has registered the “Naked Cowboy” mark with the USPTO, has been serenading New York tourists while wearing only white briefs, cowboy boots, and a hat since 1997.  According to Burck, the Naked Cowgirl — whose act also, coincidentally, entails serenading tourists while wearing only her underwear, cowboy boots, and a hat — is causing “confusion” and may “permanent[ly] devaluat[e] . . . a real American Brand and Icon.”   

The complaint, which inevitably led to multiple news stories making tongue-in-cheek references to trade “dress”, legal “briefs”, and “naked licensing,” seeks unspecified damages and a court order blocking the Naked Cowgirl from, ostensibly, appearing in public as a semi-naked cowgirl.  The Naked Cowgirl, for her part, has cited her First Amendment rights and countered that Burck does not have “a monopoly on scantily clad guitar-playing.” 

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VALID BUT UNENFORCEABLE – WHAT EXACTLY IS MATERIAL TO PATENTABILITY?

The Federal Circuit recently denied a request for rehearing en banc in the matter of Avid Identification Systems, Inc. v Crystal Import Corp.  In the underlying District Court case, it was determined that the president of Avid failed to disclose a demonstration of a “precursor product” at a trade show to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office during prosecution of the Avid patent, and the Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision that this failure was sufficient to hold the Avid patent unenforceable based on inequitable conduct.

The interesting, and somewhat disturbing, impact of this decision is the fact that the District Court jury found that Avid’s trade show demonstration did not constitute invalidating prior art, i.e., Avid’s demonstration was not an invalidating disclosure of the invention, nor a sale to offer to sell the patented invention.

Thus, this decision begs the question: When [and how] is non-invalidating prior art material to patentability?

For more, click here to read Judge Newman’s Dissent to the En Banc Order.