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Los Angeles Business Law Blog

Intellectual property classifications to know

The human mind is extremely creative, and some people take the initiative to make their dreams into reality. However, without the proper protection, other parties may be able to claim those ideas for themselves.

To prevent this, it is important that inventors claim their intellectual property through legal channels. In order to do this properly, parties should understand the different types of intellectual property.

Facebook sued over Libra logo

An online banking and software development company has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Facebook. The California-based social media giant is facing possible legal sanctions for using a logo that is allegedly virtually identical to one protected by a trademark issued in 2016. The logo at the center of the dispute is a tilde design that Facebook is using to promote its proposed Libra digital currency.

Finco Services, which offers app-based online banking services under the brand name Current, claims in its lawsuit that it retained the services of a San Francisco design firm to create a logo for its debit cards and mobile phone apps. The same company, which is also named as a defendant in the litigation, designed the Libra logo for Facebook. Finco says that the two logos are virtually identical and accuses Facebook of unfair competition and trademark infringement.

Stan Lee's estate files lawsuit over intellectual property

The daughter of Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee has filed a lawsuit against his business associates in a California federal court. As Lee's sole heir and estate trustee, she accuses business people running POW! Entertainment of misleading her father into reassigning rights to his valuable comic book characters and stories.

The lawsuit alleges that on at least six occasions, Lee's business partners manipulated the comic book creator who died in November 2018 into giving up ownership of some of his intellectual property. After his death, his daughter hired lawyers and accountants to examine business dealings conducted as far back as the 1990s but especially during the period of 2001 to 2017. The forensic team concluded that Lee's intellectual property rights had been looted by people acting in bad faith within POW! Entertainment. Lee had set up POW! in the 1990s to serve as the company holding his intellectual property rights. The lawsuit wants the rights to Lee's likeness and name to be restored to his estate along with declaratory relief regarding ownership of intellectual property.

Consumer confusion matters in some advertising trademark cases

When California consumers enter keyword searches based on trademarked terms into a search engine, they might see results from competitors of the trademark owner. Previous legal cases have claimed unsuccessfully that competitors bidding on trademarked terms for keyword advertising campaigns have infringed upon the trademark holders. The courts have heard multiple cases of this type and consistently ruled that the competitors did not infringe upon trademarks because the search results did not confuse consumers.

Confusion among consumers represents a pivotal factor in trademark infringement cases. The latest case specifically cites the principle of consumer confusion. The case arose from an attorney who has trademarked several variations of the word "hammer" as part of his personal brand. The keyword advertising campaigns at issue in his lawsuit target mobile customers. The search results include the click-to-call feature. According to his lawsuit, this sows confusion in consumers' minds because they searched for him under his trademarked identity and then see ads linked to a call center for other attorneys.

An overview of copyright law

When an individual creates something in California or any other state, it is possible that it will be covered by copyright. According to copyright law, anything that is an original creation recorded on a fixed medium can be eligible for such protection. Examples of items that can be copyrighted include movies, recorded songs or stories that are written on paper or saved on a computer. Computer programs themselves may be copyrighted as a literary work.

Pictures, graphics and sculptures may also be eligible for protection against use by others. Architectural drawings are generally considered to be graphic or pictorial in nature, which makes them eligible for a copyright. While many different items can be protected under intellectual property law, not everything can be given a copyright. For example, the title of a seminar may not be kept away from others seeking to use it as well.

Attitudes vary about intellectual property rights

Intellectual property rights are critical to many California businesses, especially those that are involved in some kind of creative or technical enterprise. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, industries where intellectual property is critical contribute 40% of the country's gross domestic product, a number that is only likely to rise given the importance of idea protection to technological development. However, attitude surveys continue to show that while consumers understand that IP is important in theory, they remain willing to engage in some violations of IP on a regular basis for a number of reasons. In addition, even businesses that could benefit from IP rights may not fully understand why.

According to the Center for Intellectual Property, a vast majority of people recognize that intellectual property rights are important. In the EU, 97% of people feel this way as do 96% of South Korean consumers. Nevertheless, a full 41% of South Korean consumers had purchased counterfeit products at some time, according to a survey, and the number of counterfeit purchasers rose in the EU as well. The survey found that several factors influenced people's approach to intellectual property. People were more likely to purchase fake items if they believed the original would never be available to them through a legitimate purchase.

How to prevent wage and hour lawssuits

As a small business owner, you need as many things as possible to go your way in order to be as successful and profitable as possible. One area you should not overlook is your legal protection. If employees bring wage and hour complaints against you, it can slow down your business. 

Even baseless allegations can take time and funds away from growing your business. Here are some tips for preventing wage and hour complaints from becoming a problem.  

Ferrari owners warned about posting photos of their cars online

Ferrari owners in California and around the country often post photographs of their cars on social media, but they may be wise to think carefully before doing so if the images involved could be construed as portraying the brand in a negative light. The iconic Italian sports car company takes its intellectual property rights extremely seriously, and it recently sent several sharply worded cease-and-desist letters to Ferrari owners who posted potentially embarrassing photographs of their vehicles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

One of the letters was sent to a German athletic shoe designer who frequently posts images of his latest products placed on his bright green Ferrari 812 Superfast. The letter instructed the man to post no more such pictures and delete the images already online. According to Ferrari, the images depicted a lifestyle that was not in keeping with the company's image and associated the man's products with a brand that had been built over several decades and at considerable expense.

Trucking company claims Amazon infringed on its trademark

Many California residents use Amazon Prime to order products. However, a trucking company called Prime Inc. says that Amazon is infringing on its trademark by using the word "prime" on trailers used to deliver goods. The company has filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Missouri seeking financial damages related to the infringement. Specifically, the company claims that it is entitled to three times Amazon's profits or three times the losses that the infringement has caused.

Prime says that it first used the word on trucks 40 years before Amazon did. The company further claims that the word prime is paramount to its marketing message, which could leave it vulnerable if the trademark is not allowed to stand. Although some could claim that Amazon uses the word prime in a different manner, the lawsuit asserts that they are identical in appearance and commercial impression.

Appeal decision of copyright infringement suit

California residents who are interested in intellectual property matters should be aware of a ruling of the United States Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The court rejected in part and affirmed in part the dismissal of a district court regarding the allegations of copyright infringement, breach of contract and the violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The court determined that there were aspects of the claims that were disqualifying based on the patent infringement suit that was previously filed.

The plaintiff filed a patent infringement lawsuit against the defendant in 2013 alleging that the defendant had created a piracy detection technology similar to the one the plaintiff created and after the defendant became aware of critical data pertaining to the plaintiff's technology and digital rights management product. When the court determined in a separate proceeding that one of the patents of the digital rights management product was invalid, the plaintiff dismissed the patent suit voluntarily and with prejudice.

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