18 July, 2017

Less Offensive - US Supreme Court Takes on Disparaging Trademarks

Issues surrounding race are incredibly difficult and complex things, and clearly have no single answer to address them fully. Many efforts have been made to address various nuances of race and racial negativity, one of which is the prevention of the registration of trademarks in the US that could disparage individuals of a given race. Even so, trademarks exist that could be deemed to be offensive and disparaging (more on which here and here), and this has created a great deal of discourse on their continued existence, and similarly on the registration of other potentially disparaging marks. Should these types of marks be allowed, or should society move on and reject all trademarks that might be considered disparaging? The US Supreme Court endeavoured to answer this question once and for all this summer.

The case of Joseph Matal v Simon Shiao Tam dealt with a rock band, The Slants, who sought to register their name as a trademark in the US. The term "slants" is a derogatory term for persons of Asian descent, and the band sought to, through the use of the negative term as their moniker of choice, to reclaim it and take away its negative meaning. After filing their application for the trademark, the USPTO denied the application on disparagement grounds under 15 USC section 1052(a). The band, under the name of its lead singer Mr Tam, challenged the ruling and took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

The crux of the case remained that would the clause preventing the registration of disparaging be unconstitutional, particularly in terms of the First Amendment right to free speech.

At first, after setting out the legislative history of trademarks, Justice Alito (delivering the majority's opinion) considered that, while there is a valid registration system for trademarks, one does not have to register a mark to enjoy its use. In the same vein, the marks can be protected on a federal level under the Lanham Act, particularly through common law rights in those marks. Even so, certain rights are conferred to the holders of the marks through registration, and it does therefore add value and further protections over those marks, making registration very important.

Justice Alito then moved onto the test of whether a trademark is disparaging. This is whether "…the likely meaning of the matter in question, taking into account not only dictionary definitions, but also the relationship of the matter to the other elements in the mark, the nature of the goods or services, and the manner in which the mark is used in the marketplace in connection with the goods or services… [and] whether that meaning may be disparaging to a substantial composite of the referenced group". Even if the applicant is of the 'disparaged' group of people does not negate any possible findings under the test. At first instance, both the USPTO and the Appeal Board determined that the mark sought was indeed disparaging.

Before discussing whether the clause is unconstitutional or not, the Court had to first look at whether the mark was, as determined at first instance, disparaging. Tam argued that, while the disparagement provision speaks of 'persons', it cannot apply to non-juristic entities such as ethnic groups, but only to natural and juristic persons (i.e. individuals and not undefined, albeit legally defined groups). The Court swiftly rejected this argument, as Tam's narrow construction does not match with that of the provision of USPTO's definitions, which set out much broader terms, speaking of not just 'persons', but also 'institutions' and 'beliefs'. Therefore, as the Court concluded, disparagement can apply to non-juristic entities just as well as juristic entities.

Justice Alito then moved onto the main focus of the case, i.e. the constitutionality of the disparagement clause itself.

Washington's newest football team's logo (trademarked of course)
The first arguments circled around whether trademarks are government speech, not private speech or a form of government subsidy. As a primer, all government speech is exempt from First Amendment scrutiny, and can therefore say whatever it pleases (at least in theory). Even though trademarks are registered by the USPTO, the office does not itself regulate what the message of each mark is, unless it is considered disparaging under the provision. The viewpoint of any particular mark is irrelevant, and registration does not mean approval of the mark by the government. Justice Alito rejected the cases referred to in the matter, and concluded that the registration of a mark is not government speech, but private speech. In her view: "…if the registration of trademarks constituted government speech, other systems of government registration could easily be characterized in the same way". She also aligned the matter with copyright registration as "…if trademark registration amounts to government speech, then copyright registration which has identical accoutrements would “likewise amount to government speech".

The US government also argued that precedent set shows that government programs that subsidized speech expression specific viewpoints are constitutional. Justice Alito quickly rejected this argument, since "…[t]he federal registration of a trademark is nothing like the programs at issue in these cases". While registration does, arguably at least, confer certain non-monetary benefits to registrants, it does not provide a direct monetary subsidy, which the cases discussed did.

Finally, the government argued that the disparagement clause should be sustained applying only in cases that involved 'government-programs'. Justice Alito, again, rejected this argument, setting out that "…the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers". The Court deemed that you cannot discriminate against a particular viewpoint, and the disparagement clause does do so, even if the subject matter is potentially offensive to a given group of people. The Court therefore concluded that "…the disparagement clause cannot be saved by analyzing it as a type of government program in which some content- and speaker-based restrictions are permitted".

