Among the latest entries in the quickly expanding catalogue of blockbuster movies about comic book characters are Marvel’s Captain Marvel and DC’s Shazam!, both of which have generated hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office this year. Given the present financial success of these characters, it may come as a surprise to fans that Captain Marvel and Shazam have a complicated and intertwined history, including a legal battle that lasted more than a decade but was over before most current fans were even born. Continue Reading
A New York District Court recently denied a preliminary injunction to stop use of the mark WOODSTOCK in association with cannabis and cannabis-related products, in part because cannabis and cannabis-related products were found not to be in the “zone of expansion” of the movant, despite movant’s federal registrations of WOODSTOCK for smoker articles.
Woodstock Ventures (WV), owner of several WOODSTOCK registrations for entertainment services, sued Woodstock Roots (WR) in 2018 for allegedly infringing WV’s trademark rights in WOODSTOCK by selling marijuana goods. WR, an entity that has also used the name for years and has federal registrations of WOODSTOCK for smoker’s articles, including “Smokeless cigarette vaporizer pipes for use with either tobacco-based e-liquids or e-liquids derived from the mature stalks of industrial hemp exclusive of any resins,” countersued and moved for a preliminary injunction to stop WV from selling cannabis and cannabis-related products with the WOODSTOCK mark.
The Court ruled that WV’s use of WOODSTOCK on recreational marijuana and vaping devices was not likely to infringe the trademark rights of WR. While other factors were also found to favor WV, the Court found in favor of WV in part because 1) there is no proximity of the goods in the market place because as part of the federal trademark application process, WR expressly disavowed that the applied for smoker’s articles, including vaping devices, were intended for use with recreational marijuana, and 2) cannabis and cannabis-related products are not in the “zone of expansion” of WR, again because WR expressly disavowed intended use with respect to recreational marijuana when applying for the federal trademark. The Court emphasized that it “cannot give weight to [WR’s] alleged intent to expand into the area of selling recreational marijuana, because the sale of recreational marijuana is illegal under federal law.”
Interestingly, there was no discussion of WR’s actual use of the WOODSTOCK mark for marijuana and marijuana related goods, despite the fact that WV initiated this suit in federal court against WR because of that actual use. As we’ve noted here before, obtaining and protecting IP rights in cannabis-related products can be tricky. But if you want to do so, we’re here to help.
Continuing to feed its appetite for trademark rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently granted petitions for certiorari of two Second Circuit decisions implicating trademark law. The first case could change the burden of proof for recovering an infringer’s profits as damages in trademark disputes, while the second case may limit a defendant’s ability to invoke new defenses to trademark claims. Both cases have the potential to create seismic shifts in trademark jurisprudence.
In Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil Inc. the justices will decide on an issue splitting the circuit courts: whether awards of an infringer’s profits from trademark infringement require evidence that the infringer acted willfully. The Ninth Circuit—like the Second Circuit, where this appeal originated—predicates profits awards on the plaintiff’s ability to prove that any infringement is willful. But other circuit courts do not require a showing of willful infringement for damages to be awarded. Romag argues that the “willfulness requirement sets the bar too high” by forcing mark holders to prove that infringement of their trademark was intentional. This high burden arguably fails to adequately deter trademark infringement. Ninth Circuit precedent will be reversed if the high court rules in favor of Romag, eroding mark holders’ burden of proof, thus raising the likelihood of securing meaningful monetary relief from trademark infringement. The case should be closely monitored over the Court’s next term, since it could open the door for an increase in trademark suits. Continue Reading
In 2018, Avengers: Infinity War marked several milestones, one of which was the apparent death of half of our heroes with a single snap of the fingers (i.e., the now-infamous “Snappening” by the uber-villain Thanos). In preparing to see Avengers: End Game, I re-watched Infinity War, which got me thinking about the current state of software patents. Yes, I’m a patent geek. And for anyone who’s been following software patents during the past several years, I’m sure we can agree that there is certainly an analogy between the “Snappening” and the impact of the famous/infamous Alice Supreme Court decision that issued in 2014 on software patents. Indeed, Alice came out five years ago last week, the same amount of time between [SPOILER ALERT] the Snappening and Ant Man’s escape from the quantum realm in Endgame. The Alice decision seems to have had a similar “Snappening” effect on the software patent world, albeit not with the efficiency of Thanos. That is, seemingly half of the software patents asserted and/or prosecuted since 2014 have been invalidated or rejected under the law established by Alice. While there have been a few Federal Circuit cases that have provided glimpses of hope for software patents (e.g., Ancora and SRI International), such decisions continue to be a small minority. Continue Reading
As we’ve discussed here before, there is significant tension between government’s duty to give the public access to its records, and the desire of those who deal with the government to keep some of their information confidential. Yesterday, confidentiality won. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court overturned the Eighth Circuit’s decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media and held that the government (or those that deal with it) only need to show that records are actually “confidential” to exempt them from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In doing so, the Supreme Court overruled the Eighth Circuit’s (and D.C. Circuit’s) more restrictive previous test, which required an additional showing of a likelihood of substantial harm from the information’s disclosure. As now clarified by the Supreme Court, “where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated a private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of privacy, the information is ‘confidential’ within the meaning of [FOIA] Exemption 4.” Continue Reading