22 December, 2016

A Big Bite of the Apple - Supreme Court Decides the Fate of Design Patents

The two titans of technology, Apple and Samsung, have fought long and hard over many aspects of intellectual property law, especially ones relating to the design of the (now ancient, at least in smartphone terms) iPhone. The two companies have fought legal battles all over the world since 2011, with varying results for both parties. After a monstrous $1.05 billion award of damages to Apple in earlier cases by a jury, the matter ended up with the Supreme Court, who were destined to look at an aspect of design patents often overlooked by the judiciary, even if it was merely from a damages perspective. The Supreme Court handed down its judgment in early December.

The case of Samsung Electronics Co. v Apple Inc., dealt with design patents owned by Apple on aspects of the iPhone, in particular a black rectangular design (D618,677), the same with a bezel on a surrounding rim (D593,087), and a colourful grid of 16 icons on a black screen (D604,305). Samsung employed similar design aspects in its various smartphones (including the Galaxy S line), and Apple took them to court for infringement in the aforementioned design patents. What the Supreme Court were tasked to determine was the infringement, and subsequent award for damages for infringement, under section 289 of the US Patent Act.
The above section provides a remedy for damages when "[a] person who manufactures or sells “any article of manufacture to which [a patented] design or colorable imitation has been applied shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit". While this is more straightforward in instances of whole infringement of a simple, single article, it is more difficult, as admitted by Justice Sotomayor (handing down the Court's unanimous judgment), in cases with complex, multi-component items and subsequent profits using the infringing elements.
Complexity comes with a need for introspection
What remains key is the liability for the infringing articles where the designs have been applied, which has been traditionally set at "…the extent of his total profit, but not less than $250". This then means you have to initially identify the 'article of manufacture' to which the infringed design has been applied, and then calculate the infringer's total profit made on that article of manufacture.  The Court therefore had to decide "…whether, in the case of a multicomponent product, the relevant “article of manufacture” must always be the end product sold to the consumer or whether it can also be a component of that product". This would either enable the patent holder to claim all profits made by selling the Samsung smartphones (i.e. the whole phone), or restrict the damages that can be claimed (i.e. only allowing damages for the particular designs used, and not the whole phone) by the rightsholder.

The Supreme Court left quite a bit unanswered in relation to the question of when an article of manufacture would be the whole product, or simply a component thereof, which, at least to this writer's mind, is a huge part of this matter and many others involving complex technology. Arguably, as the decision will be sent to the Federal Court for a rethink, the lower rungs will have to fill this space; however, there is a chance that an agreement will not be reached (yet again) by the lower courts, and the Supreme Court will have to address this matter in the future.

Justice Sotomayor saw that, after a simple reading of the term 'article of manufacture' that it would encompass both an individual component of a product, or the product as a whole. Design patents can be acquired for both, and while a component has to be embodied in an article, the designs can themselves only cover those components.p
The Supreme Court ended up saying very little in their judgment, and the future of design patents, especially in the smart device space, will remain very unclear. Whether the Federal Court comes up with a good test for the above remains to be seen, but this writer for one thinks the Supreme Court should've added more meat to their decision. Although they did highlight some issues with the parties' briefs, one would have concieved that some more guidance was to be given. Either way, the decision is important, and sets the scene for Apple and Samsung to compete more for the future of their devices and their designs.

Source: IPKat

06 December, 2016

As Clear as Grey - Sale of 'Grey' Goods a Criminal Offense in the UK

The sale of counterfeit goods is a touchy subject, and definitely an issue that many rightsholders are attempting to tackle head on, particularly in the context of the Internet (a good example is the recent Cartier litigation, more on which here and here). Added to this is also the "grey" market, meaning items obtained from duly licenced factories; however, bought without the authorization of the original licensor. This is, as the name indicates, a grey area within the law, and whether the sale of 'grey' goods is actually an offense under the law remains unclear. While arguments can be thrown back and forth, a recent case in the Court of Appeal set to decide the criminal ramifications of the sale of 'grey' goods in the UK, on which the Court handed down its judgment early last month.

The case of R v C & Ors dealt with a limited liability company that sold shoes and clothing, the operation of which included several different defendants. In the course of their business, the defendants sold branded goods, such as Ralph Lauren, Adidas and Under Armor, attained from sources outside of the EU, both from factories that were and were not authorized by the original rightsholder (and subsequently sold without their authorization in both instances). The goods sold included "...goods which had been part of an order placed with an authorised manufacturer by the trade mark proprietor but then cancelled; goods part of a batch whose manufacture had been authorised but which, after manufacture, were rejected as not being of sufficient standard; or goods manufactured, pursuant to an order, with authority but in excess of the required amount" (none of the categories had been confirmed by the prosecution). None of the goods sold were a part of any authorized batches of produced goods or parallel imports. The parties were taken to court for the contravention of section 92 of the Trade Marks Act 1994. 

Counterfeit Criminals Countered by Caped Crusader
Having set the legislative scene for trademarks in general, the Court moved onto dealing with the criminal aspect of the case. What section 92 sets out is that a person commits a criminal offense if they, either causing loss or aiming to gain from, use trademarks on goods and sell them, or uses the same marks for advertising or packaging in general. While the provision is very similar to that of trademark infringement (a civil offense), what distinguishes the criminal aspect is the mental state of the infringer, i.e. that the act has to be done "with a view" to gain or cause loss. AS established by previous cases, there is clear overlap, and a criminal offense under section 92 cannot happen without civil infringement as well.

The defense tried to separate the application of the mark by an authorized licensee on the goods from ones where it was done by an unauthorized entity. The Court rejected this position as patently false. According to the Court, the wording in the provision does not support this line of argument. In particular, the Court highlighted the lack of implied consent on the part of the authorizing entity for the brands applied on the goods, especially in the case of 'grey' goods. Their sale was not, through the licensing of the marks, authorized to unauthorized third-parties.

The final argument put forth by the appellants was that of ambiguity, and required clarification on Parliament's intention. The Court swiftly dispatched with the argument, deeming that the language of section 92 was perfectly clear and required no discussion of Parliamentary debates as to its meaning. While the discussions in Parliament were often lacking in detail as to the meaning of a 'counterfeit' (i.e. would it include 'grey' goods), the Court still considered that "...Trade mark violation gravely undermines the value of a brand and affects legitimate trade. The very fact of a cheap sale of a an unauthorised branded item can both dupe a customer and diminish the market and overall value of the trade mark, in terms of perception of quality and exclusivity. In some cases moreover (for example, electrical goods or toys) very real issues of public health and safety can arise where the goods are fake or, even if originally manufactured with the trade mark proprietor's authorisation, are then rejected as sub-standard but nevertheless sold on without authorisation". Due to this potential impact on the brand and public safety, the sale of 'grey' goods would therefore be detrimental in a multitude of ways, and should be protected by criminal sanctions. The Court did concede that the definition of 'grey' goods does potentially raise issues with parallel imports, but discussion on this was kept limited, as it did not apply to the case at hand.

The Court of Appeal ultimately considered that the sale of grey goods could amount to a criminal offense under section 92.

The case is a very important one, especially as a reminder to those who wish to import goods from outside the EU, and don't do their due diligence as to their origin and legitimacy. Businesses would need to be careful and verify that the products sold would be fully authorized, even for sale if bought directly from the factory itself. This writer would hesitate to wager that the case will have major implications to businesses importing branded goods from abroad, since the courts are reluctant to push criminal prosecution, even in parallel importation matters; however, one needs to be careful to dismiss the possibility outright.