The Court then finally moved onto the question of constitutionality. whether trademarks are commercial speech, and therefore can be restricted under limited scrutiny under Central Hudson. The case allows for a restriction of free speech that has to "…serve a substantial interest and it must be narrowly drawn". Justice Alito concluded that the clause fails the Central Hudson scrutiny on the outset. It was also argued that it serves two interests, including protecting underrepresented groups from abuse in commercial advertising. The Court dismissed this interest, as the First Amendment protects even hateful speech. The second one is protecting the orderly flow of commerce, where the trademarks, through their offense, prevent or reduce commerce through their use. Justice Alito dismissed this argument as well, as the disparagement provision is not 'narrowly drawn' to prevent the registration of only trademarks that support invidious discrimination, while applying to a very broad type of people, including the dead. In her final view "…If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social “volatility,” free speech would be endangered". The Supreme Court therefore deemed that the disparagement clause violates the First Amendment.

The case is a hugely influential one, which opens the door for a myriad of trademarks, particularly those that are offensive or have the potential to cause offense. Free speech is a double-edged sword, and an American near free-for-all free speech is a source of pride, but can cause issues for those who face abuse or humiliation at the hands of those using that right. The case will also have a knock-on effect in the Redskins litigation, undoubtedly clearing the path for the mark to remain registered. In the end, the Supreme Court seems to be completely right here, but this writer, being a proponent of a more limited free speech (although only for very narrow and specific exceptions), can't help but feel that this will pave the way for more offensive marks in the long term.

11 July, 2017

Results Breakdown - Canadian Supreme Court Rules on Infringing Websites and Google Search Results

When reading this case this writer pondered what he would do in a world without Google (or search engines in general). Finding information on a web that's very close to an unrestricted space is both very useful, and can produce results you never expected, both in the good and the bad. Through the sheer power of the search engine, finding details online is quite easy, and can present an ingenius searcher with plenty of legitimate and illegitimate materials. This still poses the question: should search engines have to, or be forced to, restrict their results, to prevent the infringement of someone's rights? While this question often falls due to issues of jurisdiction, the Canadian Supreme Court endeavoured to answer it in a Canadian context only last week (with the BC Supreme Court decision having been discussed here).

The case of Google Inc. v Equustek Solutions Inc. dealt with the sale of devices that allow complex industrial equipment made by one manufacturer to communicate with complex industrial equipment made by another manufacturer. Equustek have developed, manufactured and sold such devices for some time. Former employees of Equustek, having left the company, started their own competing company, which developed and sold a similar device online, over which an injunction was granted by the Canadian courts. After a long legal battle, the respondents fled Canada and abandoned the proceedings, with Equustek subsequently pursuing Google to remove the website selling the infringing devices from their search results. Having initially received the injunction (limited only to Google.ca), Google pursued the matter further in the courts, ultimately ending up in the highest court in Canada.

What the case was all about was whether Equustek could pursue a worldwide interlocutory injunction through the Canadian courts against Google and its search results.

Initially, the Court set out the three-part test that determines whether a court should exercise its discretion to grant an interlocutory injunction: "...[1] is there a serious issue to be tried; [2] would the person applying for the injunction suffer irreparable harm if the injunction were not granted; and [3] is the balance of convenience in favour of granting the interlocutory injunction or denying it. The fundamental question is whether the granting of an injunction is just and equitable in all of the circumstances of the case".

Google agreed that there was a serious issue to be tried; however, they presented a multitude of arguments for the Court against the injunction. This included that the injunction is not necessary nor would it be effective; a third-party should not be bound by an order on another party (and therefore be subject to the injunction); and that issuing an interlocutory injunction with extraterritorial effect would be improper.

Search results - the great unknown (Source: xkcd)
Justice Abella considered that, due to the global nature of the Internet, any injunction involving multi-national, cross-border entities like Google would have to be applied globally. In short, as the majority of Google's business happens outside of Canada "...Purchasers outside Canada could easily continue purchasing from Datalink’s websites, and Canadian purchasers could easily find Datalink’s websites even if those websites were de-indexed on google.ca. Google would still be facilitating Datalink’s breach of the court’s order which had prohibited it from carrying on business on the Internet".

