Supreme Court Denies Cert in Jack Daniel’s Dog Toy Case

The United States Supreme Court has denied Jack Daniel’s distillery’s petition for a writ of certiorari from a Ninth Circuit decision holding that a dog toy seller’s use of the Jack Daniel’s trademarks and label design is expression protected by the First Amendment.

VIP Products had released a dog toy that resembled the well-known Jack Daniel’s bottle, changing the wording of the familiar label to include blunt jokes and word-plays on the messier aspects of having a dog in the house. Jack Daniel’s demanded that VIP cease all further sales of the toy. VIP filed suit seeking a declaration of non-infringement, of non-dilution, and that Jack Daniels was not entitled to trademark protection for its trade dress and bottle design. Jack Daniel’s counterclaimed, alleging trademark infringement and dilution by tarnishment. The district court agreed with Jack Daniel’s, rejecting VIP’s nominative fair use and First Amendment defenses. The court found trademark infringement and dilution by tarnishment, enjoining any future sales of the dog toy. Continue Reading

Can Patent Assignors Challenge Patent Validity? U.S. Supreme Court to Decide

On Friday, January 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari filed by Minerva Surgical Inc. in a dispute with Hologic Inc. The question presented by Minerva is “whether a defendant in a patent infringement action who assigned the patent, or is in privity with an assignor of the patent, may have a defense of invalidity heard on the merits.” The U.S. Supreme Court took no action on a cross-petition from Hologic, which argued that assignor estoppel should apply not only in district court, but also in inter partes reviews at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). Continue Reading

Senators Send Letter to USPTO Requesting Action to Remedy Gender Gap in Patent Bar

On December 11, 2020, Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Christopher Coons, D-Del. sent a letter to Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property & Director the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), regarding the gender gap that has long been present in the make-up of the patent bar.

In the letter, the senators state that “[i]n today’s increasingly competitive global economy, we must leverage the creativity and talents of all Americans – including women, minorities, and people from low-income or other disadvantaged communities – to maintain the United States’ place as the world’s leading innovator.”  The letter goes on to state that the senators recognize that the USPTO has made efforts in recent years to recognize and start addressing the gender gap of inventors, but that they “fear that the USPTO’s efforts will be undercut by an apparent gender gap among patent practitioners.” Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Rejects Fair Use Defense in Seuss/Star Trek “Mash-Up” Case; Netflix Settles Sherlock Holmes Case

Big doings in copyright law the week before Christmas! The Congressional approval of a new federal statute providing low-cost, accelerated adjudication of low-value copyright disputes and criminalizing infringing streaming activities will be the subject of a future blog article. Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s holding in a copyright case that could have had a troubling impact on the concept of fair use.

Lawyers familiar with the parody defense in copyright cases know the 1997 case Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA, Inc., which pitted the iconic children’s author against an alleged “parody” called The Cat Not in the Hat—a retelling of the O. J. Simpson murder trial in the style of the Dr. Seuss classic The Cat in the Hat.  The upshot of that case was that the book was not entitled to the fair-use defense as a parody because it did not criticize or comment on the work of Dr. Seuss, but only appropriated the popular Seuss rhymes and imagery as a medium for commentary on the Simpson trial. A work is not a “parody” if it does not make a comment on the thing it is parodying. Continue Reading

New York Takes the Stage with New Publicity Right Law

Back in 1903, New York State adopted what was arguably the first right of publicity law in the United States. It came about as a legislative reaction to the now landmark 1902 case of Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., in which the state court refused to grant relief to a private citizen whose image had been used without her permission as an eye-catcher on a mailer advertising a brand of flour. The majority held that the state’s law provided no statutory or decisional support for remedying a complaint of Ms. Roberson’s kind, which sounded in violation of privacy—a right that, at that time, was only theoretical and had not been codified in any body of statutory law. A three-judge dissent argued that each individual has a natural right to the economic value of her name and likeness; in so writing, they unknowingly created the basis for what evolved into today’s right of publicity law. Continue Reading