25 November, 2016

All Checked Out - CJEU Decides on e-Lending of Books by Libraries

As previously discussed on this very blog, the issue of e-lending has come up in the European courts recently, specifically relating to whether it is allowed under EU law. While one would think the question is quite straight-forward, especially when specific restrictions have been put in place to prevent any abuse, the matter isn't necessarily answered in one word. Advocate General Szpunar handed down his opinion during the Summer, with many awaiting the ultimate decision of the CJEU; however, the wait is now over, and the Court has handed down its judgment on the future of e-lending a couple of weeks ago.

By way of a brief exposition for those who have not read the previous article above, the case of Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken v Stichting Leenrecht dealt with the lending of electronic copies of books by libraries in the Netherlands, and the remuneration of collection societies in the country for those activities (given for the lending of physical books). Per government policy, e-lending did not fall under the legislation entitling the authors to be remunerated for the lending of their works, but this was disputed by Stichting Leenrecht, ultimately ending up in the CJEU.

The Court dealt with each question posed by Stichting Leenrecht in turn.

The first question posed, as summarized by the Court, asked "...whether Article 1(1), Article 2(1)(b) and Article 6(1) of Directive 2006/115 [Lending Right Directive] must be interpreted as meaning that the concept of ‘lending’, within the meaning of those provisions, covers the lending of a digital copy of a book".

The Court looked at whether the legislation would cover both electronic copies of books, and the concept of 'lending' could apply to the same. They concluded that, after considering all the applicable authorities, that "...intangible objects and non-fixed copies, such as digital copies, must be excluded from the rental right, governed by Directive 2006/115, so as not to be in breach of the agreed statement annexed to the WIPO Treaty, neither that treaty nor that agreed statement preclude the concept of ‘lending’, within the meaning of that directive, from being interpreted, where appropriate, as also including certain lending carried out digitally". The Lending Right Directive expressly applied to physical books, and thus excluded electronic copies of the same; however, the concept of lending under Article 2(1)(a) of the Directive applied to a more abstract, open interpretation of rights (rather than a right, potentially restricting it to only one form), allowing for the inclusion of digital copies as well as their physical counterparts.

This applies to considerations that the Directive should adapt to "...new economic developments such as new forms of exploitation", and clearly the exclusion of any future forms of media would be short-sighted and undesired, and would limit the protection offered to authors through copyright. The Court also considered the derogation from the rights afforded in the Directive by Member States, and concluded that it could potentially apply in order to protect the public interests underlying the lending of books through libraries.

Also the library of the future?
The Court summarized their findings in relation to question one as "...[the texts of the Articles above] must be interpreted as meaning that the concept of ‘lending’, within the meaning of those provisions, covers the lending of a digital copy of a book, where that lending is carried out by placing that copy on the server of a public library and allowing a user to reproduce that copy by downloading it onto his own computer, bearing in mind that only one copy may be downloaded during the lending period and that, after that period has expired, the downloaded copy can no longer be used by that user". The restrictions set a clear dividing line between lending and selling and/or distribution of the content, since this makes it very much akin to that of lending a physical book.

They then moved onto the second question dealt with the possibility of derogating under Article 6(1) of the Directive, and subjecting it to the condition that the digital copy of a book made available by the public library must have been put into circulation by a first sale or other transfer of ownership of that copy in the European Union by the holder of the right of distribution to the public or with his consent. Quickly dealing with the second question, the Court saw that Article 6 did not preclude Member States from making the application of the provision subject to the above condition, since the condition would reduce the risks of prejudicing the authors of those works.

This was followed by the third question, which asked whether Article 6 precludes "...the public lending exception laid down [in Article 6(1)] from applying to the making available by a public library of a digital copy of a book in the case where that copy was obtained from an unlawful source". Even though the Article is quiet on the legitimacy of the sources of those works, the Court dismissed the possibility, as this would "...amount to tolerating, or even encouraging, the circulation of counterfeit or pirated works and would therefore clearly run counter to [the] objective". This makes perfect sense, since the allowance of the use of illegal copies would be tantamount to legalising copyright infringement, at least in cases such as this. Article 6 therefore was seen to preclude the above possibility.

The Court deemed the fourth question to not require an answer.

The case is a very positive step towards accepting and embracing technological change, whether it is in the context of libraries or the use of digital content as a whole. The decision also leaves quite a bit of wiggle room for Member States to implement the Lending Right Directive, which allows for a more nuanced control of copyright protected works in e-lending.

Source: IPKat

16 November, 2016

A New Era - What Does the Donald Trump Presidency Potentially Mean for IP?

Now that the dust has settled in the long and arduous process that is the American presidential race, it is time to look ahead to the future and the possible implications of the Donald Trump presidency. While it can be appreciated that the next 4 (or even 8) years will be ones of change one way or the other, this writer is not concerned with the wider implications, but only of those impacting intellectual property law. The 45th president's particular focus on this area of law still remains very murky; however, his position has been stated in some amount of press and campaign materials, which will form a basis for this discussion.

In his own policy manifesto for his campaign, Mr Trump set out that he will "...use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes if China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets - including the application of tariffs consistent with Section 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962". Clearly his approach echoes largely a trade-based plan, rather than the change of laws and regulations surrounding IP in the United States. Arguably, these are quite strong deterrents for the infringement of intellectual property rights in China, but these measures have had little effect before due to the massive presence of Chinese manufacturing in the world stage (although the country has taken significant steps forward to better enforce IP rights). Recent changes to the Chinese IP law landscape have possibly mitigated the current issues highlighted by the Trump campaign, but this will undoubtedly not deter him should the president want to go after China in a more direct fashion.

Aside from legislative or policy changes, his 100 day plan encompasses withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the renegotiation of bilateral trade agreements, many of which will touch on IP in one way or another. This will have drastic effects on US trade relations, but the implications for IP will be minimal.

The face of an uncertain future for IP
Some have argued that, per his close ties to the entertainment industry, that copyright regulations would be tightened and copyright enforcement made stricter, with higher sentencing and easier claims by rightsholders (in this writer's thinking anyway). Similarly, his position on copyright might impact the regulation of the Internet, with broad-ranging implications should it be used as a weapon to combat against those who infringe copyright online. Overall Donald Trump has been quite quiet in his views on intellectual property and what his concrete plans are during his presidency.

This can be compared with Hillary Clinton's Initiative on Technology & Innovation, which set out a myriad of action points in this sphere, but specifically targeted copyright as a sub-point. In her initiative she set out to "...modernize the copyright system through reforms that facilitate access to out-of-print and orphan works, while protecting the innovation incentives in the system.  It should also promote open-licensing arrangements for copyrighted material supported by federal grant funding". Her plan seemed to focus more on accessibility than enforcement, but echoes vagueness, as expected in a political campaign. Similarly, she aimed to take on patents with "...reforms to the patent system to reduce excessive patent litigation and strengthen the capacity of the Patent and Trademark Office". Clearly this was to reduce frivolous patent litigation by patent trolls, but more particular reforms were left to be sorted if she were ultimately elected. Mrs Clinton was overall much more up-front with her plans and vision for IP, but even so it left much to decipher as to what might actually happen, rather than what might.

