Articles Posted in Intellectual Property

Published on:

The United States Supreme Court came out with a new patent law decision in Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc. For those who are not familiar with patents, a patent grants the holder an exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, importing, and selling the patented innovation for a limited time.

Lexmark International is a company that manufactures, designs, and sells toner cartridges. These cartridges are sold both in the United States and outside of the United States. Lexmark International owns patents that cover the components of these cartridges as well as the way that they are used by consumers.  Lexmark gives the purchasers of the toner cartridges two options: One option is to buy a toner cartridge at full price with no restrictions. The other option is to buy the cartridges at a discount through Lexmark’s “Return Program.” In order to get this lower price, the customers are required to sign a contract that they will only use the cartridge once and refrain from transferring it to anyone else except Lexmark.

Other companies that are known as remanufacturers would get the empty Lexmark cartridges, refill the cartridges with toner, and then resell those cartridges. Impression Products is one of those remanufacturers. They go through the same refilling process with cartridges that they acquire overseas and then import into the United States. Lexmark is suing Impression Products for patent infringement for both the “Return Program” cartridges sold in the United States and for the cartridges Lexmark sold abroad that were imported into the country by Impression Products.

Published on:

For example, you have a lawsuit against another party for infringing on your personal rights of privacy. The other party takes a photograph they had taken of you, and then licenses it to other individuals without your consent.  Those individuals use it as a basis for a character in another work, making a large amount of profit.  Naturally, this wouldn’t sound fair to the subject of the lawsuit. Yet, making matters worse is, given a current case, it’s suggested that the action would effectively have no remedy. This is due to the doctrine of preemption. So, what is the preemption doctrine? How does it apply to an individual in a case? How might preemption be avoided by the careful litigant?

Copyright Preemption

Before going into the relevant case, copyright preemption is a doctrine in copyright law, with Section 301 dictating that in cases where a personal right and copyrights may clash, the Copyright Act will take precedence, and other rights will be preempted by the copyright.  Included in a “copyright” are rights against reproduction, as well as a right to control distribution, derivative works, and publication of works, in addition to others. This would also mean that preemption would cover far more than what is protected by copyright. This has the effect of removing the basis for a lawsuit as the plaintiff may not have a right in the copyrighted work.

Published on:

In theory, a moderator is a sound idea for any individual running a website that allows user interaction. Presumably, moderators can filter out comments and content that is disreputable, disrespectful, and patently offensive. The moderator can keep discourse civil and help foster insightful positions. Perhaps the website can even rely on volunteer moderators who are bound by the website’s rules and regulations. However, the moderator’s very existence risks making a website’s owner subject to liability for copyright infringement. These questions were recently addressed in a case involving LiveJournal. What is this case about? Why could a volunteer moderator trigger legal liability? Are there any guidelines to determine risks?

Mavrix Photographers, LLC v. LiveJournal, Inc.

This case is one arising out of the United States Court of Appeals, For The Ninth Circuit, regarding the potential liability of LiveJournal over an alleged infringement of twenty different photographs. LiveJournal is a social media website, which sets up various forums for different communities. The communities can post and comment on a theme and are allowed to create their own rules in addition to LiveJournal’s rules and regulations. The photographs were then published to a sub-forum on the website, focusing on celebrity news. The photographs were watermarked, and subject to copyright by the photographer. However, one issue was how LiveJournal used its moderators.

Published on:

From the idea of product design, who wouldn’t want to protect more of their products? A producer should be able to profit off the sweat of labor, and creativity that they have mustered to bring the product.  Yet, if a design brings utility, then the individual that comes up with it may have a monopoly over the most effective design, which hampers competition. These are the issues that the United States Supreme Court recently considered in Star Athletica v. Varsity, as Justice Sotomayor phrased as “killing knockoffs” with copyright protection.  The case involved two parties, Star Athletica and Varsity, both producers of cheerleading uniforms.  Varsity sued Star Athletica for copyright infringement of protected designs over a dress. Still, there were various issues to be resolved. What is useful? What is protected by copyright laws?  Would it matter if even after the creative elements were removed, there was nothing useful about the article at all?

