Posts made in March, 2013

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Kirtsaeng v. Wiley: Supreme Court Creates New Class of Business Venture

Posted by on Mar 27, 2013 in Copyright, First Sale Doctrine

The Supreme Court decided this week the case of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons. The opinion will undoubtedly have a large impact on intellectual property law. This case deals with a Thai national who was subsidizing his college tuition in the U.S. by having his relatives in Thailand buy textbooks for cheap, shipping them to him in the US, and then selling the text books to Americans on sites such as eBay. He made about a $100,000 profit off this enterprise. Eventually, the publisher caught wind, and sued. This enterprise is known as the “gray market”. Exploiting the price differential between the US and overseas can be quite profitable. The legality of this practice differs depending on the type of good being sold. Prior to this ruling, on copyrighted goods purchased overseas, most judges were ruling against the gray marketeers. Kirtsaeng argued that the ‘first sale doctrine’ creates an exception that validates his actions. The “first sale doctrine” in copyright law permits the owner of a lawfully purchased copy of a copyrighted work to resell it. Once you buy a copy of something, you own that copy. You can do as you wish with it. This is codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109(a) of the Copyright Act of...

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Is ‘Redskins’ Too Offensive to be Trademarked? 0

Is ‘Redskins’ Too Offensive to be Trademarked?

Posted by on Mar 20, 2013 in Trademark

The Trademark Trial and Appeals Board, the TTAB, has recently heard a case to determine if the Washington Redskins name is disparaging, and therefore should be stripped of its protected trademark status. This has been a long disputed issue. The case was organized by Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the advocacy group the Morning Star Institute. The lead plaintiff is Amanda Blackhorse, a young Native American, who believes the term ‘redskin’ to be a racial slur. Harjo was famously the lead plaintiff on Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, a series of cases which was first brought in 1992, and wasn’t fully decided until the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case in 2009.  see Harjo v. Pro-Football Inc., 1994 TTAB LEXIS 9, 30 U.S.P.Q.2d 1828, 1831 (TTAB 1994); Harjo v. Pro Football Inc., 50 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1705, 1749 (TTAB 1999); Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, 415 F.3d 44 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, 567 F. Supp. 2d 46 (D.D.C. 2008) ; Pro Football, Inc. v. Harjo, 565 F.3d 880 (D.C. Cir. 2009); certiorari denied by Harjo v. Pro-Football, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 8206 (U.S., Nov. 16, 2009). That 17 year long series of cases was ultimately decided on a technicality, the doctrine of laches, and the courts had not...

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Loss of Trademark Rights: Embracing Negative Trademarks 0

Loss of Trademark Rights: Embracing Negative Trademarks

Posted by on Mar 8, 2013 in Trademark

Red Sox fans, Mets fans, and baseball fans of any team other than the Yankees will tell you that the Yankees are evil. Now, so have a panel of federal judges. Last month, the Yankees successfully blocked a trademark application by Evil Enterprises for the phrase “Baseball’s Evil Empire”. Evil Enterprises initially applied for a trademark back in July of 2008, and it’s been the source of a five year fight between the baseball club and the t-shirt makers since. The phrase originated back in 2002 when an executive of the Boston Red Sox first used it to disparage the Yankees. Since then, it has been popularly used in articles, sports columns, and TV highlight shows as a label for the Yankees. The Yankees have never used the phrase themselves, however, and that is why this is such an interesting trademark case. The team argued that they have “implicitly embraced” the “Evil Empire” theme as a “badge of honor” by playing music from Star Wars during their home games. The team does not necessarily want to make t-shirts with the phrase on it, yet they still wish to block others from doing so. The Yankees had not registered the trademark for itself. But, nonetheless, they now own the trademark....

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Trademark Abandonment: When Enforcement Conflicts With Other Obligations 0

Trademark Abandonment: When Enforcement Conflicts With Other Obligations

Posted by on Mar 8, 2013 in Trademark

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy last year as a freshman, and is widely considered one of the best football players in the country. His nickname, Johnny Football is very popular in College Station, Texas. Fans of the Aggies are clamoring for t-shirts that read Johnny Football. But, the freshman phenom is forbidden by NCAA rules from profiting. If Johnny Football were to set up a t-shirt company and start selling apparel, he would lose his scholarship, under NCAA regulations. But, if he were to allow others to make Johnny Football t-shirts, and fail to stop them, he could lose the trademark forever. This paradox was solved by forming a corporation, JMAN2 Enterprises. JMAN2 has registered the trademarks of “Johnny Football” and “Johnny Manziel”. JMAN2 has begun sending cease and desist letters to any entrepreneurs marketing his name or likeness, and even filing suit against those who do not. This is an awkward combination of policing others from using a mark, and yet not using it themselves. Johnny Football may inspire a roar of the crowd inside Kyle Field, but in the metaphorical marketplace, the name inspires a deafening silence. This is the awkward truce between the NCAA rules and trademark law. The NCAA does not...

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