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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.

I bought the sheet music. Can I perform the song in public?

Like any work of art, the argument might be made that music serves little purpose if it is not shared in some form of public setting. But just because you have bought the sheet music for a particular song, it would be a mistake to assume you have secured the right to perform that piece for anyone other than close friends or family.

Whether you are a one-person band looking to perform in a local San Francisco coffee shop or a community choir that performs without charging admission, merely purchasing sheet music is not enough. If you perform in public, you are usually required to pay royalties to one of the performance rights societies that control such things in the United States. Failure to do so could result in a copyright infringement claim that is at least embarrassing, if not costly.

Find the right venue for misappropriated trade secrets relief

Speed matters. We see it in the debate over internet neutrality. No one wants to be left in the dust. In business, the need for speed is especially important in protecting trade secrets. Information zips around the world in the blink of an eye and if that information happens to include proprietary secrets, a business's financial viability could be at risk.

The notion of the value of speed is something ensconced in legal theory. On the criminal side, the concept of swift justice traces back to the Magna Carta and even earlier. The U.S. Constitution's notion of a speedy jury trial is spelled out in the Sixth Amendment.

Know the kind of license agreement you need

Tapping into a broader market is often a key goal of a small to medium enterprise. The reason is simple; there's potential revenue in such expansions. Why leave it on the table?

But as we noted in a previous post, where intellectual property is the resource, it's important to have the right pieces of the licensing puzzle in place. You need to be confident you have the right partner, that contracts are wisely negotiated, and that any IP licensing enjoys effective protection against infringement.

Protecting intellectual property using the 'internet of value'

In the early 2000s, we experienced what came to be called the dot-com bubble. That was when the internet came into its own as an economic power. Unfortunately, speculation about big tech sector earnings took priority over traditional business metrics. Eventually, according to Wikipedia, skepticism rose, venture capital dried up, and a crash followed.

Things are somewhat saner today, though some argue the dot-com age echoes in the roar surrounding the development of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and its supporting blockchain technology. The blockchain system is so enigmatic, though, that one writer notes some have taken to speaking metaphorically about it - calling it a controller for the "internet of value."

7 steps to protect your trade secrets

It could be a scene from almost any of the Mission Impossible movies. The man—wearing all black, of course—plummets down the air shaft until his harness stops him mere inches from the floor. In a flash, he’s typing away on a nearby computer terminal. After a tense moment, the man announces into his headset, “I’m in.”

And just like that, he has your trade secrets. But is that really how it happens? Of course not—that’s the movies. In real life, it’s much more likely that your own employee will be the one stealing your trade secrets. For instance, just before your programmer gives his notice, he emails the source code for your company’s new software to his home account.

Court says colorful language not a bar to trademark registration

A couple of federal court decisions - one of them from the highest court in the land - may well be prompting some to wonder where the line is now when it comes to what can and cannot be federally registered as a trademark.

First, there was the decision last June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Asian-American musician who had hit a roadblock from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office when he sought to register the trademark of his group's name, The Slants. Then, last month, a three-judge panel at the Federal Circuit in Washington found in favor of a clothing retailer struggling to register the trademark his brand, Fuct.

Could the mark 'Drive Wise' collide with another 'DriveWise' mark?

Allstate first began using its registered trademark "DriveWise" in December 2010 and has used it continuously since then. Kia Motors Corporation filed its first trademark application in 2016 for the phrase "Drive Wise" as a stylized design mark.

Allstate sued Kia for trademark infringement, but the judge refused to enjoin Kia from using its version of the phrase. Is it enough to show the two marks are virtually the same?

'Grumpy Cat' owners sue for violation of coffee licensing deal

"She's not going to be passed around," said the federal judge before "Grumpy Cat" was brought into the California courtroom. She sat in a cat carrier as she awaited her owner's testimony in a licensing violation case. She is not expected to testify.

Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce), a calico with an underbite and a permanently aggrieved expression, is an internet sensation. So much so that her owner entered into a licensing agreement in 2013 with a beverage company called Grenade. They planned to market an iced coffee beverage called the "Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino." It was set up as a joint venture with Grenade owning 90 percent of the company and Grumpy Cat Limited owning the other 10.

Should I use a digital watermark on my work?

Are you analog or are you digital? These days, it's easy to find individuals in one or the other camp. Some dwell in both worlds. If you are someone who does design work, you want to protect your work from theft, misuse or use without your permission.

Finding the best way to protect intellectual property is always worth discussing with an experienced attorney. That applies whether the issue is staking your claim to control the use of your work, or finding yourself in the position of having to litigate when your work has been usurped.

Trademark vs. copyright: What is the difference?

When it comes to protecting creative work, it's important for artists from all mediums to know what tools are at their disposal.

Many people confuse copyright and trademark, and they both have their place in creative work. It's important to know the difference and understand what each protects.

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