As one can appreciate the future developments of this coming presidency are unknown, and while candidates often give indications as to their stances or policy intentions, these don't necessarily stick once they reach the Oval Office. This writer will remain optimistic, but does wonder whether a more pro-rightsholder position will become the norm, with a clear reduction in fair use and other legitimate uses of copyright materials, especially in an online environment. Odds are the trajectory that IP legislation was already headed will most likely remain the same irrespective of who the president is, as a swooping overhaul of this would lead to too much uncertainty and possibly a negative impact in IP and innovation as a whole (with the rapid pace of technological development making things even worse if not kept up with). While the media has calmed down after the election, it will surely be quite the next 4 years to come.

10 November, 2016

Ringing Hollow - Ringtone Trademark Rejected by EU General Court

Since the introduction of the new Trade Mark Regulation No 2015/2424, this writer for one has been awaiting the inevitable landslide of unusual trademark registrations, particularly for sounds and even smells. While this rush has yet to materialize, some attempts have been made, and quite recently one of those applications ended up in the EU General Court. This writer laments his lateness in relation to this case; however, it is interesting enough to have to be discussed even a month or two after the fact.

The case of Globo Comunicação e Participações S/A v EUIPO concerned the registration of a mobile phone ringtone by Globo for goods and services in classes 9, 16, 38 and 41, covering a wide array of tangible and intangible goods (the musical notation for the sound can be viewed here). The mark was rejected by both the Examiner and the Board of Appeal for a lack of distinctive character under Article Article 7(1)(b) of the old Trade Mark Regulation No 207/2009. The matter was subsequently appealed to the General Court, who handed down their judgment in mid-September.

The first matter dealt with by the General Court was a simple procedural point, where Globo argued that no reasons were given by the Board of Appeal as to why the mark was rejected under Article 7(1)(b). While the Court acknowledged that the Board of Appeal does have a requirement to state their reasons for rejecting a mark, this was not omitted in the case at hand, as the reasons issued (namely on the banality of the sign with regard to the relevant goods or services) and their correlation with the classes was clearly given, even if regarding all of the classes of goods as a whole. A single conclusion did not result in reasons only being given to one class, but all classes summarily.

The Court then moved onto the meat of the matter, namely whether the mark infringed Article 7(1)(b) through a lack of distinctive character. Globo argued that, contrary to previous findings, the brevity or the simplicity of the sound in question should not impact the assessment of its distinctive character. 

Some combinations of notes are a little less simple
As with 'traditional' marks, the assessment of distinctive character is based on the goods or services in respect of which registration of the mark is sought and to the relevant public’s perception of that mark. While this is much more straightforward in word or image marks, as observed by the Court: "...although the public is used to perceiving word or figurative marks as signs which identify the commercial origin of goods and services, the same is not necessarily true when the sign consists solely of a sound element". Arguably it is much more difficult to build an association with a sound, but a good example of a an arguable successful campaign to do so is the whistle adopted by McDonald's in their TV advertising.

The unfamiliarity of peoples' perceptions on sound marks is also added to by the classes of goods or services the mark is registered for. The use of sound marks in TV, for example, would lead to a much higher likelihood of consumer identification and association, while physical media does not lend itself to this perception. The Court explained that "...as regards certain goods and services linked, in particular, first, to tools for communicating or entertaining by means of television broadcasting or radio broadcasting and to telephony and, secondly, to IT media, computer software or to the media sector in general, sound elements, such as jingles or melodies, are used in order to enable the product or service at issue to be identified aurally as coming from a particular undertaking". Consumers would therefore have to perceive the sound as indicating a particular brand of goods or services via these mediums.

The Court found that, a sound that only consists of merely a banal combination of notes would not be perceived as referring to any particular brand, as it would cause a 'mirror effect', meaning it only refers back to itself. Following this, the General Court considered whether the sound in the mark in question would be distinctive, and found that it isn't, as the simple two note combination would only "...be perceived by the relevant public only as a mere function of the goods and services covered and not as an indication of their commercial origin". This was further exasperated by the excessive simplicity (only sounding like an alarm or a telephone ringing) and only therefore refers to itself, rather than the goods or services in was applied for. The Court concluded that the Board of Appeal did not err in their findings and dismissed the appeal.

The case shows the difficulty in the registration of simple sound marks, especially ones that are not 'jingle-like', i.e. serve as a longer, more distinctive part of a product or show for example. It will be interesting to see how the change in the requiremet of graphical representation changes things; however, as the sound was played in court, it seems unlikely that the addition of a playable example would sway the pendulum the other way.

Source: Ars Technica

02 November, 2016

Before the Supreme Court - Copyright Protection of the Design of Uniforms in the US Court of Appeal

In the light of the pending US Supreme Court decision regarding copyright protection in the design of cheerleaders' uniforms, this writer thought it would be good to set the scene for the decision by discussing the decision handed down by the Court of Appeal. The judiciary rarely takes on design copyright cases, as often their value is negligible or protection is not even sought (especially in the US where copyright registration is an important part of IP).

The case of Varsity Brands Inc. v Star Athletica LLC dealt with the design of a cheerleader uniform, comprising of several different designs, incorporating various colors that divide the uniform into specific shapes and segments (visible here). The designs themselves were of non-functional nature, and were only intended to be of aesthetic value. The original works were produced and sold by Varsity Brands, who noticed that a competitor, Star Athletica, also sold similar outfits in competition with Varsity's uniforms, and took the company to court for copyright infringement and a number of other civil claims in competition.

The Court of Appeal first took on the issue of whether Star Athletica has infringed Varsity Brands' copyright in the uniforms; the designs for which have been successfully registered at the US Copyright Office. After lengthy discussions, the Court did agree that successful registration at the Copyright Office could offer prima facie, although rebuttable, protection and acceptance of copyright in a given work. Star Athletica did, however, argue that the designs were in themselves useful article, and thus not protectable by copyright. The designs therefore would need to be "…identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article" for copyright protection to be afforded.
What amounts to a useful article is an article that has a utilitarian function that is not there merely to convey the appearance of the article (i.e. for aesthetic reasons). Following the above, the Court established that this would be determined by a two-prong test: "…first, whether the design for which the author seeks copyright protection is a 'design of a useful article,' and if so, second, whether the design of the useful article 'incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the [useful] article'".
Alan's Halloween outfit was totally non-functional
The Court then turned to the first prong of the test on separability, meaning that the article would not be a useful one, but only conveys the items appearance.  As illustrated by the Court's discussion, both appellate and first instance courts have struggled to formulate a concise and uniform approach in determining what would amount to a 'useful article'. The Court moved on to applying what they considered to be the correct approach, which would be applying a number of questions based on the Copyright Act itself. These questions are effectively to ask whether the design is "…a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work", and if so, whether the design is a useful article within the definition above. The Court would then have to ask "…[w]hat are the utilitarian aspects of the useful article", which can include several aspects (for example, aesthetic, functional and non-functional elements).
Once the Court has identified the relevant utilitarian aspects of the design, it would then finally move onto assessing whether "…the viewer of the design [can] identify pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features separately from... the utilitarian aspects of the useful article", and if these features could exist separately from the design itself (i.e. are removable from the design and don't impact its functionality). If either one, or both, of the final questions fails, the design is not protected by copyright.
The Court subsequently moved onto its consideration of the copyright protection for Varsity Brands' designs. They quickly answered the first two questions in the affirmative, expanding on the second question that the designs, represented in sketches of the uniforms, have an "intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of [clothing] or to convey information". They then set out the particular utilitarian aspects of the designs, which were to "cover the body, wick away moisture, and withstand the rigors of athletic movements". The Court rejected Star Athletica's assertion that the uniforms, through a decorative function, would not be copyrightable, as, rightfully so, this would cause artworks and other similar works to not be protected by copyright by virtue of their decorative function
Finally, the Court sought to answer the final two questions. In determining the separability of the pictorial, graphic or sculptural features (particularly the arrangement of stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and color-blocking), the Court saw that they could indeed be separated, as they do not enhance the uniform's functionality, and the uniforms remain fully identifiable even in the absence of this stylisation due to its distinctive shape. Additionally, purchasers would be able to distinguish each style from each other, and choose accordingly, making the designs separate and individual and therefore protectable. Even so, would they still exist independently of the utilitarian aspects of the uniforms, even if separable? The Court said yes, as the features could be incorporated into a number of garment styles, even if they are not meant for cheerleaders (meaning the designs are transferable), and do not affect the uniform's functionality for those purposes even if used or not. Following the answers to the questions the Court ultimately determined that the designs were copyrightable.

