26 January, 2015

Framed Questions - ECJ Takes on Content Framing

As social media has changed how we interact with one another, it also has profoundly changed the culture and environment where copyright (and other intellectual property rights) reside. Videos, pictures and other content can very easily go 'viral', especially through sharing via Facebook, Twitter and other websites, even sans the original source of the content. This aggressive sharing and consumption of content can clearly yield huge benefits, both monetary and other positive outcomes; however it presents a much darker side to the sharing of this content, more specifically the copying and distribution of infringing content. Whether it be re-hosting a video originally on YouTube, or copying and watermarking other people's popular images, the Internet is full of opportunistic people rearing and ready to cash in on the next 'viral' hit. Not all sharing is bad, and often websites can host content and rightfully attribute the content to its source, or just link directly to it - which presents a question: can you share copyrighted content, especially through what is called 'framing' (placing someone else's content within the confides of your own website, but not directly hosting the content), or are you infringing on the rights through linking to this content and placing in within your own website?

The case, which endeavored to answer this question, was BestWater International GmbH v Michael Mebes (judgment only available in German or French). BestWater International are a company in the business in making and selling water filtration systems, and in an effort to boost their sales, made a 2-minute promotional video and uploaded it to YouTube, undoubtedly attempting to reach the droves of water filtration enthusiasts using the site. Michael Mebes and his co-defendant Stefan Potsch are independent agents for BestWater's competitor, who embedded a video link to BestWater's promotional video on YouTube (which they themselves uploaded onto the service). BestWater subsequently sued the pair for copyright infringement, and the case finally culminated in the European Court of Justice late last year. In the absence of a judgment in English (which this writer was waiting for) the information conveyed in this post has been parsed from several sources; however hopefully represents an accurate reading of the case.

The question posed to the Court was simple: "Does the embedding, within one’s own website, of another person’s work made available to the public on a third-party website... constitute communication to the public within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29/EC, even where that other person’s work is not thereby communicated to a new public and the communication of the work does not use a specific technical means which differs from that of the original communication?" In a lot of ways the case is similar to one discussed on this very blog on an earlier note; Svensson v Retriever. Even so, Svensson merely discussed the distribution of content, which is freely available on another website, when BestWater's focus is on framing that content within your own site, arguably presenting it, in a roundabout way, as your own. 

One should always be careful when framing things
Thinking back to Svensson, the decision in the case established, quite firmly, that if a work is communicated to the public, and is freely available, distributing that content without actually making new copies of it, does not constitute a communication to a new public and infringe copyright. Unceremoniously the Court saw that "[t]he embedding in a website of a protected work which is publicly accessible on another website by means of a link using the framing technology … does not by itself constitute communication to the public within the meaning of [Directive 2011/29/EC] to the extent that the relevant work is neither communicated to a new public nor by using a specific technical means different from that used for the original communication"

What is key in the BestWater decision, much like in Svensson, is the authorization of the party who communicates the original work to the public. If the content is beyond the reach of most Internet users, framing the content clearly infringes copyright; however, should the party provide the content for all Internet users (i.e. freely available through services like YouTube), it will not infringe copyright. Should a third-party, without the consent of the copyright holder, upload a video to YouTube, and then promptly frame it on their website, they will be infringing copyright within the meaning of BestWater and Directive 2001/29/EC.

The two decision reflect a clear need for change in attitudes of copyright holders when posting content online. Framing applies just as well to images and sound files as it does to video, potentially causing issues to those who are not careful in their communication of their copyrighted content. This writer, for one, believes this approach is correct, even with the hazards it potentially presents. Should you choose to share content with very little regard to its restrictions, you choose to share your content with more people that you might have intended to, and for users to be punished for your mistake seems highly inequitable. Nevertheless, individuals and companies should be more careful in their content sharing, especially when considering the openness of the Internet, and the potential benefits more open sharing can give you.

