Lawrence G. Townsend Intellectual Property Lawyer
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San Francisco California Intellectual Property Law Blog

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

What does California law say about trade secret misappropriation?

Today we continue our discussion of trade secrets. Specifically, we will look more closely at what California statute says about trade secret misappropriation

California adopted its own version of the Uniform Trade Secret Act in 1984, with later amendments. Uniform laws, crafted by a national panel of legal experts, help to create some uniformity among various states in how they address particular legal issues, which can be helpful in a mobile and interconnected society like ours. States that adopt uniform laws sometimes tweak the original text to meet their unique needs.

How can a business owner or company protect trade secrets?

In our competitive markets, businesses often attribute actual or future commercial success to important information or processes unknown to competitors: trade secrets. California statute defines a trade secret as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process” with “independent economic value” precisely because it is unknown outside the business due to reasonable efforts to keep it secret. 

Trade secret subjects may encompass recipes, customer lists, product specs, pricing policies and others.

Children's versions of literary novels were infringing

At our law firm, we represent authors, agents and publishers in a variety of copyright matters, including drafting, reviewing and negotiating agreements involving licensing, publishing, representation, marketing, works for hire and more. In addition, we vigorously protect our clients against accusations of copyright infringement or, on the other hand, we assert and enforce the rights of copyright and license holders against infringement by others.

A recent copyright lawsuit in New York federal court dealt extensively with "fair use," a legal defense against an infringement charge. A use is fair when even though a party has used copyrighted materials without permission, the use was considered legally reasonable.

Dow sues Turkish company over opaque-paint trade secrets

At our law firm, we advocate for clients with ownership interests in trade secrets, meaning private information confidentially held that has economic or commercial value to the owner. Think, for example, of a manufacturing technique or chemical formula. We use a variety of legal means to protect our clients' trade secrets from misappropriation by others. 

We also vigorously defend claims of misappropriation or wrongful disclosure of trade secrets.

Graffiti copyright claim fails because use in TV show de minimis

Broadly, creative works of art in many instances can be properly protected by copyright. We recently talked about copyright issues surrounding tattoos. Today we discuss an interesting case about copyright in graffiti in the context of its appearance in the background of a scene of a TV show. 

On May 1, a federal judge in New York dismissed a copyright claim (and other claims) in which a graffiti artist sued HBO for copyright infringement. During filming on a New York City street, his graffiti with the phrase "art we all" on a dumpster was captured in the backdrop during about three seconds of one episode in the series "Vinyl," a show known for the creative involvement of Mick Jagger.

Can reproducing an affixed tattoo violate a copyright? Probably.

Copyrights grant exclusive legal rights to the owners of creative works. One protected category is "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" -- think paintings, graphic art, sketches, illustrations, photos, sculptors and the like. But let's go out on a limb here. Can a tattoo be the subject of a copyright

Currently, there are at least three federal cases pending in which tattoo artists (or parties that have licensing agreements with them) assert that when their tattoo designs on the bodies of athletes were reproduced within the images of these athletes in video games, the artists' copyrights were infringed.

Actress appeals right-of-publicity case to California high court

At our San Francisco law firm, we represent people whose identities have been exploited for commercial benefit without our clients' permission. The "right of publicity" means that a person's "name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness" may not be used without consent to advertise or sell products, according to the California right-of-publicity statute. We also defend right-of-publicity claims.

Right-of-publicity law is very complex. In California, claims may be brought under both statutory and common law (court-made law). There is a related false-advertising cause of action under the federal Lanham Act as well as other potentially related claims like right of privacy, misappropriation, defamation and others.

Part 2: Harley-Davidson wins $19.2 million in counterfeiting case

In Part 1 of this post, we talk about the recent federal case of H-D U.S.A., LLC v. SunFrog, LLC, out of Wisconsin. The judge found, among other things, that SunFrog had engaged in counterfeiting when it placed images and phrases trademarked by Harley-Davidson on shirts and other items sold through SunFrog's website. 

That post describes the judge's rejection of SunFrog's argument that it could not have engaged in counterfeiting because the goods on which they printed Harley-Davidson marks were so shoddy that people would know were knockoffs.

Part 1: Judge finds counterfeiting of Harley-Davidson trademarks

The San Francisco law firm of Lawrence G. Townsend, Intellectual Property Lawyer, represents a range of clients in trademark matters — ranging from protecting distinctive marks or symbols, to preventing wrongful use of trademarks, to asserting trademark infringement claims or defending against them in court. 

The judge in a federal case out of Wisconsin found on April 12 in an important opinion that online business SunFrog had infringed Harley-Davidson’s trademarks. While the lengthy opinion resolves several issues, it carefully explains trademark counterfeiting, a kind of infringement particularly frowned upon by federal law. (The link above is to a news article that includes the text of the opinion.)

Discussing the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy

Domain names are basically street addresses for the web. They are critical pieces of information that hold a ton of value, not just as a part of a company's intellectual property portfolio, but also from the more practical perspective of branding your company and your website.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of "trolls" that register domain names for no purpose other than to force legitimate companies that want to use the domain name to pay up. And in this ever-present internet world, legal disputes over domain names is a integral part of intellectual property law.

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