The Court distinguished this from the design of a dress, which, through its shape rather than a mere graphical addition adorning its surface, as its shape, cut and other features are "…inextricably connected with the utilitarian aspects of clothing" and thus can't be identified separately. This illustrates the difference in protectability for fabric designs and dress designs.

As is clear the US courts desperately need a unifying precedent to determine what the correct test is in relation to useful articles and the extent of copyright protection thereof. The Supreme Court's decision is still forthcoming, and this writer will be curious to see whether they follow the Court of Appeal's test, or formulate a different one entirely.

25 October, 2016

Used Treasures - CJEU Sets Limits on the Resale of Copyright Works

Resale of goods, particularly those protected by copyright, has been a question that the courts have been tackling for a long time. This is further exasperated by the online environment, where the sale and use of sold products or software is ever-more elusive, with the actual exhaustion of any rights (particularly in the sale of the protected goods) is unclear. For rightsholders, exhaustion of rights can often seem like having your cake and eating it, while those seeking to benefit from it perceive it as more of a possibility to create a second-hand market in the online environment. Not often discussed, cases dealing directly with exhaustion seem to be far and few between; however, the Court of Justice of the EU recently took on a case dealing with a question that is important in the context of software exhaustion.

The case of Aleksandrs Ranks and Jurijs Vasiļevičs v Finanšu un ekonomisko noziegumu izmeklēšanas prokoratūra and Microsoft Corp deals with two Latvian individuals who sold Microsoft software products online during 2001 to 2004. The Court estimated that over 3,000 copies had been sold, with the pair making revenues nearing $300,000 during that time. Mr Ranks and Vasiļevičs were subsequently charged with a number of infringement claims, and having gone through the courts in Latvia, the matter ultimately ended up in the CJEU, particularly dealing with questions surrounding the exhaustion of rights in the aforementioned software products.

The Court, dealing with the two referred question together, summarized the matter as asking "…the interpretation of Article 4(2) of Directive 2009/24 [Software Directive], establishing the rule of exhaustion of the copyright holder’s distribution right, and of Article 5(1) and (2) of [the Directive], laying down exceptions to that rightholder’s exclusive right of reproduction, must be interpreted as referring to the equivalent provisions of Directive 91/250 [Computer Programs Directive], namely Article 4(c) thereof, on the one hand, and Article 4(a) and Article 5(1) and (2) thereof, on the other". Effectively the questions seek to establish whether the exhaustion of rights after their first sale under the Software Directive is interpreted as meaning the same equivalent provision as set out in the Computer Programs Directive.

Having discussed the admissibility of the claim overall, allowing for them to be referred to the CJEU, the Court first looked at the actual concept of exhaustion.

For exhaustion to apply to the right to distribute computer programs in the EU it is is subject to two conditions: "...(i) the copy must have been placed on the market and, more specifically, sold by the rightholder or with his consent, and (ii) it must have been placed on the market in the European Union". Sale in itself means the sale of a program for an unlimited period in return for a fee to remunerate the rightsholder for the distribution of that particular program. While the Court has clearly established that, at least in most cases, the sale applies to physical copies of the programs only; the case at hand discussed the resale of electronic copies, and thus would be outside of the prima facie remit of the provisions.

Even Santa has to resell some things
The Court followed this with observations that, although the provisions above discuss 'a copy' of the program, no particular medium is specified, and, following the decision in UsedSoft, the law "...makes no distinction according to the tangible or intangible form of the copy in question". The sale then clearly applies irrespective of the medium of the program, as long as it has been initially sold in the EU lawfully. The reseller can, therefore, resell a copy of a program provided that "…[the] sale does not adversely affect the rightholder’s exclusive reproduction right".

Mr Ranks and Vasiļevičs also argued that the rule would allow for the resale of computer programs stored on a non-original medium (i.e. electronically rather than on a CD or DVD, for example) if the original medium has been damaged. While Article 5 of the Computer Program Directive allows for the making of back-up copies, the exception is limited to instances where "… That copy… (i) [is] made by a person having a right to use that program and (ii) [is] necessary for that use". Clearly, the resale of 'back-up' copies would not fall under Article 5, even if the original copy has been damaged. The CJEU followed this rationale, establishing that a copy cannot be resold even if the original medium has been damaged, and can only be used to meet the sole needs of the person who made that back-up copy.

Although UsedSoft established that the purchaser of a legal electronic copy of a computer program does have the right to resell their copy (and the rights were exhausted as a result of that initial sale), this can be distinguished from the resale of a back-up copy, since the back-up would not have been the item that was originally sold (which was the tangible copy) and exhaustion would not, arguably, apply. Has the individuals purchased the copies from Microsoft legally from their website, they potentially could have had the right to resell the copies.

In the end the CJEU summarized their decision as "… that Article 4(a) and (c) and Article 5(1) and (2) of Directive 91/250 must be interpreted as meaning that, although the initial acquirer of a copy of a computer program accompanied by an unlimited user licence is entitled to resell that copy and his licence to a new acquirer, he may not, however, in the case where the original material medium of the copy that was initially delivered to him has been damaged, destroyed or lost, provide his back-up copy of that program to that new acquirer without the authorisation of the rightholder".

The resale of computer programs is a very thorny topic, as one can see, and the resolution the CJEU came up with seems to make the most sense. This allows for the resale of genuine copies of programs, yet reserves the rights to only those with a bona fide interest in doing so, rather than a mere opportunistic view for quick monetary gains. The limitation of the resale of back-up copies also makes sense, since, as the original program was bought in a tangible medium, the original seller's view couldn't have been one that allows for the resale of any back-up copies (especially since back-ups, by nature, are for the user and no one else as a means to access their programs in the event of damage or loss to the CD/DVD). It will be interesting to see whether this case spawns more litigation; however, this writer seems to be quite skeptical of this, due to the complexity and lack of benefit to those who'd pursue this avenue more vigorously.

19 October, 2016

In the Shadows - A Silhouette Image is Not a Registrable Trademark, Says EU General Court

Images can evoke powerful feelings, associations and preconceptions, especially when paired with particular goods that aim to enhance our lives or even our own well-being. With the health supplement market reaching a staggering $19 billion in 2015, even a small slice of that pie can make any product a huge success monetarily. As the market has grown this competitive, so have the efforts of product manufacturers to distinguish their goods from the rest, including through the use of trademarks and distinctive names. As the products are often, arguably at least, quite similar in functionality and marketing, can one expect to register something simple as, say the silhouette of a body builder, in conjunction with protein supplements? In a recent decision the EU General Court aimed to tackle this problem, and to potentially narrow or widen the scope of these types of marks in the EU.