Source: IPKat

20 January, 2015

Tripping the Trapp - Trademarks in the Third Dimention

Trademarks can be an interesting novelty, especially when it comes to what is actually sought to be protected through trademarks. This ranges from trademarking the color of your football field to the phrase "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!", and only illustrates just how complex and varied trademarks can be, while offering a near perpetual right to protect what you have registered. With this kind of longevity, having a strong trademark, especially in an area where it could benefit you beyond just one product or product line, is incredibly valuable and desired by many (a lengthy legal battle over the color purple is a great example of just how much it can mean to a company). Most of the time though, trademarks are registered as one-dimensional items, which poses the question: could you register a three-dimensional trademark? The European Court of Justice aimed to answer this very question in the latter part of 2014, in a case anticipated by many.

The case in question was Hauck GmbH & Co. KG v Stokke A/S, in which the dispute centered around children's chairs. Peter Opsvik, a co-defendant in the case, had designed a children's chair called "Tripp Trapp", being sold under the Stokke brand since the early 1970s. The chair itself consisted of two L-shaped upright pieces, which contained slots, into which platforms and other pieces could be slotted into, forming the chair. The company sought to protect the highly-regarded chairs, and their look, by lodging a trademark application in 2003 (for example application 003514171). Hauck have also been involved with the production and sale of children's articles, including two chairs, Alpha and Beta. Hauck were subsequently taken to court for trademark infringement, due to the sale and manufacture of its Alpha chair in the German courts (with Stokke winning in the German courts), and also in the Netherlands, culminating in the ECJ some years later.

What the Court of Justice faced was a decision under Directive 89/104/EEC, which governs the registration of certain marks within the EU, as to whether the registered mark would be considered invalid under the Directive.

The first question posed to the Court sought to clarify "[d]oes the ground for refusal or invalidity in [the Directive], namely that [three-dimensional] trade marks may not consist exclusively of a shape which results from the nature of the goods themselves, refer to a shape which is indispensable to the function of the goods, or can it also refer to the presence of one or more substantial functional characteristics of goods which consumers may possibly looks for in the goods of competitors?" The question poses, in more simplistic terms, the conundrum of whether the grounds for refusal would encompass either a three-dimensional shape. which is indispensable to the function of the item and exclusively being only that shape, or would it include the functional shape of the item containing one or more parts that are integral to the function of that item, which consumers find desirable in that type of item.

The Court quickly clarified that, for a shape to be ineligible to be registered, due to the shape resulting from the nature of the goods themselves (Article 3), the shape has to be one which would unduly prevent competitors from using a similar shape, effectively giving a monopoly for similar items; or to put in better terms: "...[the Article's aim is to] prevent trade mark protection from granting its proprietor a monopoly on technical solutions or functional characteristics of a product which a user is likely to seek in the products of competitors".  This also applies to efforts in extending protection through trademarks to subject matters, which should be protected through other means (e.g. patents), or have been exhausted prior to the mark's registration. In the end, the Court poignantly answered the first question: "...[the] directive must be interpreted as meaning that the ground for refusal of registration set out in that provision may apply to a sign which consists exclusively of the shape of a product with one or more essential characteristics which are inherent to the generic function or functions of that product and which consumers may be looking for in the products of competitors"; meaning a trademark cannot claim a monopoly on e.g. adjustable children's chairs, through registering that functional shape as a trademark.

Kids should not be placed on all traps.
The second question referred to the Court necessitated the assessment of whether a registered sign, consisting of several elements adding value to the product itself, much like the changeable pieces of the Tripp Trapp chair. Value does not, by itself, only mean aesthetic qualities, and the distinction between aesthetic and functional can often be blurry as well. The Court saw that the Directive must be interpreted "...as meaning that the ground for refusal of registration set out in that provision may apply to a sign which consists exclusively of the shape of a product with several characteristics each of which may give that product substantial value. The target public’s perception of the shape of that product is only one of the assessment criteria which may be used to determine whether that ground for refusal is applicable". The public's perception of the mark is not the sole deciding factor, as was seen by the Court, but is one of a number of factors, such as ones described by the Attorney General: "...such as the nature of the category of goods concerned, the artistic value of the shape in question, its dissimilarity from other shapes in common use on the market concerned, a substantial price difference in relation to similar products, and the development of a promotion strategy which focuses on accentuating the aesthetic characteristics of the product in question". Whether a mark would be rejected as only adding substantial value to the item is a case-by-case assessment, with no clear deciding criteria as the only guidelines in this question.