She also added that an interlocutory injunction, such as in this case, is therefore necessary to prevent the defendants' infringement online. Without Google's indexing of their site their business would not be feasible. Justice Abella also determined that there would be no issue with the freedom of expression, as no other nations' laws would be violated by the injunction.

The judge followed with the notion that this injunction would not affect Google's 'content neutral character', as it does not impose further monitoring obligations on the company, but merely the removal of the specified web addresses from its index. The same would not cause any undue expense on Google, which is something they already do for other illegal, more severe content online, and actively complies with DMCA notices over copyright infringement.

While the respondents' business can only thrive through Google's services, the court acknowledged that they are not responsible for the harm caused; however, Google has the power to end the harm by de-indexing the content. Ultimately, Justice Abella dismissed Google's appeal.

Two judges, Rowe and Côté, dissented from the majority's opinion, arguing that the injunction should not have been granted. In their view, the injunction's effects on Google would be final, with no recourse (unless to adjust its terms through the courts), and that Google is not a party to the dispute and should not be subjected to the injunction in question. Finally, the judges saw that the injunction is mandatory, with very little proven effect on its purpose, and the courts are presented with alternatives such as an asset freeze or injunctive relief against the ISPs preventing access to the website.

Ultimately, the case turns on the fact that it can open the floodgates for a stream of applications seeking similar injunctions, impacting both Google's business and the Canadian judicial system as a whole. The Court did leave the matter quite open, and this writer is confident that more applications will follow the decision, since, as the Court observed, Google already complies with similar obligations on a regular basis. Worldwide injunctions should not be a common weapon used, but an extraordinary one, so this writer does hope that the Canadian courts will restrict its application to only instances where they are truly needed.

27 June, 2017

Copyright Mutiny - The Pirate Bay is Communicating Works to the Public, says CJEU

Internet piracy has become a very common thing in the 21st century, and websites providing access to infringing materials, specifically torrent files, are booming. While these sites don't host material themselves, they provide links to files shared by the users themselves, potentially therefore facilitating this action. Rightsholders have, arguably rightfully so, been irate about this sharing of content, and have sought to challenge and shut down these websites. A case has been raging in Europe for some time (discussed more here), with both rightsholders and website hosts undoubtedly waiting for its conclusion, which is finally here after the CJEU handed down its judgment in mid-June.

By way of a short primer, the case of Stichting Brein v Ziggo BV and XS4All Internet BV concerns the communication to the public of copyright protected works. In the matter, Stichting Brein, a foundation that protects the interests of copyright holders, took two of ISPs to court seeking to force them to block access to the website The Pirate Bay (TBP). The site, for those unfamiliar with it, gives access to both torrent and magnet files, both of which are used in the facilitation of P2P connections, linking to particular files on the computers of users sharing those files, downloading them in small parts from the users as a collective. The CJEU therefore had to determine whether the ISPs could be compelled to block access to TBP.

As discussed above the matter hinged on whether TBP communicated the works to the public under Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive. With this, the Dutch Supreme Court sought answers to two questions.

The first question, as summarized by the CJEU, asked "… whether the concept of ‘communication to the public’, within the meaning of Article 3(1)… should be interpreted as covering… the making available and management, on the internet, of a sharing platform which, by means of indexation of metadata relating to protected works and the provision of a search engine, allows users of that platform to locate those works and to share them in the context of a peer-to-peer network".

The CJEU set out what amounts to a communication to the public, which comprises of an 'act of communication' that happens to 'a public.

An 'act of communication' has to be assessed under a number of interdependent criteria that need to be fulfilled for the act to be deemed as one of communication. Among these criteria lie the indispensable role of the user and the nature of their intervention: "That user makes an act of communication when he intervenes, in full knowledge of the consequences of his action, to give his customers access to a protected work, particularly where, in the absence of that intervention, those customers would not be able to enjoy the broadcast work, or would be able to do so only with difficulty". In essence, if a user (or a website in this case) intervenes, with full knowledge of doing so, and gives access to copyright protected works that would otherwise be unavailable to the end-users, they would be making an act of communication. The users can also access the works whenever and wherever they please.

Thomas' new online venture would have to
end before it even began...
A 'public' amounts to an indeterminate number of potential viewer, although the number would have to be fairly large. The communication above would also have to happen through a new technical means, not employed by the original communicator (if done so at all initially), to a 'new public', i.e. "…a public that was not already taken into account by the copyright holders when they authorised the initial communication of their work to the public". Finally, the profit-making nature of the communication, if any, is not wholly irrelevant to this assessment.