The case of Universal Protein Supplements v EUIPO dealt with an application to register the silhouette of a body builder by UPS as a EU trademark (using the same image as their registered trademark 11827599), specifically in classes 5, 25 and 35, covering, among others, clothing, nutritional supplements and online retails store services for nutritional supplements. Following UPS' application both the initial examiner and the Board of Appeal rejected the mark, refusing it under both Article 7(1)(b) and (c) of Regulation No 207/2009. USP appealed both decisions, and ultimately ended up in the EU General Court, which handed down its judgment nearly three weeks ago.

Body-building is rough, even with supplements
The General Court first started by assessing whether the mark was only indicative of, among other factors, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin or the time of production of the goods, under Article 7(1)(c). To further expand on this, the provision aims to allow all producers of goods to use certain common indicators of quality and origin, so as to enable proper competition in a particular area of commerce. These indicators also don't serve as proper indicators of origin, allowing for consumers to purchase the same quality product (or in the inverse, avoid the same) knowing fully where it comes from per the marks used. This means that, for a mark to avoid Article 7(1)(c) "...there must be a sufficiently direct and specific relationship between the sign and the goods or services in question such as to enable the public concerned to perceive immediately, without further reflection, a description of the goods and services in question or one of their characteristics".

The Court quickly determined that, in relation to all of the goods in the above classes, the mark was descriptive of those goods, as they related to body-building and were clearly designed for the very same. They added that "...it is common knowledge that drawings and photos of body-builders posing are often reproduced on the products themselves or in advertisements in order to indicate the intended purpose of the goods and services at issue, all relating, in particular, to the practice of body-building". One can appreciate this rationale, since the use of body builders, whether in silhouette form or not, is quite common in body-building and goods associated with it. It is arguable that, as there are plenty of other marks that use the same style of silhouette which have been registered, that the mark should be, potentially, registrable as well.

To summarize their position, the General Court concluded that "...informing the relevant public that the goods and services concerned are made or adapted for body-building, the mark applied for has a sufficiently direct and specific link with nutritional supplements, clothing, footwear, as well as online retail store services of those goods and goods related to health and diet", and the mark therefore fell foul of Article 7(1)(c).

The Court rejected the assertion that a silhouette could not be descriptive of goods as a style of mark, especially when the characteristics of the silhouette are clear and indicative of a body-builder. Also, the mark, although not highly detailed, doesn't require any mental effort from the public that perceives it, making a connection with body-building easily. Finally, although a silhouette of a body-builder can be, in many ways, a very variable style, it still does not mean the silhouette would not be descriptive, even with the possibility of several similar signs distinguishing similar goods successfully. The General Court ultimately rejected the appeal.

While the case is by no means revolutionary, it does illustrate a need to be careful in the choice of marks for specific goods, especially when the depiction could be closely linked to the goods at hand (by way of example, a bar bell could've just as well been descriptive here). Trademarks are a fickle mistress, as many similar marks to the one in question have been successfully registered, and applicants therefore have to be doubly careful with the marks that they choose to use.

12 October, 2016

Confusion Is Right - Likelihood of Confusion in a Part of the EU Doesn't (Necessarily) Lead to Pan-EU Injunction

Due to the vastness of the internal market in the EU, the enforcement of rights can be difficult, especially when those rights have been infringed in one Member State, but not necessarily in the rest (or to the same degree as in the original country of issue). The EU trademark gives for EU-wide protection, but in the event that national courts disagree on the interpretation of a degree of similarity between a registered EUTM and a competing mark, is EU-wide protection afforded or would the competing mark escape the clutches of the EUTM system? This question was recently answered by the CJEU in a decision handed down in late September.

The case of combit Software GmbH v Commit Business Solutions Ltd dealt with combit Software, a German software development and marketing company that holds the rights to the EU trademark for the word "combit" for similar goods and services. Commit Business Solutions is an Israeli company that sells software under the brand "Commit", on the web and in a number of countries, including in Germany, selling a German-language version of their Commit software in the country. Due to the similarity of the brands used, combit brought proceedings in Germany aiming to prevent the use of the mark for the marketing of Commit's software (with the matter ultimately being referred to the EU courts). As a peculiar part of the proceedings in Germany the court determined that, indeed, there was a likelihood of confusion in the EU for the German-speaking consumer; however, it also saw that there would be no likelihood of confusion for the English-speaking consumer. The court then referred the matter to the CJEU for ultimate determination, in particular for the lack of confusion for a significant portion of the Union.

What the referring court asked from the CJEU was summarized by the Court as whether "...Article 1(2), Article 9(1)(b) and Article 102(1) of Regulation No 207/2009 must be interpreted as meaning that, where an EU trade mark court finds that the use of a sign creates a likelihood of confusion with an EU trade mark in one part of the European Union whilst not creating such a likelihood in another part thereof, that court must conclude that there is an infringement of the exclusive right conferred by that trade mark and issue an order prohibiting the use concerned for the entire area of the European Union". This, in essence, is inquiring whether a partial likelihood of confusion in the EU would translate to a pan-EU injunction for the same, irrespective of the actual confusion determined for the other parts of the EU by the national courts.

With the EU being so different, pan-EU
injunctions are night impossible
The CJEU swiftly addressed the point, stating that when an EU trademark court finds "...that the use of a sign creates, in one part of the European Union, a likelihood of confusion with an EU trade mark, whilst, in another part of the Union, that same use does not give rise to such a likelihood of confusion, that court cannot conclude that there is no infringement of the exclusive right conferred by that trade mark". If there exists a likelihood of confusion in one part of the EU, the CJEU saw that it equates to an infringement of the conferred in the EU overall. This follows precedent in instances where a likelihood of confusion exists during opposition proceedings, but only with respect of one part of the EU.

While the above seems straightforward, the CJEU further complicated things. Following the decision in DHL Express France, if a court does not find a likelihood of confusion in a part of the EU (as in the case at hand) for any reason, such as a linguistic one, the mark isn't adversely affected and the scope of the injunction has to be restricted. However, the trade in which the potentially infringing sign is used has to be bona fide for the restriction to apply. The area restricted has to be clearly defined, not merely through linguistic borders, which does set a high threshold for a wider restricted area.

In summary, the CJEU set out that "...[the Articles of the Regulation] must be interpreted as meaning that, where an EU trade mark court finds that the use of a sign creates a likelihood of confusion with an EU trade mark in one part of the European Union whilst not creating such a likelihood in another part thereof, that court must conclude that there is an infringement of the exclusive right conferred by that trade mark and issue an order prohibiting the use in question for the entire area of the European Union with the exception of the part in respect of which there has been found to be no likelihood of confusion".

The finding of the CJEU is peculiar, since its rationale clearly leads in the direction of a pan-EU injunction, but can be restricted to only the areas affected in the EU if no likelihood of confusion arises. One has to wonder whether this would segment the single market, and potentially cause for the EU trademark to cease to function as intended; as an all-encompassing registration to protect an interest in the entire single market. Nevertheless, one can appreciate the rationale put forth by the Court. This writer will wonder whether the case will have bigger impact on the EU trademark, but doubts many courts will be brave enough to set very wide restrictions on any areas not covered by an EU trademark.