Finally, the Court faced its third question, essentially asking whether a mark can be rejected based on a combination of the first and third indent in the Article (questions one and two, respectively, deal with the first and then the third indent). The Court put things bluntly, as, even from a prima facie assessment, the three indents are wholly separate from each other, and thus operate differently in each given argument. If a product fails over one indent, it will fail overall; an assessment based on the two other indents is wholly irrelevant past that point, and failing in more than one indent will not make the invalidity any more serious - the mark will fail either way. In the end the question of whether Stokke's mark will fail is up to the Dutch courts, as the answer has since been sent back for a final decision.

The Directive has been applied to domestic UK legislation, within the Trade Marks Act 1994, and thus is fully relevant within a UK scheme of things. In the United States the protection of three-dimensional marks falls under trade dress (defined in 15 USC 1127), and is more mailable than legislation applying purely to registered trademarks.

Overall the world of 3D marks is interesting, but a question filled with a lot of uncertainties. As the regime is not in place to protect patentable subject matter, or even registerable designs, the provisions serve as a protective means for items falling outside of those regimes. Whether a registrant would be successful depends largely on the mark for which protection is sought for, and is an assessment done on a case-by-case basis, with no clear bright line rules to follow.

Source: JDSupra

12 January, 2015

Names and IP Law - Do You Have a Right to Use Your Name?

Your name is a part of who you are, your own identity, and for a lot of people, a very important indicator of their history and origin. As such, a name carries immense weight and importance to some, even if it is 'generic' such as Smith or Johnson. Often it is simply easy, and identifiable, to start trading under your own name when you start a business, e.g. Ihalainen LLP (I'm a dreamer, what can I say), but should your name conflict with a well-known brand, such as McDonald's, the use of your own name can be tricky. This begs the question: can you use your own name when doing business, or should you refrain from it outright, especially if a more well-known brand uses that very same name in its business?

In the UK a person can use their own name in conjunction with their business under the Trade Marks Act 1994, through the implementation of EU Directive 2008/95/EC, so far as the use "...is in accordance with honest practices in industrial or commercial matters". On the face of it this entails the use of your name, such as Ihalainen LLP, even if there is an existing Ihalainen Ltd with registered trademarks over the name. The name, however, does have to be distinctive in its use as a trademark, irrespective of its unique characteristics (i.e. Ihalainen clearly is more unique in an Anglo setting vis-a-vis a Finnish setting). Surprisingly, at least from a prima facie assessment, the provision applies equally to corporate names, not just natural persons' names.

People, and businesses, can be hurt by mistaken names
One still has to remember that the defense only applies to a bona fide use of one's name in their business, and adopting a name that clearly infringes a well-established and famous mark will not be overlooked only because the person has the very same name. As was stated by Lord Justice Gibson in Asprey & Garrard Ltd v WRA (Guns) Ltd: "...the defence has never been held to apply to names of new companies as otherwise a route to piracy would be obvious". Clearly one can appreciate that the position of the Court of Appeal in the case is correct; however should an individual trade under their own name, at the same time or prior, as one that is well-known, the defense clearly applies, as they have not sought to use the name to illegitimately gain from its notoriety. Even if the use of the name is honest from a subjective point of view, the use might still not fall under the defense, as was elaborated by Lord Justice Gibson further in the case: "I would add that however honest his subjective intentions may be, any use of his own name which amounts to passing off cannot be in accordance with honest practice in industrial or commercial matters".

A similar provision exists in the United States under 15 USC section 1115, through which a defense is given if the "...use of the name, term, or device charged to be an infringement is a use, otherwise than as a mark, of the party’s individual name in his own business, or of the individual name of anyone in privity with such party, or of a term or device which is descriptive of and used fairly and in good faith only to describe the goods or services of such party, or their geographic origin". This affords someone protection over the use of their own name in business, although with a similar caveat as to its proper and bona fide use. This view is generally accepted within the common law, with similar provisions existing under the Australian Trade Marks Act 1995 and the Canadian Trade-Marks Act.