Following previous decisions, including in Svensson, BestWater and Stichting Brein, the Court established that "…any act by which a user, with full knowledge of the relevant facts, provides its clients with access to protected works is liable to constitute an ‘act of communication’ for the purposes of Article 3(1)".

TBP's platform offers the files for download when and wherever the end-user wants to using the torrent and magnet files provided in their index. Additionally, the Court saw that, while the files were uploaded onto the site by its users and not TBP, "…by making available and managing [the] online sharing platform… intervene, with full knowledge of the consequences of their conduct, to provide access to protected works, by indexing on that platform torrent files which allow users of the platform to locate those works and to share them within the context of a peer-to-peer network". Clearly, TBP's heavy role in the management of the index of the files plays an integral part in the copying of those files by the users. Without them the users would not, potentially at least, have access to the files, making TBP's role essential in the process.

Finally, the Court rejected that TBP only merely provided the physical facilities enabling or making the communication, as the website made the location and access to the files easier through its indexing and search facilities, while actively pruning the collection of files on their website to exclude dead or faulty links.

The Court concluded that the making available and management of an online sharing platform like TBP must be considered to be an act of communication.

The second hurdle therefore was whether this was done to a 'public'. In order to determine this, the Court has to consider both how many persons have access to the same work at the same time and how many of them have access to it in succession.

Many subscribers of both ISPs' services had accessed and downloaded files from the TBP website. The 'public' concerned also included all of the 'peers' on the torrent system, which amounts to, at a given time, potentially tens of millions of users. The communication therefore does happen to an indeterminate amount of people, involving a large amount of individuals – falling in the definition of a 'public' under the Directive. The users of the website would also not have been considered by the original communicators of the works, therefore being a 'new public'.

The Court ultimately concluded that: "…the concept of ‘communication to the public’, within the meaning of Article 3(1)… must be interpreted as covering… the making available and management, on the internet, of a sharing platform which, by means of indexation of metadata referring to protected works and the provision of a search engine, allows users of that platform to locate those works and to share them in the context of a peer-to-peer network".

The decision is a very important one, and sets the tone for the enforcement of copyright against torrent websites all over the Internet, not just TBP. Clearly, the Court placed a heavy emphasis on the active management of the website, its index, and the provision of the facilities to easily search and download infringing materials from the website. This writer would agree with this assessment, since, should a very active facilitation of copyright infringement be included under Article 3, this would open up the field for a tremendous amount of abuse as a result. It will remain to be seen how this decision will impact these websites, but it is clear that rightsholders will welcome this decision with open arms. 

Source: IPKat

22 June, 2017

Printing on the Wall - US Supreme Court Rules on Patent Exhaustion

Discussed on this blog only a few weeks ago, the US Supreme Court decision in Lexmark can have huge ramifications for both patent holders and sellers of those products all over the world. When and if at all patent rights exhaust after the sale of a product, be it in the US or abroad, is an important question and will set clear boundaries for both buyers and sellers, potentially impacting the price and availability of products and services all over the world. Many IP practitioners have been waiting for the decision by the Supreme Court, who released it only some weeks ago.

By way of a brief primer, the case of Impression Products Inc. v Lexmark International Inc. concerned the resale of printer ink cartridges, for which Lexmark owned several patents, which they also designed and manufactured. Impression Products bought used cartridges both abroad and in the US, refilled them and resold them; however, Lexmark set conditions on the cartridges during their sale, preventing their reuse and resale by other companies. Lexmark took Impression to court, and the matter ended up with the Supreme Court, who were set to decide a major point of patent law, as to when patent rights have been exhausted (if at all) after the sale of the product containing the patent rights.

The first question the Court tackled was whether the sale of the cartridges in the US did indeed exhaust their rights in the patented aspects of the goods. 35 USC section 154(a) confers the right to make and sell patented products, but the provision does not set any express limitations on the right. However, case law has established that "[w]hen a patentee chooses to sell an item, that product “is no longer within the limits of the monopoly” and instead becomes the “private, individual property” of the purchaser, with the rights and benefits that come along with ownership". The law therefore has limits on the control that a patent holder can exert on products within their monopoly. After discussing the historical context of patent exhaustion, the Court swiftly determined that "…Lexmark cannot bring a patent infringement suit against Impression Products to enforce the single-use/no-resale provision accompanying its Return Program cartridges. Once sold, the Return Program cartridges passed outside of the patent monopoly, and whatever rights Lexmark retained are a matter of the contracts with its purchasers, not the patent law".

