The U.S. Patent Office Supports the Battle Against COVID-19

During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) made multiple efforts to assist patent applicants that were affected by the pandemic (see our previous blog coverage here). Now, as the pandemic continues to wreak global havoc, the USPTO has assumed a more formal role in efforts to battle the deadly virus by implementing a pilot program that provides financial flexibility for applicants whose inventions are geared to help combat COVID-19. This pilot program began on September 17, 2020 and will run for 12 months, though it may be extended depending on a number of factors, including an ongoing evaluation of its effectiveness. The program is specific to provisional patent applications, which we encourage innovators to keep in mind during the continuing pandemic. Continue Reading

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Issues New Examination Guidelines in view of Booking.com

In the recent Booking.com case (see the IP Law Trends article here discussing that case), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a trademark consisting of the combination of a generic term and a generic top-level domain, like “.com,” is not automatically generic. In addition, such terms are not automatically non-generic either.

Prior to the Booking.com decision, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) had been automatically rejecting attempts to register such trademarks. Given the updated direction from the Supreme Court, however, the USPTO has now issued new guidance to its examining attorneys.

Accordingly, the USPTO will no longer apply a per se rule. Instead, the examining attorneys will assess on a case-by-case basis whether consumers would perceive a “generic.com”-type mark as being generic.

In addition, the applicant may claim that its “generic.com” mark has acquired distinctiveness. The USPTO has cautioned, though, that for this type of mark “applicants will generally have a greater evidentiary burden to establish that the proposed mark has acquired distinctiveness.” Accordingly, the applicant may need to show more than just five years of use of the mark in commerce or a prior registration for the same term, both of which are common approaches to asserting acquired distinctiveness. Instead, according to the USPTO’s guidelines, “the applicant will need to provide a significant amount of actual evidence that the generic.com term has acquired distinctiveness in the minds of consumers.”

In other words, trademarks of the type “generic.com,” will be treated the same as other marks that are suspected of being generic terms.

The complete Examination Guide issued by the USPTO is at this link.

Ninth Circuit Reaffirms Copyright Estoppel Doctrine

Jersey Boys, the hit musical based on the meteoric career of the rock group The Four Seasons, was the target of a lawsuit brought in 2007 by Donna Corbello, widow of Rex Woodard, who ghost-wrote a biography of Tommy DeVito, founder and lead guitarist of the Four Seasons during their golden years, 1960-71. When Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in 2005, the DeVito bio was still unpublished. Following Woodward’s death in 1991, Corbello and Woodward’s sister, and later DeVito himself, worked to find a publisher for the book. In the course of these efforts, DeVito registered the copyright in the unpublished book in his own name, and shared a copy of the manuscript with the writers of Jersey Boys. Corbello subsequently won recognition for her husband as author of the book, and pursued her claim that Jersey Boys infringed her husband’s copyright in the unpublished book.

You’d expect this to be a fair-use case, since nonfiction works—such as news stories and historical and biographical books—enjoy less protection against third-party use than do fictional and imaginative works. In fact, copyright law is quite clear that it does not protect facts, only the specific original expression of those facts. So you can freely use a fact already reported by someone else, but you cannot reuse the exact words of the previous writer—except of course in short quotations. Thus the case might have turned on how much of Woodard’s original expression found its way into Jersey Boys and whether that constituted fair use. But no. Continue Reading

Trademark Infringement Risk for U.S. Goods Manufactured Abroad

Given the favorable environment in China and in some other foreign countries, many U.S.-based companies elect to have products manufactured abroad for eventual sale in the United States. If, however, the products are branded with a trademark during the manufacturing process, the U.S.-based company may wish to take additional steps to ensure they are not inadvertently infringing trademark rights in the foreign country. Continue Reading

Cross-Border Data Transfers Just Became More Complicated: EU Court of Justice Strikes Down EU-U.S. Privacy Shield

In an action with major ramifications for data transfers from the European Union (EU) to the United States (U.S.) the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on July 16 invalidated the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework (Privacy Shield), which provided a critical, lawful method for transferring personal data from the EU to the U.S. Entities relying on the Privacy Shield need to act quickly to rework the legal basis for those transfers. The CJEU somewhat limited the impact by finding that the Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) remain valid. As a result, transfers based on the SCCs may continue, subject to some additional guidance and caveats from the CJEU.

The CJEU’s finding resolved an appeal from the Irish High Court regarding a case known as Schrems II, initiated by Austrian privacy advocate, Max Schrems. The Irish High Court asked the CJEU for a preliminary ruling on the validity of the SCCs and Privacy Shield. Continue Reading

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