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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.

Presidential tweet criticized for ... trademark misuse?

Some are still having a hard time accepting President Trump's use of Twitter to announce government policy or to express his personal or political opinions. One of his recent tweets, however, raised trademark issues when he modified the line "Winter is Coming" from the wildly popular HBO series "Game of Thrones." 

According to a search of live trademarks on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, the original phrase, "Winter is Coming," is a registered trademark of HBO. According to ScreenPrism, the phrase not only identifies the series, it has evolved to symbolize metaphors in the series' stories such as "generally expressing the sentiment that dark periods occur in life."

When is a moving logo or image protectable as a trademark?

At our Northern California law firm, we represent people and businesses seeking trademark protections for their unique branding strategies, including words, phrases and logos used to identify their goods or services. While usually this brings to mind product names or unique logos, we have talked here before about less common types of trademarks granted for color, sound and scent associated with particular products or services. 

Texas judge upholds large jury award in trade-secret case

Keeping trade secrets just that -- secret -- can make or break the success of a company. We have written in this space extensively about ways to keep a business's trade secrets safely away from the public or from competitors. One of those is to write ironclad nondisclosure provisions in contracts with other businesses when the commercial relationship could reveal the details of internal processes to those business partners. 

Last month, Texas state-court judge David Canales refused to reduce or throw out a March 2018 jury award of almost $740 million for alleged trade-secret theft based on fraud in a case involving two players in the real-estate appraisal and valuation marketplace, according to HousingWire.

Intellectual property rights in the restaurant industry

At our San Francisco law firm, we advise California clients in the restaurant industry like owners and chefs about how to protect their valuable intellectual property. After all, food professionals invest significant creativity as well as money into their livelihoods. 

After all, if a competitor can just copy a restaurant's key concepts and products, the time, effort and money put into the original entrepreneurial effort could be diminished or lost. But the variety of intellectual property tools that might stick to protect food- and restaurant-related creative elements are complex, and the use of some IP applications represents relatively new ideas.

Little Tree car freshener trademark owner goes out on a limb

Virtually everyone who grew up in the U.S. and is alive today knows what a Little Tree car freshener is. An image of the successful product dangling from a car mirror immediately comes to mind at mere mention of the tree-shaped air freshener made to improve indoor air quality in vehicles. 

Currently, the Watertown, N.Y., manufacturer and trademark owner Car-Freshner Corporation has filed two separate lawsuits alleging other companies have violated Little Tree trademarks.

Music Modernization Act: Landmark music copyright law signed

In an unusual move in this time of deep division, sweeping federal copyright legislation updating copyright law for the digital age was unanimously passed in both the House and Senate. The president signed it on October 11, 2018. 

Federal lawmakers all got on board with modernizing the intellectual property rights of musical artists and others in the industry in light of online uses of music recordings like streaming music from services such as Pandora or Spotify that allow you to listen to recordings without actually downloading any music files. The general intent of the MMA is to see that musical artists and others who should receive payments for the use of their works this way get paid more easily and more consistently.

Court gives second try at climbing the "Stairway to Heaven"

At Lawrence G. Townsend, Intellectual Property Lawyer, in San Francisco, we represent people in copyright infringement disputes involving a variety of creative works, including those involving music and sound recordings. In current copyright news, the owner of the copyright to an obscure 1960s rock song who alleges that Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" was copied from it has a second chance to prove his case. 

On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, where a jury had found no infringement. The 9th Circuit has sent the case back to the trial court for a redo because, among other things, it said the jury instructions were in error and that the jury should have been able to hear a recording of the original song, "Taurus."

Don't let your mark commit genericide

At our law firm, we represent a wide variety of people and companies seeking to protect their branding in the marketplace from wrongful use. Protectable trademarks and service marks are typically words, logos, symbols, phrases and other similar devices for branding products and services. 

The nature of a trademark is that it is a protected, unique indicator of the source of a product or service. A corollary to this is that a generic term is not protectable as a trademark because it has become the product. It is the "genus" itself - when Aspirin (a brand and by definition an adjective) becomes aspirin, the noun.

Right of publicity: Images of people in art without permission

At Lawrence G. Townsend, Intellectual Property Lawyer, in San Francisco, we represent people asserting their rights of publicity as well as defending such lawsuits. The right of publicity protects people from unauthorized commercial use of their "name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness ... on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for the purposes of advertising" goods or services, without the permission of those depicted may be sued for damages and legal fees, to quote the California Civil Code. 

In other words, the law protects commercial use of your persona without your permission.

Introduction to the work-made-for-hire doctrine in copyright

At our law firm, we represent employers, employees and independent contractors in disputes over ownership of copyrights to creative works conceived during working relationships between the parties. In these disputes, the issue is often whether the creative work is a "work made for hire." 

We also help such parties negotiate, draft or review agreements concerning their rights in such works.

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