This rationalisation makes sense to this writer, since a near perpetual, inexhaustible patent right in products, even post-sale, could have huge ramifications on the resale market, and potentially even anti-competitive uses (which the prevention of the resale of cartridges by a competitor could be construed as). The Court summarised its position on this: "…patent exhaustion is uniform and automatic. Once a patentee decides to sell—whether on its own or through a licensee—that sale exhausts its patent rights, regardless of any post-sale restrictions the patentee purports to impose, either directly or through a license".

The Court then moved onto the issue of the importation and sale of cartridges bought abroad. This question has not been addressed much under patent legislation, but has been discussed in the Supreme Court decision in Kirtsaeng, which established that the first sale of a copyright protected work would exhaust the rights in that work, even if imported from abroad and sold in the US (having been initially made and sold lawfully).

The Supreme Court faced the wrath of
patent holders after the decision
Under the common law concept of exhaustion, as discussed in Kirtsaeng, there is no territorial restriction on the fact. A sale abroad would be, arguably, exhaustion of rights within the US, and would therefore allow the importation of those goods into the US without infringement. According to the court, the copyright concept of exhaustion would not be distinguishable from patent exhaustion, as this would "…differentiating the patent exhaustion and copyright first sale doctrines would make little theoretical or practical sense [as] …the two “share a strong similarity and identity of purpose". The person buying the goods abroad is not buying the patented rights, according to the court, and that "…exhaustion is triggered by the patentee’s decision to give that item up and receive whatever fee it decides is appropriate". The court therefore concluded that Lexmark's rights were exhausted when the cartridges were sold abroad, and Impression would not be infringing their rights by importing the goods to the US.

Justice Ginsburg was the only judge to dissent. In her view, patent rights were purely territorial, and that "…[b]ecause a sale abroad operates independently of the US patent system, it makes little sense to say that such a sale exhausts an inventor’s US patent rights". This would open the door for competitors to potentially sell those patented products in the US with no legal recourse by the patent holder. Arguably, Justice Ginsburg's perspective is wholly justifiable, and this writer would raise concerns over this fact as well. If patent rights are fully exhausted in the event of a foreign sale, there would be very few restrictions on doing exactly the above by competitors. Finally, she disagreed with the majority's application of Kirtsaeng with patent rights, as "…[a]lthough there may be a “historical kinship” between patent law and copyright law… the two “are not identical twins". The legislative framework for copyright and patents does differ, and a straightforward application of copyright concepts to patents might not be possible as the law stands today.

The decision is a very important one, and will have clear and strong implications to patent holders who rely on the retention of rights in the US, irrespective of where the products were sold. Time will only tell whether this opens the Pandora's Box of reselling "infringing" products in the US; however, this writer is certain that other avenues will be used for the sale of patented products, such as contractual vehicles, rather than relying on pure rights retention.

08 June, 2017

A Collective Effort - The Impact of the GDPR on Collective Management Societies

This article was kindly drafted by Axel Beelen, who writes the blog IP News (focusing on EU and Belgian IP developments). He can also be found on Twitter here. He is also a data protection specialist.

The rules surrounding personal data are about to change on 25 May 2018 when the new General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) will enter into force. Because collective management organisations (CMOs) process their members' personal data, they will have to be compliant with the GDPR next year. Fines can be very high in the case of non-compliance. Below you will find the key points introduced in the GDPR concerning CMOs.

Data-subjects’ rights enlarged and more defined

The processing of personal data is lawful only if, and to the extent that, it is permitted under the GDPR. If the data controller (here the CMO) does not have a lawful basis for a given data processing activity (and no exemption or derogation applies) then that activity is prima facie unlawful. A lawful basis would be the consent of the data subject to do so, contractual necessity, compliance with legal obligations, the vital interests of the data subject, necessary for public interest or the legitimate interests of the data controller.

The "legitimate interests" lawful basis, under Article 6, is the more difficult to understand. It requires the balancing of the legitimate interests of the CMO against the interests and fundamental rights of the data subject (the rightholder).