Star Athletica

In this case, the main issue was effectively based in the idea of useful articles.  In copyright, there is a thinner protection for “useful” things, protecting only what is creative rather than the useful parts of it.  In essence, it had to be “separable” either conceptually or physically. This generally meant to be “truly” separable, it would have to be both. Relating to the cheerleading uniforms, it presented a unique issue. The major question however, was if the designs on the dress (i.e., the chevrons, colors, general look) were protectable. Presumably, either the designs on the dress were protectable, as they could be reproduced and placed on some other object, like a lunchbox, or they were unprotectable, as they were intertwined with the functionality of a cheerleader’s uniform.

Published on:

Among the rights people have, many are unknown or unsung until there is a dispute and the courts get involved in the process. Rarely recognized is the right to reverse engineer under the Fair Use Doctrine and Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  However, this is not an absolute right.  Rather, it can be waived under certain circumstances. So, how can the right to reverse engineer be used? How might an individual hope to reverse engineer anything? Can you prevent others from reverse engineering your products?

What does the reverse engineering law apply to?

Reverse engineering is a method of taking a device or program and taking it apart to determine how it works, occasionally in attempts to duplicate or improve it. Generally, this would be applied to devices or physical products that are protected by patents. However, in the realm of copyright, reverse engineering is allowed in some situations. Specifically, this applies to computer programs to allow interoperability of devices or systems.  Since computer programs may be designed to only work with a few devices or systems, to allow a consumer to use them on another operating system, reverse engineering would be a necessity.  This would allow individuals to ensure programs operate without interference or to add integration features.

Published on:

For the uninitiated, motion sensors work on either the idea of cameras capturing motions, infrared light waves, or gyroscopes. Yet, even with this simple trio, this subject has led to a large scale of lawsuits based on patent violations.  There are two major lawsuits to look at, one in the past, giving insight into what would fail, and one more current, involving Apple. What do these motion controls do? What would be patentable? What arguments could be made to fight these patents?

Patent lawsuits on motion-sensor technology

First, it’s important to note that motion controls, and indeed much of the technology that roots current motion controls are not new, but rather opens up to new avenues.  There has been an advent in motion control with the Nintendo Wii System. While it is rudimentary, initially consisting of a motion-controller device and a sensor bar, it allows individuals to control games (e.g., classic example being swinging around the remote to swing a bat).  However, with this came patent disputes, primarily between Koninkl Philips Electronics NV v. Nintendo of Europe GmbH, which ultimately succeeded in the UK, as the court deemed that the idea of a camera and sensor was specialized knowledge in the industry. Comparatively, there is a newer litigation involving Apple and Fitbit.  On or about January 2016, the litigation began over the technology used to track health and fitness for individuals, such as motion and steps taken, among other patents.

Published on:

In general, December is the month that yields a high volume of consumer activity, and the purchase of new technology devices. One of these is Virtual Reality (“VR”) technology, slowly trickling down from a niche market. However, it is not the only new reality-altering technology coming into the market, as Augmented Reality (“AR”) has had its growing pains in the world after its adoption.  So, what are these new technologies? What are the current risks? Do they have any practical use?

What is Augmented Reality?  What is Virtual Reality?

They are technologies meant to immerse a user into a different world by substituting or enhancing the reality.  AR has the largest number of examples, such as Google Glass and Pokemon GO.  They take data and overlay it into preexisting reality, allowing us to pull up contacts or catch imaginary creatures. While still in its infancy stage, AR has the potential to work as an overlay, where a camera can read and translate signs and books with the new text viewable, or a device can allow a person to follow arrows overlaid onto a road, or see parts of devices highlighted for repairs on the display.

