Can Someone Own the Copyright To the Batmobile?

I’ve been looking for an excuse to blog about the upcoming third-installment of the Batman movie series directed by Christopher Nolan.  The Dark Knight Rises is set for 
a July release   Here is the trailer from YouTube.  I put Nolan’s first two films in the series, Batman Beginsand The Dark Knight, on my personal list of Top 10 Movies.  Yes, I like these movies that much.
Here is my excuse for blogging about Batman: a federal judge has ruled that Batman’s techno-ride, the Batmobile, may be subject to copyright protection.  Click here for the story.

Tootsie Rolls and Cockroaches

Tootsie Roll is a candy and the subject of a trademark lawsuit and a funny personal story.  First the more serious trademark tale.  Tootsie Roll is, of course, a well-recognized trademark. Can the makers of Tootsie Roll prevent a footwear company from using the name Footzyrolls?

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What do you think?  Here is a picture of the products: 

The makers of Tootsie Rolls recently sued the company that makes Footzyrolls, footwear that can be rolled up.  Trademark infringement usually occurs when one party uses a trademark similar enough to another party’s mark that consumers confuse the two parties’ products or services. But can a case be made if the goods in question are very different, like candy and footwear?  Yes, if the mark being infringed is considered famous.  This is called trademark dilution.  For more information on trademark dilution, read this article.

Here is the personal Tootsie Roll story.  When I was about 14 years old our family took a vacation to Florida. One night on the trip we were hanging out in the hotel room. My parents had bought my younger sister and me a bag of the bite-size Tootsie Rolls. Like most siblings we had to make sure the bag was split exactly even.  One for her – one for me.  Two for her – two for me.  You get the point.  The division of the bag was completed successfully.

After I left with my portion of the goodies, my sister noticed something on the hotel room floor. A small brown object. She beamed with joy believing I had dropped one of my precious candies and that she could claim it as her own. She greedily picked it up and discovered it was not a Tootsie Roll at all; it was a dead cockroach!  She screamed. I laughed. Really hard. We still laugh about it now.

By the way, Roach Motel is a federally registered trademark for roach traps and not the high-quality hotel my parents selected.


Apparently You CAN Mess with Texas

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), owner of the mark DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS, recently sought a restraining order against the bookstore chain Barnes & NobleGrand Central PublishingHachette Book Club USAand author Christie Craig over the sale

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of Craig’s romantic novel entitled “Don’t Mess With Texas“.  U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks denied the order and cited First Amendment rights, the relatively small amount of revenue involved, and the diversity between good and services.  Although TXDOT owns registration in the slogan for a wide variety of printed materials, books is not one of them.

For more details about this case, read the article, “Judge: Author Can ‘Mess with Texas’ All She Wants“.


Dot-com, Dot-net and … Dot-anything

For the last two decades, there have been a relatively small number of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) on the Internet. A gTLD is essentially the part of the domain name after the dot. But the number of gTLDs is about to increase dramatically.  On June 20, 2011,
the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced that beginning on January 12, 2012, companies and organizations will be able to register virtually any gTLD they choose – for a price. The initial registration will be $185,000, with an annual renewal fee of $25,000.

For details about the implications of this change, read the article “New Top-Level Domain Names Available”.

SEAL Team 6: Whose Trademark Is It?

The elite special forces of the U.S. Navy known as the SEALs have a nearly 50-year history of being the go-to teams for difficult small-unit military operations. So it came as no great surprise that SEAL Team 6 was the unit that stormed the compound of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.

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A well-known company decided to capitalize on the attention given these brave heroes so soon after the incident, but faced with negative publicity, abandoned its efforts.

On May 3, 2011, three intent-to-use applications for the trademark SEAL TEAM 6 were filed on behalf of Disney Enterprises, Inc. of Burbank, California. The applications were for such diverse goods and services as clothing, toys, gymnastic and sporting articles, and even Christmas tree ornaments and snow globes. Although federal trademark registration requires use of the mark in commerce, applications can be filed prior to such use if the applicant has a bona fide intent to use the mark in the future. Once the mark has been deemed registrable by the examining attorney, the applicant has six months to allege use. For a fee, this deadline may be extended at six-month intervals up to a total three years, after which the application is considered abandoned. In 2010, a little more than half of all trademark applications filed with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office were intent-to-use, but to date less than 10 percent of those applications have matured to registration. By filing so early, Disney Enterprises was attempting to stake out its ownership of the mark for the goods and services claimed before anyone else does. But the public reaction to the applications were so negative that by the end of May, Disney filed express abandonments of all three applications. Several other applicants also filed for the trademark SEAL TEAM 6 or variations, and as of the writing of this post, at least four applications were still pending.