Source: IPKat

30 September, 2016

Change is Scary - The EU Commission Sets Out Proposals for New Copyright Changes

Copyright seems to have been immersed in a perpetual sea of change in the last couple of years, especially here in the UK and the EU as a whole. While this change is hugely important, including for the harmonization of aspects in technological change that have profoundly shaped the sphere in which copyright operates. With the EU's recent dive into a new perspective on the Single Digital Market having been published a little over a years ago (more on which here), future, more concrete changes have yet to be released; however, this changed only a few days ago.

As said, the EU Commission just recently published its propositions to modernize copyright in the wake of the Digital Single Market strategy. While the documents themselves are quite extensive, this writer would aim to discuss the proposed changes more in the broader sense, hopefully to encapsulate the main points of the propositions themselves.

Better choice and access to content online and across borders

As outline in the DSM strategy, access to online content within the EU is paramount to the Commission, with intentions to stop geo-blocking and allow for access to domestic content even abroad (i.e. using the BBC iPlayer when on vacation in the EU). This was expanded on in the proposition as an introduction of "...a legal mechanism for broadcasters to obtain more easily the authorisations they need from right holders to transmit programmes online in other EU Member States". Clearly this seems to envision a cross-EU licencing scheme, or the broadening of existing licences to cover more than their origin country. Initially, as outlined in the proposal, this would be done through a dialogue with the audiovisual industry on licencing issues; however, this writer would not see it as an impossibility that this would be legislated on somehow in the future if progress is not made as desired.

This is expanded on in the Commission's communication, which sets out measures to be taken in relation to access to online content, copyright exceptions and a more efficient enforcement regime.

Improving copyright rules on research, education and inclusion of disable people

Change is scary, so lets manage it!
There are also desires to improve the rules surrounding research, education and inclusion of disable people, particularly broadening access to protected materials for these types of uses. The proposal would include "...a new exception to allow educational establishments to use materials to illustrate teaching through digital tools and in online courses across borders", with additional provisions dealing with cultural heritage institutions (and their preservation of that heritage, as well as access to the content for citizens). While research and access to cultural heritage are very important, the EU sets out the desire to implement the Marrakesh Treaty, which aims to "...facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, have other visual impairments or are otherwise print disabled", as well as adding measures that will allow for the full participation of disabled individuals in society by providing access to materials (or ways to convert such materials, presumably) that are protected by copyright.

Some of the proposed provisions include an exception for the use of works and other subject-matter in digital and cross-border teaching activities and the copying of cultural heritage materials without infringing copyright. Especially considering the former, the activities must be legitimate, and will undoubtedly be prescribed to certain situations and contexts, much like existing exceptions for research.

A fairer and sustainable marketplace for creators and press

Lastly, the Commission's proposed Directive on Copyright in the Single Market aims to (including the above) "...reinforce the position of right holders to negotiate and be remunerated for the online exploitation of their content on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube". The Directive would impose an obligation on the service providers to have an automatic system that tags and/or removes illegal content, much like YouTube's Content ID system already does (irrespective of its controversial nature). One can imagine this will be a treacherous and unpredictable imposition on service providers, and would remain to be seen how it is genuinely implemented, and whether the providers would face sanctions for lax or non-existent enforcement.

The EU Commission's proposals are quite interesting, and pose, at least in theory, a possible modernization of copyright in the Digital Single Market. As an individual with an international background, I welcome more access to content when abroad, and the expansion of teaching opportunities and the preservation of cultural heritage. What will be interesting are the measures deployed against large service providers, whose users might upload large or small quantities of illegal content on their systems. The provisions, however, in this regard seem to be aimed at cooperation and coexistence, but can pose a problem if presented as one-sided affairs for rights-holders.

Source: IPKat

21 September, 2016

Locked Out - Providers of WiFi Access Not Liable for Copyright Infringement, Says CJEU

As wireless internet connections have become near ubiquitous in our daily lives amongst the cafés, libraries or businesses we visit, so has our appreciation for the facility, especially when traveling when a weary traveler might not have a connection on their smartphone. But underneath these open networks lurks the danger, and question, of possible abuse, and thus liability for those who operate the networks. This matter has been litigated in the European courts for some time now, and after an Advocate General's opinion early this year (discussed more here), many IP specialists have been waiting for the decision in McFadden; something the CJEU finally handed down late last week.

The case of Tobias Mc Fadden v Sony Music Entertainment Germany GmbH dealt with the provision of an unprotected wireless network connection by Mr Mc Fadden at his business selling and leasing lighting and sound systems, which aimed to bring in business and interest for his endeavor.  In late 2010 a song was shared in his network by a third-party (the rights to which Sony Music owned), and Sony subsequently sent Mr Mc Fadden a notice to this effect. Mr Mc Fadden then took the matter to court, seeking a negative declaration of infringement, to which Sony counterclaimed infringement. The matter ultimately ended up in the CJEU, who sought to take on the matter of liability of infringement for the provider of an unprotected wireless network.

The referring court asked eight questions of the CJEU, who took each question in turn to answer the matter.

The first question dealt with whether the provision of an open WiFi connection could fall under Article 12(1) of the E-Commerce Directive, i.e. whether the service would be classed as an 'information society service'. The Court quickly saw that, even in the light of a lack of remuneration (as required by EU legislation in this instance), the service would be classed as an 'information society service' under the Directive if "...the activity is performed by the service provider in question for the purposes of advertising the goods sold or services supplied by that service provider". The provision of the service is clearly therefore equated to one producing a monetary gain, even if not charged for on the outset, possibly therefore being afforded safe harbor protection as a 'mere conduit'.

The CJEU then moved onto questions two and three, which they summarized together as asking whether Article 12(1) of the Directive only requires the provision of the aforementioned service so as to be included, or if further conditions have to be met for it to be deemed as have been provided under the Article. This would include a contractual relationship and the advertisement of the provider's services. The Court concluded that, for the service to have been provided under the provision, the access must not "...go beyond the boundaries of a technical, automatic and passive process for the transmission of the required information, there being no further conditions to be satisfied". This follows recital 43 to the tee, and clearly the mere passive provision of such a service would be deemed to have been 'provided' by virtue of doing only that.

Password required? Not interested!
The Court then answered the remaining questions in a non-sequential fashion, tackling question six first. This asks whether Article 12(1) should be interpreted as including a further condition set out in Article 14(1)(b) (on the removal of infringing content upon notification thereof). The CJEU saw that, as the Articles dealt with very different services (communication services v hosting), the condition does not apply to the provision of more transient services, but to ones that remain more permanent in the provided services (meaning, content hosted on a website stays on said website till removed, unlike in mere transient communication using a wireless connection).

This was followed by questions seven and eight, which the CJEU clumped together, summarizing them as asking whether Article 12(1) includes any further provisions in addition to the one within the Article, which are not expressly mentioned. The Court quickly dismissed this assertion, as further conditions would clearly impede the balance sought by the legislature in the introduction of the provision.

The Court then moved onto question four, which, in essence, asked whether a person (or entity) harmed through the infringement of a right could seek injunctive relief and/or possible costs for the harm caused using the above service to do so. If read in seclusion, the Article does preclude a person harmed from seeking such remedies; however, it does not expressly prevent them from doing so using national authorities to prevent the infringement from continuing. This would seem correct, as Article 12(3) expressly does not preclude national authorities from requiring such actions and/or allowing for the retrieval of costs.