The defense described above does not detract from the contestable requirements of registering a trademark, and as said above, a name still has to fulfill all requirements for a valid trademark. Should the name used not be distinctive enough it clearly will not merit protection, and potentially will not be registrable from the outset.

Source: JDSupra

02 January, 2015

Can You Patent Embryonic Stem Cells? - The ECJ Ends the Fight, For Now

As was discussed quite extensively on this very blog some months ago, the genesis of human life and its formidable times are a topic riddled with controversy and a myriad of viewpoints, yet the topic has not come to contention much in the judiciary. Since the opinion of Attorney General Villalon, discussed by this very writer in the link above, the actual decision of the European Court of Justice has been anticipated by many, especially in light of the potential future of stem cell research in the EU. The ECJ's decision is hugely important in a world-wide context, potentially seeing a precedent which will either hinder or enable other similar jurisdictions to allow or disallow similar patents, even in light of the Myriad Genetics saga in the US.

The case in question, International Stem Cell Corporation v Comptroller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, for the uninitiated, deals with two patent applications, filed by the International Stem Cell Corporation, relating to stem cells; more specifically "...methods of producing pluripotent human stem cell lines from parthenogenetically-activated oocytes and stem cell lines produced according to the claimed methods, and... the isolation of pluripotent stem cells from parthenogenetically-activated oocytes, and product-by-process claims to synthetic cornea or corneal tissue produced by these methods". To put things into more simplistic terms, the applications (GB0621068.6 and GB0621069.4) relate to the usability of stem cells or their production from oocytes (female egg cells). A more detailed expression of the facts and the prior judgments can be found in this writer's article discussing the Attorney General's opinion.

A parent's dream, endless potential (Source: Bizarro Comics)

The Court was therefore faced with the same question posed to the Attorney General: "...whether Article 6(2)(c) of Directive 98/44 must be interpreted as meaning that an unfertilised human ovum whose division and development to a certain stage have been stimulated by parthenogenesis constitutes a ‘human embryo’ within the meaning of that provision" and be unpatentable under the Directive. The interpretation of the Article in question hinges heavily, as discussed by the Attorney General, on the ECJ's earlier decision in Oliver Brüstle v Greenpeace, where the Court saw that "...any human ovum must, as soon as fertilised, be regarded as a ‘human embryo’ within the meaning and for the purposes of the application of Article... since that fertilisation is such as to commence the process of development of a human being". This is a key distinction, as the cells in ISCC's applications would not be capable of development into a human being. Even with this in mind the Court saw that "...a non-fertilised human ovum must be classified as a ‘human embryo’" as the cells, when harvested, are still capable of being fertilized and possess the potential to develop into a human foeatus, thus falling within the meaning of a 'human embryo'.

The Attorney General saw things differently in his interpretation of the law, and the Court in the case in hand agreed with him: "...a non-fertilised human ovum must necessarily have the inherent capacity of developing into a human being" to fall under the definition of a 'human embryo', contrary to Brüstle. ISCC's patents cover the use of cells in a state where they cannot possibly be fertilized and multiply, thus not, under the Court's current considerations, be classified as a 'human ebryo', and be exempt from patenting. The Court then summarized its position very well: "...where a non-fertilised human ovum does not fulfil that condition, the mere fact that that organism commences a process of development is not sufficient for it to be regarded as a ‘human embryo’... [and] [b]y contrast, where such an ovum does have the inherent capacity of developing into a human being, it should... be treated in the same way as a fertilised human ovum, at all stages of its development".

In the end the ECJ rejected the notion that ISCC's patents would encompass a 'human embryo', and accepted the patenting of stem cells, so long as they are truly incapable of development, either inherently or through genetic manipulation (which ISCC indicated it would be doing to the cells in their applications). What this decision demonstrates is a much more open approach to patenting stem cells, and in this writer's opinion, represtents a healthy and morally correct approach to stem cells and patents, especially in light of potential future developments in the field and a correct application of the law. 

Whether the courts will face any new cases dealing with different, potentially more nuanced and 'grey' approaches to stem cells or genetics in general in the future remains to be seen, but the potential dvelopment in the area is exciting, both from a human perspective and a legal one as well. 

Source: IPKat