The Supreme Court returned to session this morning in accordance with a long-held tradition of opening the annual term on the first Monday in October. The recent changes to the Court's composition, coupled with the potential impact of the decisions looming on the horizon, promise to make this session a particularly interesting one.
The administrators of Michael Jackson's estate have filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Heal the World Foundation on the grounds that the foundation is illegally using trademarks and websites that give the false impression that Michael Jackson is associated with the foundation. In 1992, Jackson founded a Heal the World Foundation based on his hit single, but that enterprise was abandoned a decade later. The suit claims that "Defendants' acts of infringement and unfair competition have been committed with the intent to cause confusion, mistake and to deceive" by including photos and trademarks of Michael Jackson, and statements made by Melissa Johnson, the founder of the Heal the World Foundation, which falsely suggest she had a history of working with Jackson's charity. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated "cybersquatting" laws by registering domain names such as “mjaid.net,” “healtheworldfoundation.net,” and “mjquotes.net” that imply legitimate ties to Jackson and his estate. The website "healtheworldfoundation.net" has numerous sections devoted to Mr. Jackson and his charitable work. The defendants were also subject to a recent CBS investigative report, which concluded that their cause had become a "magnet for fans searching for a Michael Jackson charity."This lawsuit is part of a continuing effort by Jackson's estate to control unauthorized use of Michael Jackson's name and likeness.
Adam Goldman contributed to this entry.
As we help clients navigate through the trademark application process we are careful to always explain the risks as well as the rewards associated with the breath of their registration. Not surprisingly, afterwards we also emphasize the need to routinely maintain and update ones Intellectual Property portfolio because it is after all an investment that should not be neglected. However, when the TTAB decided Bose Corp. v. Hexawave, Inc., 88 USPQ2d 1332 (TTAB 2007), we hoped that the appeal of the decision would result in an interpretation that was more in line with the policies of public disclosure that the USPTO has consistently applied.
Specially, the concern was that the Board had found that Bose’s 2001 renewal of its registration for the word-mark WAVE in connection with audio tape recorders and players was fraudulent because the company no longer manufactured those products. The issue of actual use, however, arose after the renewal when Bose opposed the registration of the HEXAWAVE mark and Hexawave fired back accusing Bose of committing fraud on the PTO. In essence, the Board’s finding of fraud hinged on the determination that Bose “should have known” which in essence established a standard of subjective intent. This finding led to the coining of the term fraudit, which are audits on Intellectual Property portfolios that seek to uncover what the owner “should have known.”
In testimony before the House Judiciary subcommittee, U.S. Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters criticized the proposed agreement between Google and the Author's Guild, which would allow Google to create and maintain a vast digital library of scanned books. Specifically, this settlement would give Google the right to digitize millions of books, including "orphan books" (books for which there is no clear copyright owner), without permission from copyright holders. Consequently, Google would be shielded from liability and would establish a registry that would sell access to books to libraries and individuals. Revenue would be split among Google, authors, and publishers.
Ms. Peter's testimony, which could prove to be a crucial factor in the settlement agreement's fairness hearing on October 7th, argued that this registry created a back-door for Google to get around copyright restrictions by allowing them to sell books without prior author consent. She equated this situation to that of a compulsory license, in which the rights holder is forced to license his/her work to others, as Google would now have the right to display book text and control the sale of downloads. Most importantly however, Ms. Peters claimed that this settlement agreement usurped Congressional authority because only Congress, not the courts, can enact such licenses.
Earlier this month, the Honorable Leonard Davis of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas made a determination of willful patent infringement in favor of a thirty (30) employee Canadian based software manufacture who sued the software giant, Microsoft. The lawsuit filed by Infrastructures for Information Inc., known as i4i claimed that MS Word 2003 and 2007 included an Extensible Markup Language or XLM tagging feature that infringed its patent. The plot was thickened by the fact that i4i developed a product based on the patent and even negotiated the possibility of a license with Microsoft which triggered allegations of willful infringement on the part of the software giant who is no stranger to litigation.
Specifically, in May of this year, the jury found in favor of i4i and awarded it $200 million. But earlier this month, Judge Davis found that the infringement was willful and added $40 million to the damages award along with pre-judgment interest in the amount of $37 million. He then issued a permanent injunction prohibiting Microsoft from selling MS Word in the US and giving Microsoft 60 days to comply with the injunction.