To be a member of a CMO, rightholders (for example, authors, publishers, artists and producers) enter into an agreement with the CMO. This contract will generally be the lawful basis for the future processing of the rightholder’s data.

Members must be informed before any processing

The GDPR requires that the members of the CMOs have to be clearly and fully informed about their set of rights, including new rights that have been introduced, before the collection and processing of their personal data. CMOs are strongly advised to adapt their privacy provisions, communications and information to meet the requirements of the GDPR.

CMOs will also need to ensure that they have effective systems in place to enable them to give effect to these rights without any costs to the rightsholders. In the case of non-compliance, fines can be very steep: €20 million or up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the CMO for the preceding financial year.

CMSs have gone through quite the change,
even before the GDPR (Source: Oatmeal)
The GDPR expands the existing set of rights provided in the 1995 Data Protection Directive, and creates several entirely new rights increasing the ability of members of CMOs to better control their personal data. CMOs must provide any requested information in relation to any of the rights of their members within one month of receiving such a request. Only where CMOs receive large numbers of requests, or especially complex requests, may the time limit be extended by a maximum of two further months. Internal policy enabling the CMO to quickly reply to a member request will need to be written.

Members’ rights under the new GDPR

In a nutshell, members have the following rights under Articles 12-22:

  • Right of access: members of CMOs (as data subjects) have the right to obtain information relating to (i) confirmation of whether, and where, CMOs are processing their personal data, (ii) the purposes of the processing, (iii) the categories of data being processed, (iv) the categories of recipients with whom the data may be shared, (v) the period for which the data will be stored, (vi) the existence of the rights of erasure, rectification and restriction of processing and to object to processing, (vii) the existence of the right to complain to the DPA, (viii) the existence of, and an explanation of the logic involved in, any automated processing that has a significant effect on data subjects. Additionally, members may request a copy of the personal data being processed by their CMO;
  • Right of rectification regarding any inaccurate personal data possessed by the CMO;
  • Right to erasure (the "right to be forgotten"): following the Google Spain ECJ ruling of 2014, the GDPR now allows data subjects to request that their personal data be erased if (e.g.) the data are no longer needed for their original purpose (and no new lawful purpose exists) or the data subject exercises the right to object, and the controller has no overriding grounds for continuing the processing;
  • Right to restrict processing;]
  • Right of data portability: members will now have the right to receive a copy of their personal data in a commonly used machine-readable format, and request that these data are transmitted directly to another data controller (which could be another CMO). This new right has been the subject of Guidelines written by the Article 29 Working Party (Article 29 WP consists of representatives of the national supervisory authority in data protection);
  • Right to object to processing for the purposes of direct marketing (including profiling); and
  • Right to not be evaluated on the basis of automated processing: members have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing which significantly affects them (including profiling). Such processing is permitted where (i) it is necessary for entering into or performing a contract with the data subject provided that appropriate safeguards are in place, (ii) it is authorised by law or (iii) the data subject has explicitly consented and appropriate safeguards are in place.
CMOs shall provide the data subject with all of this information at the time when personal data of the members are obtained.

A DPO to supervise the personal data activities

CMOs will have to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) to supervise their personal data processing activities. CMOs will have to involve the DPO properly and in a timely manner in all issues which relate to the protection of personal data.

Each CMO will ensure that its DPO does not receive any instructions regarding the exercise of those tasks. The DPO cannot be dismissed or penalised by his CMO for performing his tasks. The DPO will directly report to the highest management level of his company. A DPO can be an employee of the CMO or an outside consultant.

The DPO may be contacted by the members with regard to all issues relating to processing of their personal data and to the exercise of their rights under the GDPR.


 For many collective management organisations, compliance with this new GDPR will be very challenging and expensive. They would be well advised to urgently carry out a legal assessment of the current status of their compliance in order to ascertain any gaps. CMOs will then need to implement adequate solutions and monitor their suitability. All of that before May 25th next year.

31 May, 2017

KitKat Snapped - UK Court of Appeal Rejects KitKat Trademark

Having discussed the KitKat chocolate bar saga near ad nauseum, this writer was content that things might've just settled down and the matter finished its course through the courts. To my chagrin, this was not correct, and the fight over everyone's favorite four-fingered chocolate bar rages on. After a spell in the EU courts (discussed here and here), the matter moved on to ultimate determination in the UK courts (here), with the latest decision appealed to the Court of Appeal. Will Nestle be successful on their appeal after a slew of losses?

