Why Every Trademark Owner Should Care About B&B Hardware

Does a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) decision that there is a likelihood of confusion between two trademarks prevent federal district court trademark litigation?

The purpose of a trademark is two-fold: to identify the owner or “source” of goods and services, and to prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace. Therefore, the test for trademark infringement under the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), is whether use of a trademark is “likely to cause confusion” with an existing, registered mark. A person generally may neither use nor register a mark that would be “likely to cause confusion” with an existing trademark. If a person uses a mark that one believes is likely to cause confusion, the owner of the registered mark may sue in federal court for trademark infringement. 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1). If a person seeks to register a mark that is likely to cause confusion with an existing registered mark, the owner of the existing registered mark may oppose the registration of the new mark before the TTAB. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(d); see id. §§ 1063, 1067(a).

In B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2899 (US 2014), the United States Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the TTAB’s determination of a likelihood of confusion precludes a trademark litigant from re-litigating that issue in a federal court infringement action involving a likelihood of confusion element.

Plaintiff B&B Hardware Inc. (“B&B”) produced industrial fasteners for the aerospace industry under the mark SEALTIGHT since 1990. B&B’s SEALTIGHT mark was registered with the PTO in 1993. Subsequently, Hargis Industries, Inc. (“Hargis”) adopted the mark SEALTITE for its self-drilling, self-taping screws for use in the metal-building industry. Hargis applied to register SEALTITE with in 1996, but its application was initially refused due to the existence of B&B’s registration. Hargis then sought to cancel the B&B registration alleging that the B&B mark had been abandoned. However, prior to a final decision by the Board, B&B sued Hargis in U.S. District Court alleging infringement of its registered SEALTIGHT trademark.

A jury in the District Court found in favor of Hargis that there was no likelihood of confusion between the marks. The parties appealed to the Eighth Circuit which affirmed the District Court decision and the issue was ultimately taken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reversing the Circuit Court, the Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that a likelihood of confusion determination by the TTAB should have preclusive effect as long as the ordinary elements of issue preclusion are met and the usages of the marks are materially the same.

“Issue preclusion” or “res judicata” is an important concept for both fairness and judicial economy. Essentially, litigants should not get two bites at the same apple. In the past, the TTAB would suspend its proceedings if a case was simultaneously pending in District Court.

The key take away for trademark practitioners is strategic since trademark oppositions and cancellations do not result in a damages award or determination of infringement. Yet, its decisions can now be used as the basis for finding infringement in District Court where an adverse decision may have far-reaching effects.

Copyright, Fair Use & Media

Digital Media

Digital Media

Media Creation & Consumption is Challenging Traditional Legal Notions.

At a time when #media creation & consumption has transformed, two recent cases, both involving Fox News Network on opposite sides of the “fair use” defense to copyright infringement, highlights the evolving and dynamic legal challenges facing business and content creators. In each case, Fox News loses on Summary Judgment.

Photographs, Fair Use & Social Media

The first case, North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Jeanine Pirro and Fox News Network, LLC, involves what many recognize as the “now iconic photograph of the firefighters raising the American flag on the ruins of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.” The photograph – which bears a striking resemblance to Joe Rosenthal’s World War II photograph of the Iwo Jima flag-raising – has become a similarly striking symbol of American patriotism.

That similarity was not lost on a production assistant for a Fox News program “Justice with Judge Jeanine” who posted the two images, unaltered, on the show’s Facebook Page, along with the phrase “#neverforget,” allegedly to commemorate the twelfth anniversary of the attack.

The case is noteworthy for its analysis of the “fair use” defense in a social media context. While the Copyright Act grants authors certain exclusive rights, including the rights to reproduce the copyrighted work and to distribute those copies to the public (17 U.S.C. § 106(1), (3)) one often quoted and widely misunderstood limit to those rights is the doctrine of “fair use,” which allows the public to draw upon copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright holder in certain circumstances. The fair use doctrine is an after-the-fact defense to infringement, not a pre-emptive justification to use another’s work without permission.

Educated in journalism and media studies, the production assistant acknowledged that she understood a copyright to be something that is owned by someone else although she had no training in copyright law either in college or during her tenure at Fox News. She had been working at Fox News for approximately three years, had previously sought legal advice regarding use of photographs on the broadcast, but never in connection with posting images to the program’s Facebook page.