Finally, questions five, nine and ten remained, which asked effectively whether the granting of an injunction such as the above is allowed (and complied with by the provider), when the provider is required to secure their connection through either a password or by monitoring the connection used. The Court emphasized the need to strike a balance between the rights afforded by the Directive and the Enforcement Directive 2004/48, especially when multiple rights are engaged in such an issue (as is the case here). The Court considered the different ways in which IP rights could be protected, and decided that "...a measure intended to secure an internet connection by means of a password must be considered to be necessary in order to ensure the effective protection of the fundamental right to protection of intellectual property". This measure would, according to the Court, protect both rights in intellectual property, as well as the freedom to conduct business through the supply on a wireless connection and the right to information in using the above. One has to, though, provide their details in order to be able to use the connection and therefore be identified if needed.

The CJEU's decision sets out a practical approach to protecting both interests, while not overly restricting the provision of wireless connections. The striking of this balance was key, and the CJEU seem to have settled on the right answer. The measures required are by no means excessive, and afford the provider plenty of protection in the event of the connection's abuse.

09 September, 2016

Link Away - CJEU Decides Hyperlinking to Images is Not Communication to the Public

After the Advocate General's opinion on the GS Media (discussed here) case some 5 months ago, many people in the IP sphere have awaited the ultimate decision of the CJEU with baited breath. While the Advocate General's opinion reflected a pragmatic, very liberal interpretation of the legislation, some seemed skeptical on whether the CJEU would follow his thoughts. After, what felt like a small eternity to this writer, the CJEU has released its judgment on the case yesterday.

The case of GS Media BV v Sanoma Media Netherlands BV dealt with pictures of Britt Dekker (a famous Dutch TV personality), commissioned by Sanoma Media for publication in Playboy magazine. Prior to their publication, the images were somehow acquired and posted by a user on the file-sharing service Filefactory; a link to which was subsequently sent to the website GeenStijl, which is operated by GS Media. GeenStijl shared a part of one of the images of their website, with an additional hyperlink to Filefactory where users could download the images onto their computers. Although vehemently demanded by Sanoma Media, GS Media refused to remove the link from the website, although the content itself was removed from Filefactory. Sanoma Media then took GS Media to court for copyright infringement, which ultimately ended in the CJEU.

The Court had to determine "...whether, and in what possible circumstances, the fact of posting, on a website, a hyperlink to protected works, freely available on another website without the consent of the copyright holder, constitutes a ‘communication to the public’ within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29".

The context is important here too, as the images in question had not been published prior to their leaking to the website and then to GS Media, and their hyperlink makes the finding of the files a lot easier and they had, or ought to have had, the knowledge that the works' publication on that particular website was not authorized.

Following the judgment in Svensson (discussed more here), the concept of a 'communication to the public' under the Directive consists of two criteria, specifically  an 'act of communication' that was communicated to a 'public'. While the Court followed its earlier decisions on the nuances of what amounts to a communication to the public, the meat of the matter lie in the application of this in the current scenario.

As was decided in Svensson, posting hyperlinks on a website to works freely available on another website does not constitute a ‘communication to the public’ (followed in the BestWater case). The Court did distinguish that, in both of the aforementioned cases, the content linked to was authorized by the copyright holder, i.e. the content was legally on the website that the hyperlink lead to (meaning there was no new public for the content) As further clarified by the Court: "...as soon as and as long as that work is freely available on the website to which the hyperlink allows access, it must be considered that, where the copyright holders of that work have consented to such a communication, they have included all internet users as the public". This clearly distinguishes this case from both Svensson and BestWater, as the content was not authorized and therefore, arguably, the communication happened to a 'new public'.

The Court refused to infer the above, and stated that, to protect the freedom of expression and the Internet as we know it, one cannot simply categorize all linking to unauthorized content as a communication to the public. They further saw that, in assessing whether a communication to the public in such a scenario, one has to consider "...when the posting of a hyperlink to a work freely available on another website is carried out by a person who, in so doing, does not pursue a profit, to take account of the fact that that person does not know and cannot reasonably know, that that work had been published on the internet without the consent of the copyright holder". What remains interesting is the potential liability of an unknowing sharer, who still makes a profit by doing so. Ultimately, this seems to just raise the bar for negligence (or a willful blind eye), but is a curious consideration made by the Court.

Hyperlink profiteers enjoying their unlawful gains for one last time
The judgment did not, however, give everyone a free pass: "In contrast, where it is established that such a person knew or ought to have known that the hyperlink he posted provides access to a work illegally placed on the internet, for example owing to the fact that he was notified thereof by the copyright holders, it is necessary to consider that the provision of that link constitutes a ‘communication to the public’ within the meaning of Article 3(1)". This makes sense, and would offer a safe harbor for those who were notified of any infringing content, especially if it had been placed there without the express authorization of the rightsholding party. The Court also put the onus on checking the content on those who gained a profit from sharing hyperlinks to other websites: "...it can be expected that the person who posted such a link carries out the necessary checks to ensure that the work concerned is not illegally published on the website to which those hyperlinks lead, so that it must be presumed that that posting has occurred with the full knowledge of the protected nature of that work and the possible lack of consent to publication on the internet by the copyright holder. In such circumstances, and in so far as that rebuttable presumption is not rebutted, the act of posting a hyperlink to a work which was illegally placed on the internet constitutes a ‘communication to the public’ within the meaning of Article 3(1)". Knowledge, or presumed knowledge, is key here, and clearly the Court wants to curtail profiteers who would use this 'loophole' for their own benefit by sharing links to infringing, unauthorized content.

The Court then finally summarized their findings to the questions posed: "...the answer to the questions raised is that Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as meaning that, in order to establish whether the fact of posting, on a website, hyperlinks to protected works, which are freely available on another website without the consent of the copyright holder, constitutes a ‘communication to the public’ within the meaning of that provision, it is to be determined whether those links are provided without the pursuit of financial gain by a person who did not know or could not reasonably have known the illegal nature of the publication of those works on that other website or whether, on the contrary, those links are provided for such a purpose, a situation in which that knowledge must be presumed".

The decision is a very interesting one, and this writer had been waiting for it for some time. What seems surprising is the emphasis of financial gain, but it makes sense, as often those who do not pursue pure monetary gains will be more honestly ignorant to the content  they have shared than those who aim to profit from it (often knowing full well what they are sharing, as it is the source of their users).

23 August, 2016

A Piece of Humble Pie - Design of Apple Pie Not Registrable, Says US Court of Appeals

What is more enjoyable than a case involving food and an intellectual property law? This writer for one will freely admit his love of both, and any case that presents a scenario mixing the two is a delight. Many recent cases have touched on the design of various food items, including the recent Kit Kat litigation in the UK (discussed more here) and in the CJEU (discussed more here), and as manufacturers and makers of edible goods compete for marketshare, the shape of these items can become quite valuable and important. One still has to distinguish this from recipes (discussed more here), and while they are much less likely to be protectable, shapes are a different matter altogether. With that said, could you protect the shape of a dish, specifically a pie? The Court of Appeals in the US aimed to answer this question only late last month.

