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As we reported in our July 7, 2020 blog post on the USPTO v. Booking.com B.V decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a proposed mark consisting of the combination of a generic term and a generic top-level domain, like “.com,” is not automatically generic and can be protected as a trademark under certain circumstances.
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In a landmark decision, United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V., the Supreme Court of the United States, by an 8-1 vote, affirmed the lower court’s determination that Booking.com could register BOOKING.COM as a trademark. 
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In a recent decision from the Second Circuit, Judges Parker, Chin, and Carney side-stepped a novel question: whether human skin can be the kind of "tangible medium of expression" required for copyright protection. Instead, the court held that a photograph of a makeup artist’s application of a makeup design to a human “fixed” the design for purposes of copyright law and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the appellant Mourabit’s unjust enrichment and unfair competition/misappropriation claims as preempted by the Copyright Act.
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First Amendment May Protect Use of Trademarks As Artistic Expression

May 27, 2020 | Blog | By Susan Neuberger Weller, Harold Laidlaw

In a recent decision from the Southern District of New York, Judge George B. Daniels held that the strong First Amendment interests in protecting free artistic expression warranted summary judgment that Activision Blizzard’s use of Humvee vehicle models in the blockbuster Call of Duty videogames was not a violation of the Lanham Act.
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Supreme Court Holds that States Cannot Copyright Annotated Versions of Their Statutes

April 29, 2020 | Blog | By Michael Graif, Meena Seralathan

On April 27, 2020, the Supreme Court held that annotations to legislative text, even if created by a private contracted party, are not copyrightable materials under 17 U.S.C. §101. Invoking the government edicts doctrine, the Court made explicit the notion that all members of government involved in lawmaking, including state legislators, are barred from being “authors” for purposes of copyright protection.
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In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court held that a trademark owner need not prove willful infringement in order to seek lost profits from a trademark infringer. The case, Romag Fasteners Inc. v. Fossil Inc. et al., case number 18-1233, involved a long running trademark infringement dispute between the parties.
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The Federal Circuit recently held in a precedential ruling that a “color mark” comprising a multiple-color pattern is capable of being inherently distinctive and of registration on the Principal Register, so long as it appears on product packaging rather than on a product itself.
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Trademark due diligence is the process of analyzing information concerning a company's trademark portfolio and assessing the risks, exposures, and benefits associated with a proposed transaction. In an acquisition, both the buyer and the seller need to ensure that they each are fully informed as to the status of the trademarks at issue.
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How to Maintain Your Trademark Rights When Your Business is Closed

April 8, 2020 | Blog | By Susan Neuberger Weller

Trademark rights in the US are based on use of a mark not on registration. Failure to use your mark on a product or to offer a service to the public can result in an abandonment of your trademark rights and an inability to maintain an existing registration.
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Adding another layer of complexity to sensitively marketing in the COVID-19 environment, YouTube announced on March 11 that it will permit certain creators to monetize (i.e., enable ads on) content relating to coronavirus.  Companies and brands should review their approach in this pandemic, including refining YouTube content exclusion parameters and policing their ad environments, if they do not wish to risk association with potentially undesirable videos. 
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Adding Initials to a Surname Does Not Necessarily Create a Protected Trademark

March 26, 2020 | Blog | By Susan Neuberger Weller, Harold Laidlaw

In a recent precedential decision, the TTAB held that the addition of one initial —or possibly even more than one initial—in front of a surname does not necessarily create the impression of a personal name. Rather, the Board held that a surname plus one or more initials may remain “primarily a surname” and, as such, cannot be registered on the Principal Register without proof of acquired distinctiveness.
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2nd Circuit Affirms 5Pointz Whitewashing Violated Visual Artists Rights Act

March 25, 2020 | Blog | By Susan Neuberger Weller, Harold Laidlaw

The Second Circuit recently affirmed that a developer’s whitewashing of street art painted at the “5Pointz” warehouse complex in Long Island City was a violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA,” codified at 17 U.S.C. § 106A).
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The Masters’ Green Jacket is Now a Registered Trademark

March 10, 2020 | Blog | By Susan Neuberger Weller

Since 1949, a green jacket has been awarded to the winner of the Masters Tournament, one of golf’s four major championships.
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On Tuesday, October 22, 2019, the US House of Representative approved, by 410-to-6, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2019, introduced under H.R.2426 by Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).  This bill aims to “establish an alternative dispute resolution program for copyright small claims,” and creates the Copyright Claims Board, a body within the U.S. Copyright Office, to decide copyright disputes. 
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Whose Game is On? Carrie Underwood and NBC Sued Over SNF Song

July 9, 2019 | Blog | By Susan Neuberger Weller

As any football fan knows, Carrie Underwood has performed the introductory song for Sunday Night Football since 2013. “Waitin’ All Day For Sunday Night” was the introductory song for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and “Oh Sunday Night” was the song performed in 2015, 2016, and 2017. On September 6, 2018, Sunday Night Football opened with Ms. Underwood singing a new introductory song entitled “Game On." Well, this “Game” is now the subject of a copyright infringement suit in Federal District Court in New York.
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This past May, in a highly-anticipated decision, the Supreme Court held in Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC that a debtor’s rejection of an executory contract under Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code has the same effect as a breach of contract outside of bankruptcy.  The decision resolves an inter-circuit split on the effect of a bankrupt trademark licensor’s rejection of a trademark license, a question regarded by legal experts in the trademark community as the most significant unresolved legal issue in trademark licensing. 
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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court granted the State of Georgia’s petition to review the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Code Revision Comm'n v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc., 906 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2018). In that case, the Eleventh Circuit held that the privately-compiled but officially-sanctioned and adopted Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) was not protected by copyright under the “government edicts” doctrine.
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The U.S. Supreme Court, in a split decision, held that the federal ban on registering “scandalous” and “immoral” trademarks is an unconstitutional violation of free speech under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The trademark FUCT is what was at issue in Iancu v. Brunetti, case number 18-302 (June 24, 2019).  Although the mark had been in use on clothing for many years, it was never accepted for registration by the US Trademark Office on grounds that it violated the ban on registration of “scandalous” and “immoral” marks under Section 1052(a) of the Lanham Act.
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Legalizing “hemp” under the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) has triggered an important change for the examination of federal trademark applications concerning cannabis and cannabis-derived goods and services.  In response to the Bill’s enactment on December 20, 2018, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a new examination guide to clarify its examination procedures involving hemp goods and services.  For businesses in the cannabis industry, the examination guide (recently issued on May 2, 2019) will impact the viability of federal trademark applications filed on or after December 20, 2018 that were once previously barred.
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The FUCT Mark: Is the Prohibition on Scandalous Marks Unconstitutional?

March 14, 2019 | Blog | By Susan Neuberger Weller, Adam Samansky, Serge Subach

The constitutionality of yet another portion of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act will soon be determined. Following in the footsteps of the blockbuster decision in Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017) (“Tam”), the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to Iancu v. Brunetti on January 4, 2019. In Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court held that the prohibition in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act against registering disparaging trademarks at the U.S. Trademark Office (“USPTO”) was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. However, Section 2(a) also prohibits the registration of other categories of marks, including marks that are immoral and scandalous. It is the constitutionality of this prohibition which is at issue in Brunetti.
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