The key take-away for businesses and digital marketers alike is the need for vigilance when using third-party content on social media. Employee education and training on what copyright protects, what it doesn’t, and how it works may help prevent your business form facing a similar situation.

Media Monitoring, Digital Content & Copyright Fair Use

The second case, Fox News Network, LLC v. TVEyes, Inc., involves a company that monitors and records all broadcasts by more than 1,400 television and radio stations twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. This content is indexed and organized in a searchable database that allows subscribers to search terms, determine when, where, and how those search terms have been used, and obtain transcripts and video clips of the portions of the television show that used the search term.

Fox News Network, LLC sued to enjoin TVEyes from copying and distributing clips of Fox News programs. TVEyes asserted that its system and services are permitted under the doctrine of “fair use.”

The court found that TVEyes service was a fair use. Unlike other services that simply “crawl” the Internet, culling existing content available to anyone willing to perform enough searches to gather it, the indexing and excerpting of news articles, where the printed word conveys the same meaning no matter the forum or medium in which it is viewed, the service provided by TVEyes is transformative. By indexing and excerpting all content appearing in television, every hour of the day and every day of the week, month, and year, TVEyes provides a service that no content provider provides. Subscribers to TVEyes gain access, not only to the news that is presented, but to the presentations themselves, as colored, processed, and criticized by commentators, and as abridged, modified, and enlarged by news broadcasts.

The key take away for technology companies that rely on content is what the court says about features of the Services (as opposed to the technology itself, e.g. the software/platform): the issue of fair use is for the full extent of the service, TVEyes provides features that allow subscribers to save, archive, download, email, and share clips of Fox News’ television programs. The parties have not presented sufficient evidence showing that these features either are integral to the transformative purpose of indexing and providing clips and snippets of transcript to subscribers, or threatening to Fox News’ derivative businesses.”

In other words, evidence that certain features are essential to the use of a service, may be sufficient to show how the features (service) exist above- and-beyond what stale or static content can show.

You Don’t Have to Muddle Through

When it comes to understating evolving technology legal risks, your business can’t simply muddle through. The professionals at the Adler Law Group can help you adopt conduct risk assessments, provide employee training and methodologies for approaching these challenges by setting objectives, determining scope, allocating resources, and developing practices that will efficiently and effective manage risks, while keeping pace with the business.

For a free consultation, call us at (866) 734-2568, send and email to info@ecommerceattorney.com or visit our web site www.adler-law.com

DATA PRIVACY DAY 

Do You Understand Your Data Privacy Rights?

Data Privacy Day was started in 2007 in response to widespread lack of understanding about how personal data was being protected. Today, 91% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies, according to a recent Pew Research Center Survey.

Data is one of the natural resources of the 21st century. It should be treated like all other precious resources. Understanding, responsibility, and accountability are key. Ubiquitous Internet connections, unprecedented processing power and speed combined with staggeringly large databases have the ability to help both the private and public sectors. However, there is a growing split between the benefits of data-driven activities and perceptions of decreased privacy rights needs to be addressed. There is a balance that needs to be found between the responsibility of governments and that of businesses in ensuring an adequate level of protection to citizens and consumers, while supporting technological innovation.

The purpose of Data Privacy Day is raise awareness among digital citizens and empower them with understanding how their data is being collected, stored and consumed. Often, that starts with being educated about the privacy policies of online companies and web properties.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) officially kicked off today’s Data Privacy Day events with a broadcast from George Washington University Law School featuring Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen and privacy and security experts from industry and government.

Whether you are a consumer, an application developer, a technology platform provider, consultant, or enterprise that relies on the collection, analysis and commercialization of data (who doesn’t these days) Adler Law Group can help you navigate this emerging area by 1) assessing and prioritizing privacy risks, 2) creating a baseline understanding of data assets, data flows and contractual commitments, 3) developing internal Privacy Polciies and processes, and 4) creating and delivering training programs for executives and employees that increases awareness and mitigate risk.

Contracts & Copyright: Issues for Authors, Writers & Creative Professionals

To find out more about how the Adler Law Group can help your business identify risk and issues related to intellectual property ownership, corporation or LLC formation, or just assess risk associated with your business, contact us for a freeno-obligation consultation by emailing David @ adler-law.com, visiting our web site www.adler-law.com, or calling toll free to (866) 734-2568.

Three Things To Improve Your Law Firm’s Social Media Marketing in 2015

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When I committed myself to social media marketing a few years ago, like most lawyers, I wasn’t quit sure what I was getting myself into. One thing I knew for sure: I had to just start.