The case of Sweet Sweet Desserts, Inc. v Chudleigh's Ltd dealt with a design of a single-serving apple pie, meaning a whole pie meant for one person in a neat, convenient package. This particular food item was the creation of Scott Chudleigh, the owner of an apple farm and bakery in Ontario, Canada. It consisted of a ball-like shape, with upward facing, spiralling petals that overlap each other, encasing the apple pie filling within. He subsequently filed for a trademark in 2005 (US trademark 2262208, which includes an illustration of the design). The pies where distributed to various companies for resale, including a discussion with Applebee's in the US for the sale of the item in their restaurants, but the negotiations fell through. In 2010 Applebee's approached Sweet Sweet Desserts to create a single-serving apple pie, much akin to the idea conjured by Mr Chudleigh, who developed an "apple pocket" with a pie-like bottom and an overlapping spiral top design, leaving a gap in the top (subjectively quite similar to Chudleigh's apple pie design).  After launch Mr Chudleigh noticed, through online advertising, the similarities of the two designs, and took Sweet Sweet Desserts to court over trademark and trade dress infringement.

Little Jimmy's "floor pie" was received with less enthusiasm
The first issue dealt with by Justice Shwartz was whether Chudleigh's design was merely functional, and thus not registrable as a trademark. 15 USC section 1125(a) prohibits the use of any marks that would deceive a consumer as to the origin of goods or services, potentially including the aforementioned design, provided the design is not only functional and thus not a designation of such an origin. Justice Shwartz further set out that "...in general terms, a product feature is functional, and cannot serve as a trademark, if it is essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article". Even if a feature were deemed to not be functional, a court can still find against the owner should the mark put competitors "...at a significant non-reputation-related disadvantage", therefore potentially restricting competition in the field (i.e. if a design or shape of a mark is essential or near-essential to the creation or presentation of certain types of goods).

What the Court found was that the design was indeed functional, as "...the shape of the dough is essential to the purpose of an effective single-serving fruit pie, and affects its cost and quality". Arguably this is correct, since the folding of the dough in order to seal the filling into the pie does just that, and does not, at least for the most part, act as purely decorative, clearly designating an origin for those particular pies. Mr Chudleigh admitted to this fact somewhat, stating that the use of the dough in that particular shape was designed to save on cost and to fill a particular market need for single-serving pies. Additionally, the number of 'petals' in the pies would be predominantly as a functional aspect, giving the best results for holding in the filling and baking, again enforcing a lack of decorative purpose and pure functionality. The Court therefore determined the design to be functional, and revoked Mr Chudleigh's registration.

The final claim dealt with by the court was Sweet Sweet Desserts' claim for tortious interference with their relationship with Applebee's through Mr Chudleigh's assertion of his alleged rights (being very similar to groundless threats in the UK). Justice Shwartz quickly ruled against this claim, determining that Mr Chudleigh's cease-and-desist letter, sent to Applebee's after his discovery of the Sweet Sweet Desserts' apple pie, since the letter was an "...objectively plausible effort to enforce rights" and not a sham to extract a settlement from the parties prior to a full case. Even though he failed in the case at hand, losing his rights in the design, does not take away from his legitimate belief at the time as to the existence of these rights. The Court ultimately allowed the application for summary judgment for both parties.

The case, albeit not ground-breaking in any way, is a curious predicament for the law, especially considering the uncertain world of food-related trademarks and rights. This writer would fully agree with the Court, since the design of the pie was purely functional, and any decorative or indicative purposes were either incidental or minor in the grand scheme of things. It is unclear whether Mr Chudleigh could have succeeded in a claim for passing off in the UK, and this writer sure does have his doubts as to this, but the idea would seem to be a novel one as a hypothetical.

Source: JDSupra

16 August, 2016

Parallel Infringement - Parallel Importation of Rebranded Cigars Okay, Says Australian Full Federal Court

Tobacco packaging has been a popular topic in the last couple of years, including on this very blog (articles on which can be found here, here and here), particularly in the remit of plain packaging. Whether you dislike the initiative or support it, one can still appreciate the sentiment behind it. What the legislation has done is caused severe issues for products like cigarettes that heavily rely on these distinctive markings to indicate their own brand and distinguish its features from the rest. In Australia the law has been in effect since 2011 under the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, which means all tobacco products must conform to the requirements of the law in their packaging. With that said, could one repackage purchased tobacco products and subsequently resell them in Australia? The Full Federal Court took this question on after an appeal from the Federal Court whose decision was handed down in late 2015.

The case of Scandinavian Tobacco Group Eersel BV v Trojan Trading Company Pty Ltd dealt with the sale of tobacco products in Australia, specifically cigars manufactured by STG Eersel. The company, in relation to the sale of these goods, also holds several trademarks for cigar brands, including Café Créme (No. 761892), Henri Wintermans (No. 179680) and La Paz (No. 643779). The cigars were manufactured in Belgium, Holland and Indonesia, using packaging incorporating the aforementioned marks. The same cigars are packaged differently for the Australian market in order to conform to the plain packaging legislation mentioned above, which is done abroad similarly to the branded products. Trojan is an importer and supplier of cigars and other tobacco products, supplying, among other items, STG's cigars to the Australian market from overseas, repackaging them to conform to the same legislation. At first instance, Chief Justice Allsop saw that Trojan had not infringed STG's trademarks by repackaging their branded products; however, the decision was appealed by STG.

The Full Federal Court firstly sought to establish was whether the trademarks mentioned above had been infringed by Trojan through their parallel importation, i.e. were STG's marks used "as a trade mark" under section 120 of the Trade Marks Act 1995 and if section 123 (allowing for the use of a trademark if the mark has been applied to the goods prior to or with the consent of the rightsholder) of the same Act applied to those uses.

Lewis now doubted the legitimacy of his cigarettes
What constitutes use "as a trade mark" was initially set out by the Court as "...[a] use of the mark as a “badge of origin” in the sense that it indicates a connection in the course of trade between goods and the person who applies the mark to the goods". This use still has to be assessed within its context, including how the marks are used, as "...not every use of a mark which is identical with or deceptively similar to a registered trade mark infringes the right of property which the proprietor of the mark possesses in virtue of the registration".

The Court concluded that "...a person who, in the course of trade, imports and sells goods to which a registered mark was applied by its owner at the time of manufacture will have used the mark as a trade mark". Their conclusion relies heavily on the impact of parallel importation on the original manufacturer, and the existence of section 123, which, if this were not the case, would be largely redundant. This position follows previous Federal Court case law quite well, even with the existence of foreign cases accepting the opposite position.

As the Court had determined that the importation of the branded goods was indeed a use of the marks, they moved onto the question of whether the use amounted to an authorized use under section 123 of the Act. The section is engaged when, in the past or prior to the use under section 120, the rightsholder (or someone authorized by them) has applied the mark onto the packaging of the goods, which are subsequently sold onward by the third-party (i.e. used "as a trade mark" as discussed above). What seems to remain key here is the reapplication of the mark onto the new packaging by Trojan, which, according to the Court, should be covered by the section through a much wider interpretation of it. Ultimately what the Court concluded was that Trojan were protected under section 123 and did not infringe STG's trade marks.

Finally, the Court did briefly discuss issues surrounding a passing off claim and Australian consumer protection laws, and deemed that Trojan had not passed the repackaged cigars off as STG's, nor had they been in breach of any consumer legislation in their repackaging efforts (specifically deceive or mislead consumers).

The case is a very interesting illustration of the possible perils of parallel importation, and shows the differences in the approaches in the UK and Australia (and, to some extent, the EU). As the world and trade have become more and more global, parallel importation will be a bigger issue for the future. Even so, the Full Federal Court's approach is very sensible, considering the packaging environment that exists in the country for tobacco products. It is unclear whether the decision will be appealed to the High Court, but this writer thinks, after two successive losses, STG might have to just accept defeat.

Source: IP Whiteboard