However, a search of the records reveals that Disney was not the first company to seek federal registration for the SEAL TEAM 6 trademark. In 2002, NovaLogic, Inc. of Calabasas, California applied for trademark registraiton of SEAL TEAM 6 for a variety of video game software and on-line computer gam eservices. In 2004, NovaLogic filed another application, this time for action figures and their accessories. Like Disney, NovaLogic filed its applications on an intent-to-use basis, and even though both applications were cleared for registraiton, the mark was abandoned for failure to allege use in the requisite amount of time.

Intent-to-use trademark applications can be a useful way to reserve a mark before it is used in commerce, but there are limits on how long that reservation can last. And once such an application has been abandoned, it clears the way for others to seek registration of the mark.


Righthaven Copyright Suits and the Fair Use Defense

In a major setback to Righthaven, LLC in one of its copyright infringement cases, a federal judge recently ruled that defendants Kayse Jama and the Center for Intercultural Organizing (“CIO”) engaged in fair use as a matter of law when they posted an article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal (“LVRJ”) that was copyrighted by Righthaven (For background on Righthaven and its business model, see “Copyright Infringement in the Digital Age: Is Righthaven Using the Right Solution?”).
Using the four-factor legal standard for fair use (purpose and character of the use; nature of the copyrighted work; amount/substantiality of the portion used in relationship to the work as a whole; and effect of the use upon the potential market), Judge James Mahan ruled that Jama and CIO met all four criteria necessary to constitute fair use. One of the most surprising aspects of this ruling involves the third factor. Even though the defendants copied the article in its entirety, the judge ruled that the amount was reasonable. Mahan reasoned that because the purpose of the use was to educate the public, and the work was factual, “it would have been impracticable for defendants to cut out portions of the article or edit the article down.”

Regarding the fourth factor of fair use, the opinion also questions whether Righthaven, which is not itself a newspaper and is merely using the copyright to file infringement lawsuites, can claim LVRJ’s market as its own.

It remains to be seen how this ruling will affect the numerous other cases that Righthaven has filed against bloggers who have posted LVRJ content, but if the posting of an entire article can be considered fair use, and if Righthaven does not have an actual market to base its claims upon, this could jeopardize its other claims of copyright infringement.

Stitch Designs: A New Standard for Trademark Dilution?

Michael Atkins recently published an interesting post on his “Seattle Trademark Lawyer” blog entitled “Ninth Circuit Changes Dilution Standard”.  Unlike trademark infringement, which requires a likelihood of confusion between two marks, trademark dilution 

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only applies to famous marks. If a mark lessens the capacity of a famous mark to identify and distinguish good and services, it may be diluting the famous mark. In a case involving the stitch designs on the pockets of Levi Strauss and Abercrombie & Fitch jeans, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, stating that the two marks no longer need to be “identical or nearly identical”.  Atkins posted side-by-side drawings of the two stitch designs.  Take a look and draw your own conclusions.

Righthaven Copyright Suits – An Update

Several months ago, we published a blog post entitled “Copyright Infringement in the Digital Age: Is Righthaven Using the Right Solution?” discussing a spate of lawsuits filed by Righthaven, LLC against bloggers who posted content copyrighted 

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by Stephens Media, the publisher of the Law Vegas Review-Journal.

Copyright and trademark attorney Ron Coleman, owner of the “Likelihood of Confusion” blog, recently posted an update on this topic.  Coleman, along with Las Vegas attorneys Marc Randazza and J. Malcolm DeVoy, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Media Bloggers Association in one of these lawsuits.  This brief, which is posted in its entirety on Coleman’s blog, calls into question the propriety and scope of copyright statutory damages in this type of lawsuit. Much is at stake because statutory damages can greatly simplify the Plaintiff’s task of having to otherwise prove up actual damages.


Hip2Save Founder Appears on TodayShow.com

We like to watch our clients succeed!  Client Collin Morgan of Hip Happenings, LLC, recently appeared on the today’s Money segment of TodayShow.com discussing “5 Tips for the Coupon Newbie.”  Here’s the link to the video.

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Collin is the founder of Hip2Save.com, a highly successful blog dedicated to helping people save money.  As noted on her blog, this is Not Your Grandma’s Coupon Site.

We wish Collin and Hip2Save continued success!  See her blog at Hip2Save.com.