I’m sure my early posts were fairly mundane and added little value, let alone acted as a catalyst for a conversation. As most social media experts will posit, social media is about identifying and engaging with customers, employees and prospects. Over time, I increased my engagement, learned to participate and learned what worked and what didn’t. What follows are a couple of things that I try to keep in mind as part of my legal social media marketing efforts.

1. Have a voice. As lawyers we have instant credibility. Use this to your advantage. Whether you are a personal injury lawyer or in house counsel to a pharmaceutical company, you probably follow certain topics or have expertise in a particular area. You can use your area of expertise to talk about events, trends or interesting developments. Even if all you do is post a link to something that interests you, you are developing your online persona.

2. Cultivate your followers. One of the most powerful aspects of social media marketing is the network effect. As followers like, share or favorite your content, your message gets spread exponentially. Don’t be afraid to engage with those followers to cultivate and strengthen those relationships.

3. Always evaluate. Sometimes I am shocked that a post gets shared or favorited. For whatever reason, the subject matter resonates with my followers and my followers’ followers. When I see that, I try to note the subject area or topic, how it was shared an by whom. Focusing on content that others find useful enhances the value of my voice and my content.

As we look forward to 2015, now is an opportune time to take a look at what work last year, what didn’t and how we can improve our focus going forward.

If you find my posts uself, I encourage you to share, comment, follow or just get in touch.

Best of luck for your legal marketing efforts in 2015!

Contract Drafting: Limitations of Liability & Exceptions

One of the most important functions of a contract is to reduce uncertainties and mitigate risks. That is why almost all professional or personal services contracts contain “limitations of liability” provisions. Although they may seem like densely-worded, “boilerplate” provisions, and often overlooked, these provisions broadly affect a party’s ability to bring a claim, show liability, and prove damages that can be recovered.

A limitation of liability clause is a provision in a contract that limits the amount of exposure a company faces in the event a lawsuit is filed or another claim is made. As a preliminary observation, it is important to note that enforcement of limitation of liability provisions vary from state to state. The general rule in contract law is that in the commercial context, many states have found these clauses to be a mere shifting of the risk and enforce them as written.

Limitations of Liability generally address two areas of concern. First, the types of claims that may be barred. Second, the amount or scope of liability for claims that are not barred.

Limiting The Type Of Claim

A typical limitation of liability clause may look something like this:

“IN NO EVENT SHALL A PARTY OR ITS DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, OR AGENTS, BE LIABLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENTIAL, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE, EXEMPLARY, OR INDIRECT DAMAGES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY DAMAGES FOR LOST PROFITS. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE TOTAL LIABILITY OF A PARTY EXCEED THE AMOUNTS PAID BY CLIENT, IF ANY, FOR THE SERVICES.”

This clause limits the types of damages that may be claimed, prohibiting claims for:

  • Consequential damages (damages resulting naturally, but not necessarily, from the defendant’s wrongful conduct, BUT they must be foreseeable and directly traceable to the breach)
  • Incidental damages (includes costs incurred in a reasonable effort, whether successful or not, to avoid loss, or in arranging or attempting to arrange a substitute transaction)
  • Special damages (often treated the same as “consequential” by courts, “special” damages have been defined as those that arise from special circumstances known by the parties at the time the contract was made)
  • Punitive damages (damages that may be awarded which compensate a party for the exceptional losses suffered due to egregious conduct; a way of punishing the wrongful conduct and/or preventing future, similar conduct)
  • Exemplary damages (See “Punitive damages”)
  • Indirect damages (See “Consequential damages”)
  • Lost Profits (Cases in New York (and elsewhere) have a held that a clause excluding “consequential damages” may no longer be enough to bar “lost profits” claims; therefore, consider including more specific provisions in contracts- if parties want to exclude lost profits for breach of contract, a clause specifically excluding “lost profits” should be included.)

Lost profits that do not directly flow from a breach are consequential damages, and thus typically excluded by a limitation of liability clause like that above. But lost profits can be considered general damages (and thus recoverable) where the non-breaching party bargained for those profits, and where the profits are a direct and probable result of the breach.