As a basic primer for the case, Societe Des Produits Nestle SA v Cadbury UK Ltd concerned the application to register the shape of the KitKat chocolate bar made by Nestle (TM 2552692), which comprised of a four-fingered bar with no markings on the surface (although commonly includes the KitKat logo on each finger). Cadbury opposed the application, and since the opposition proceedings the case has bounced between the UK and EU courts, having been decided on by the CJEU and applied by Justice Arnold in the High Court. The matter was then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court's decision concerned acquired distinctiveness, which was extensively discussed in both the CJEU and the High Court, and in particular, whether the mark can have acquired distinctiveness in the absence or in the presence of an already registered trademark (i.e. the embossed KitKat logo on the fingers, but not the registration). Lord Justice Kitchin noted that, even if a three-dimensional shape is sold in conjunction with another registered trademark does not mean that the shape in itself will acquired distinctiveness, or, in other words "..[consumers] might simply regard the shape as a characteristic of products of that kind or they might find it brings to mind the product and brand name with which they have become familiar".

Lord Justice Kitchin then moved on to applying the test for acquired distinctiveness to the sign at hand, which looks at "...whether the applicant has proved that a significant proportion of the relevant class of persons perceive the goods or services designated exclusively by the mark applied for, as opposed to any other mark which might also be present, as originating from a particular undertaking", i.e. the shape acts, by itself, as the badge of origin.

With bloodlust in his eyes, Conker devoured his KitKat
What remains important is the consumers' perception of the mark (seeing it and knowing where the product comes from) and reliance on the same when purchasing the product. As discussed above, Lord Justice Kitchin concluded that the main test to resolve the question above would be "...whether [a] person would rely upon the sign as denoting the origin of the goods or services if it were used on its own". This would have to be evidenced somehow, for example, through surveys. The difficulty is in showing, through evidence, the distinction of reliance on the other mark (e.g. the KitKat logo) or on the shape of the chocolate bar. Mere association of the latter with the former is not enough.

The Court didn't disagree with the initial hearing officer in their decision, as Nestle had failed to establish acquired distinctiveness, since there was no evidence that the shape of the product had featured in promotional and advertising material, that it has it never been sold in opaque packaging, or had been featured on the packaging itself (bar for a short time). Survey evidence was also inconclusive on the recognition and reliance on the shape as an indicator of a KitKat product specifically, even though identified by many by the brand.

Although the EU General Court (discussed more here) and CJEU (discussed here) decisions shed some doubts over the need for 'reliance' on the mark (allowing for it to be used in conjunction with other marks and still be distinctive), Lord Justice Kitchin rejected this argument quite straightforwardly. In his mind, the decisions simply reiterated the requirement above on perception and reliance by consumers, and while reliance is not a requirement under the CJEU decision (discussed more here), it still remains an important consideration.Reliance demonstrates that a non-distinctive mark has become distinctive in its own right.

The Court of Appeal therefore was satisfied that the mark had not acquired distinctiveness and dismissed the appeal.

The case is a big blow for Nestle, and it'll be interesting to see whether they appeal the decision further to the Supreme Court. With a CJEU decision and a strong affirmation of the same by the Court of Appeal, success on appeal would seem unlikely, and permission would probably not be granted; however, the brand and the chocolate bar itself is hugely valuable and is potentially worth fighting for. The decision also highlights the importance of reliance on a mark, even if it's not required by EU legislation. Companies should heed the need to use a shape to actively market their goods, should it be something they want to defend, and simply not assume that association with another brand will bring in distinctiveness.

Source: BBC

23 May, 2017

A Lack of Patent Exhaustion - Discussing the Lexmark Case Ahead of US Supreme Court Hearing

Many IP rights give their owners a great deal or rights and capabilities to restrict the use of their rights by other parties, and arguably, rightfully so, as the creation is indeed theirs. Even though this might be the case at face value, the use and exploitation of those rights should still have certain limitations, for example, from preventing an author from allowing certain people from reading their book after they have purchased a copy. This doctrine is called the exhaustion of rights, which means that after a certain point, the rights held by the author or owner of a technology cease to apply, allowing for the party to use their products as they please. Exhaustion of rights is still a developing area of law, and an up-coming case in the US Supreme Court has been primed to tackle this in relation to patents, with the case having ramifications both ways irrespective of the decision. Looking ahead to the decision, it is important to discuss the Court of Appeal case decided over a year ago.

