On September 2, 2020, a California federal judge denied musician Taylor Swift’s motion to dismiss copyright infringement claims related to the lyrics in Swift’s hit song Shake It Off. On remand from the Ninth Circuit, the district court held the merger doctrine did not apply at this stage and that plaintiffs Nathan Butler and Sean Hall sufficiently alleged a protectable sequence of creative expression and substantial similarity in the lyrics at issue. This ruling comes nearly three years after Hall and Butler originally filed suit, and nearly one year after the Ninth Circuit breathed new life into the case by reversing the district court’s prior dismissal of this lawsuit.Read More
In a 2-1 split decision on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, the Federal Circuit confirmed that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB“) had the authority to reject substitute claims under 35 U.S.C. §§ 101 and 112, statutory grounds not available to the PTAB for evaluating patentability of granted patent claims in inter partes review (“IPR“). (Uniloc 2017 LLC, v. Hulu, LLC et al., Case No. 2019-1686, slip op. at 3 (Fed. Cir. July 22, 2020).)Read More
On June 30, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V., 591 U.S. ___ (2020) that “Booking.com” is eligible for trademark registration because consumers do not perceive “Booking.com” as a generic name. The 8-1 decision written by Justice Ginsburg rejected the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s argument that when a generic term is combined with a generic Internet-domain-name suffix like “.com,” the resulting combination is necessarily generic, noting that such an unyielding legal rule that entirely disregards consumer perception is incompatible with the Lanham Act.Read More
The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that brand owners are not required to prove willful intent before obtaining a defendant’s lost profits. On April 23, 2020, the Supreme Court resolved a longstanding circuit split and unanimously held that trademark infringers may have to hand over their profits even if they did not willfully infringe.
In Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil Group, Inc., the Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether the rule that a plaintiff can win a profit remedy only after showing a defendant willfully infringed its trademark can be reconciled with the statute’s plain language. Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs, Romag Fasteners (Romag), holding that:
“[a] plaintiff in a trademark infringement suit is not required to show that a defendant willfully infringed the plaintiff’s trademark as a precondition to a profits award.”
In a Notice issued April 28, 2020, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) further extended certain filing and payment deadlines to June 1, 2020, provided that the filing is accompanied by a statement that the delay in filing or payment was due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This Notice supersedes the prior March 31, 2020 Notice that offered 30-day extensions to certain deadlines through April 30, 2020.Read More
On April 27, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts that copyright protection does not extend to the annotations in Georgia’s official annotated code. In the case, Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc. (No. 18-1150), the majority held that because “Georgia’s annotations are authored by an arm of the legislature in the course of its legislative duties, the government edicts doctrine puts them outside the reach of copyright protection” even though the annotations themselves do not have the force of law.Read More
A district court in the recent Sinclair case found no copyright infringement by the website Mashable, where it used one of photographer Sinclair’s Instagram photos in an article, even after an unsuccessful attempt to license the photo directly from Sinclair. Sinclair v. Ziff Davis, LLC, and Mashable, Inc., No. 1:18-CV-00790 (S.D.N.Y. April 13, 2020).Read More
Who owns a celebrity’s tattoo, and the extent to which that tattoo can be displayed in a commercial context, raises right of publicity, copyright, and trademark issues. A district court in the recent Solid Oak case found no copyright infringement where a video game incorporated tattoos as inked on professional NBA players. Solid Oak Sketches, LLC v. 2K Games, Inc., No. 16-CV-724-LTS-SDA (S.D.N.Y. March 26, 2020).
This case considered use of tattoos as part of lifelike depictions of professional athletes in video games, however the ruling easily relates to individuals with tattoos who commodify their likeness such as celebrities, social media influencers, and musicians.Read More
On March 23, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (“CRCA”) does not abrogate the states’ sovereign immunity from copyright infringement suits. The practical effect of this ruling is that copyright holders cannot sue the states for damages for copyright infringement.
Allen was decided in reliance on and accordance with Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. v. College Savings Bank, a 1999 case in which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional the Patent Remedy Act (“PRA”), a related statute “basically identical” to the CRCA, that eliminated the states’ sovereign immunity from patent infringement suits.
Applying the reasoning of Florida Prepaid and emphasizing stare decisis, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments that either Article I’s Intellectual Property Clause or Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment’s limitations on state power provide a basis for the CRCA’s abrogation of state sovereign immunity in copyright suits.Read More