Published on:

In continuing our comments regarding copyrights online, we are on to fair use and liability for litigation. A dancing baby has created one of the most obscure and interesting cases for the year. The ramifications of this lawsuit could further impact the way that some copyright disputes could play out, bringing in a potential new factor for any takedown or claims of infringement. Yet, how this ultimately will work out is up to the justices who currently compose the highest court of the land (i.e., United States Supreme Court).  What is the story of the “Dancing Baby” case? How might copyright infringement cases change? How could the court decide? Does this interact with the earlier Kirtsaeng ruling, if at all?

What is happening with the case now?

To recap, Lenz v. Universal focuses on whether there is a good faith requirement for takedowns. Lenz had uploaded a video on YouTube showing her toddler dancing to the song “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. It also included a snippet of the song in poor quality. Sometime after, Universal issued a takedown of the video. However, in its analysis, the Ninth Circuit first decided that there was a good faith requirement, and questioned if Lenz would be owed damages. So far, the United States Supreme Court has denied a request for certiorari by the petitioner over what, if any, damages could be requested by Lenz. The case has also garnered the attention of various organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Yes Men to curtail incorrect takedowns.

Published on:

Copyright is a legal right that keeps intellectual property safe, and allows individuals to profit from their efforts. Yet, these copyrighted works will at some point head over to the public domain after their expiration, which means they are not protected anymore.  What if it did not expire? In fact, recent decisions and lobbying have tried to push the effective “lifespan” of copyrights.  Instead of the life of the author, plus 70 years, it becomes further extended. So, how might this happen? What are the decisions that push for an artificially long copyright? How might an entity take advantage of this extension?

Warner Brothers v. X One X Productions:

For a few years now, there has been a legal dispute between Warner Brothers and X One X Productions, commonly known as AVELA, over the copyrights of various properties, like Wizard of Oz and Tom & Jerry. Now, these properties are still protected through copyright, but not entirely.  AVELA had taken a path akin to Dastar, and used images from promotional art, which was not renewed, and placed into the public domain since it failed to renew under the copyright laws of the time. However, back in 2011, a decision was made finding against AVELA, and while damages were disputed, the court found that Warner Brother’s awarded damages were not only justified, but they were liable for trademark infringement as well. Ultimately, this finding was because the works themselves were no longer under copyright protection, however the base work was, and the trademarks for the base work. Thus, any copies of the work incorporating the protected characters, or alterations, would become derivative works, covered under the copyright for the base work. Furthermore, the trademarks, like the names or character designs would be protected too.  Also, as trademarks have no expiration date, they can effectively push the protection of this sort of copyright further.

Published on:

Imagine that you were sued for copyright infringement, yet above all odds, you managed to prevail on the merits. Your case went up to the Supreme Court, it found for you, and you have emerged successful. Yet, you are stuck footing the bill to defend yourself against a claim that was in your favor all along.  How will you get out if it? Isn’t there a section of the Copyright Act, specifically written to encourage meritorious claims to better define copyright laws? Shouldn’t the prevailing party be entitled to its attorney’s fees? This scenario has played out in front of the Supreme Court, and decided on this past summer in Kirtsaeng II.

Can’t Kirtsaeng collect his legal fees?

In its ruling, the high court came back with a resounding “maybe.”  After Kirtsaeng’s first case relieved him from liability due to his resale of books falling under the First-Sale Doctrine, he had attempted to recoup his fees.  However, the appellate court declared that he could not get the fees back, as in that circuit, the fees could not be reimbursed so long as the other side had a reasonable claim. Other circuits also had general presumptions against awarding fees to the defending party if they had prevailed, thus there was some disagreement over what constitutes a prevailing party. Yet, when the court ruled in favor of Kirtsaeng here, the result was less a resounding “yes” and more of a clarification for the lower court. The high court unanimously determined the Fogerty standards were too wide (fees are awarded case-by-case and the courts must keep in mind the mounting of a meritorious case). In determining the meritorious aspect, Fogerty listed factors like frivolousness, motivation, and reasonableness. Yet, in the Second Circuit’s rulings, it placed too much focus on the reasonableness of the claims, resulting in the clarification.   In general, the court has discretion to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party under 17 U.S.C. 505.