The case of Lexmark International Inc. v Impression Products Inc. dealt with the sale of refilled ink cartridges for computer printers by Impression, who purchased used cartridges from abroad to refill and resell in the US (having a third-party circumvent the protection mechanism preventing reuse in the cartridges). Lexmark holds patents in relation to these cartridges, and most of the cartridges had strict single-use/resale restrictions set by Lexmark both in the US and abroad. Impression had not sought permission to resell the cartridges in the US, and Lexmark subsequently took the company to court for patent infringement.

Under 35 USC section 271, only the patent holder is authorized to sell and import patented inventions in the US. Impression argued that the rights (undisputed to be valid and enforceable) had been exhausted after the first sale of the cartridges to the original consumer, and therefore their resale and importation would not be an infringement of the rights.  The Court disagreed, and saw that "...a patentee may preserve its § 271 rights when itself selling a patented article, through clearly communicated, otherwise-lawful restrictions, as it may do when contracting out the manufacturing and sale". This would therefore allow Lexmark to assert its rights post-sale as per the stickers on the cartridges.

The Court focussed on the aspect of the provision that restricts the sale of the patented 'without authorization', as the lack authorization of resale through the sticker clearly leaves the buyer without rights. Conversely, the sale of an article without the reservation of rights would, arguably, have the right to resale the item. It all comes down to the language used during the sale process. The Court summarized their position, where "...[a] sale made under a clearly communicated, otherwise-lawful restriction as to post-sale use or resale does not confer on the buyer and a subsequent purchaser the "authority" to engage in the use or resale that the restriction precludes", following the decision in Mallinckrodt Inc. v Medipart, Inc.. This means that the patent owning party would retain the rights in the item if expressly and clearly communicated at the time of purchase, provided that no law or policy is violated through the retention of rights.

Patent exhaustion is a real plight! (Source: Good Little Robot)
The legislative position is not any different, according to the Court, from the common law position as set out in Kirtsaeng v John Wiley & Sons (discussed more here), which restricted the rights in items that have been sold (albeit in relation to copyright and not patent rights). The ultimate seller of patent rights can retain some rights in the sold items, which differs from copyright that does not offer the same varying set of rights.

The second question the Court had to grapple with was whether the sale of the items abroad conferred any authority to Impression to import the cartridges to the US and sell them there. Ultimately, following the Jazz Photo Corp. v International Trade Commission case, the Court determined that no legal rule to this effect existed. For there to be an ability to do so, Impression would have to have a licence, implied or direct, to do so, which in the case they did not have. Similarly to the above, the decision in Kirtsaeng does not apply in this instance either (where copyright protected works were bought abroad and imported for sale in the US), as the law in copyright affords an equivocal right to resell the items, which patent legislation does not give.

Ultimately, Impression's case failed and the Court found that they had indeed infringed Lexmark's rights.

Both Judge Dyk and Hughes dissented from the judgment, raising opposing views on both the applicability of Mallinckrodt and Jazz Photo.

In their view, in relation to the first argument of patent exhaustion, the decision in Quanta Computer Inc. v LG Electronics Inc. applies, which sets out that "...the initial authorized sale of a patented item terminates all patent rights to that item". The moment the item involving the patent has been sold with authorization, all rights in the patented aspect cease to apply, even in relation to resale. Additionally, in relation to the second argument, once the item was sold abroad (with no restrictions as to US patent rights), the rights in the patent works are exhausted. This is even more poignant, according to the judges, due to the sale by the patent rightsholder, and not a mere licensee.

The case, once decided by the Supreme Court, could potentially have huge implications to the sale and resale of goods incorporation patent rights in the US. Should the Supreme Court side with Lexmark, it could cause a huge cooling on the resale of products in the US, and an upswing on the incorporation of stricter sale terms in relation to patent rights in any given goods. This could cause prices to rise and items to be less readily available to consumers. On the opposite side, should the Supreme Court agree with Impression, patent rights could be hugely devalued in the US, especially when it comes to the sale of goods at first instance. This could mean higher up-front costs to protect against the loss on resales, but also release a whole swathe of second-hand markets for patent goods, particularly from abroad should the rights have been exhausted. No matter which way the case goes, it will be very important to both consumers and patentees alike, and shape the future of patent exhaustion for years to come.

Source: Gizmodo