Limiting The Amount Of The Claim

If found to be enforceable, a limitation of liability clause can “cap” the amount of potential damages to which a party is exposed. The limit may apply to all claims arising during the course of the contract, or it may apply only to certain types of claims. Limitation of liability clauses typically limit the liability to one of the following amounts: (i) the compensation and fees paid under the contract; (ii) an sum of money agreed in advance; (iii) available insurance coverage; or (iv) a combination of the above.

Parties can and typically do agree in their contract that liability is capped at some dollar amount. If liability exists and if damages can be proved, then the aggrieved party recovers those damages, but only up to the agreed cap. Sometimes these are mutual; other times they are one-sided. Sometimes the cap is a fixed sum (e.g., “the amounts paid for the services” or “$100,000”). Other times, the parties may choose to tie the cap to the type of harm, (e.g. personal injury, property damage, violations of confidentiality obligations).

However, sometimes that parties may agree that certain types of harm should not be limited. These “exceptions” put the parties in the same position they would have occupied if there was no limitation of liability provision in effect. For example:

  • exposure for violations of intellectual property (copyright, trademark, trade secret, patent) or proprietary rights (right of publicity, right of privacy, contractually-defined proprietary information)
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnity and defend for 1) breach of intellectual property representations, and/or 2) third party intellectual property or proprietary rights
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify because a party didn’t have the right to provide data or information
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify and defend for non-compliance with data security standards
  • exposure for violations of confidentiality obligations
  • personal injury or property damage due to negligent acts or omissions

Best Practices

Businesses that rely upon limitation of liability clauses should periodically reexamine those clauses. Questions that you should be asking include: “what’s my maximum recovery if the other party breaches,” and “what’s my maximum liability if I breach?”

These are only effective if enforceable, that’s why drafting is key. According to many courts, following certain drafting guidelines will help reduce the likelihood that a limitation of liability clause will not be enforced. Such guidelines include:

  • Make the clause conspicuous: set the clause in bold face print or underline or otherwise place the clause apart from the rest of the text on the page on which it appears so that the other party is aware of its existence.
  • Make the language clear and concise: make sure that the clause is concise and unambiguous as it relates to the contract as a whole.
  • Identify specific risks: be specific in identifying the types of damages you think should be excluded.
  • Negotiate the clause: discuss the clause with the party that is signing the agreement and negotiate if there is a discrepancy.
  • Retain drafts of revisions: keep drafts of any revisions made to the limitation of liability clause so that you have proof that the clause was negotiated.
  • Add language stating that these damages are not recoverable even if they were, or should have been, foreseeable or known by the breaching party.
  • Recite that the limitation of liability clause is an agreed benefit of the bargain, and that it remains in effect even if any remedy under the contract fails of its essential purpose.
  • Consider including a liquidated damages clause for specific breaches, which would replace a damages claim.

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Please consult  qualified attorney to discuss your specific situation.

If you are concerned about how to tighten your contracts, we may be able to help. We can review your contracts, your business practices, and advise on whether there is room for improvement.

Please contact us for a no-fee, no-obligation consultation. (866) 734-2568 David [at] adler-law.com

Zombie Cinderella ‘Survives’ Walt Disney’s Cinderella Trademark- No Likelihood of Confusion

United Trademark Holdings, Inc. (“Applicant”) appealed a decision by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office refusing registration of its “ZOMBIE CINDERELLA” trademark for dolls when the USPTO held that it was confusingly similar to the registered “WALT DISNEY’S CINDERELLA” trademark.

In any likelihood of confusion analysis, two key considerations are the similarities between the marks and the similarities between the goods at issue. Applicant demonstrated that the story of “Cinderella,” is a “well-known narrative … involving a beautiful young lady, her antagonistic stepsisters, a fairy godmother, a ball, a prince, and a pair of glass slippers, existing since at least as early as 1697.”

The USPTO cited to nine other doll lines that use the name “Cinderella” holding that: 1) the mark is weak, and 2) CINDERELLA is not the dominant component of the cited, registered mark. The court found that while the dominant part of the mark -the term CINDERELLA – was similar, use of the terms “Walt Disney” and “Zombie” differentiated the two. The USPTO also found that “the design element of “WALT DISNEY’S CINDERELLA” may function, for juvenile customers, as a stronger source indicator than the term CINDERELLA, because it depicts a specific version of Cinderella that is associated with the Walt Disney animated film” of the same name.

Lastly, although the word “zombie” has little significance or distinctiveness as a source indicator in the marketplace for toys, the combination of ZOMBIE with CINDERELLA creates a unitary mark with an incongruous impression.