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Celebs and paparazzi in copyright battle

The battle between celebrities and paparazzi in California continually rage on in the courtroom. Photographers have been serving stars over posting paparazzi photos of themselves on their social media profiles. For example, Ariana Grande was sued by a photographer for posting two photos he had taken of her to her Instagram account without receiving permission or buying a license. The photographer sought tens of thousands of dollars in damages, accusing Grande of copyright infringement. The case was settled a few months later with Grande paying an undisclosed amount to the photographer.

However, the paparazzi photographer and the singer are once again locked in another legal battle. The photographer is suing Grande for the second time, claiming that Grande used a photo of herself leaving her apartment as part of an Instagram story that promoted the star's clothing and merchandise line. In the photograph, Grande is seen wearing a sweatshirt from her Sweetener merchandise collection in the photo. On the Instagram story, she invites her followers to swipe up for a link to purchase the item. The photographer is contesting that this means Grande was using the photo in a commercial context in order to promote the sale of her goods. The potential commercial context of the image in question makes it more difficult for Grande to assert a fair use defense to the infringement allegations.

Artists aim to leverage giants' copyright enforcement teams

Some companies, such as Disney and Nintendo, are particularly well-known in California and nationwide for their ardent pursuit of copyright infringement claims against people selling counterfeit items. However, counterfeiting issues that trouble huge companies with massive intellectual property resources can also impact small, independent artists. Many of these artists publish and share their artwork on social media sites such as Twitter or Tumblr. In the past, counterfeiting tended to require some thought and preparation on the part of another human. Nowadays, numerous websites utilize bots to automatically scan the web for viral images and accumulate them on print-on-demand sites that sell T-shirts, mugs and other items that are printed only when someone makes an order.

These on-demand sites typically utilize carefully coded bots that search popular social media sites for images that receive high levels of social engagement in the form of likes and or shares. These bots may even be specially programmed to search for line-drawings or cartoon images rather than photographs. Notably, some bots are sophisticated enough to identify which artwork images have received comments like "I wish that was on a shirt" from the general public. The continual advancement of these bots has left thousands of independent artists finding their artwork for sale with little opportunity to fight back against these intellectual property bandits.

Companies may be wary of growing counterfeit business

When people in California gift shop for loved ones, they will likely encounter counterfeit items during their search. According to the International Trademark Association, the estimated value of counterfeit items sold around the world in one year could reach up to $2.81 trillion. In 2017 alone, the damage from counterfeit products likely cost U.S. companies $1 trillion. With the rapid growth of online sales, the prevalence of counterfeit goods is only increasing. However, there are numerous defenses that companies can try to utilize to protect themselves from counterfeiters, even during busy shopping seasons like the winter holidays.

Lost sales that go instead to fraudulent products only cover a portion of the losses due to trademark infringement. Counterfeiting is different than simple trademark infringement although it is similar in some ways. Infringement is about introducing confusion in the market, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Counterfeiting is deliberately attempting to pass off fake items as the real product, not just introducing confusion. Additional counterfeit related losses a company may face are returns and warranty claims linked to defective counterfeits. Furthermore, the company's reputation can take a hit if people become accustomed to using inferior counterfeit items and can't distinguish that the products are fake.

IP rights and the use of Baby Yoda images

Fans of "The Mandalorian" in the United States may have seen a recent surge of Baby Yoda GIFs being shared online and Baby Yoda Christmas merchandise sold on Etsy. Disney, who owns intellectual property rights to Baby Yoda, could have pursued the individuals and companies responsible for the trending products on the grounds of intellectual property infringement. However, Disney appears to have declined to pursue charges, deciding that an opposite approach is better in this scenario.

In the past, Disney has not been hesitant to address such infringements. In fact, Disney originally insisted that Baby Yoda merchandise would have to wait until 2020.  Disney's history with confronting intellectual property infringement is probably one of the reasons why Giphy, a popular GIF website, initially pulled the first Baby Yoda GIFs that appeared on their site. After a few days, the GIFs reappeared alongside a statement from Giphy that the company had wanted to review the situation before permitting them back on the site for worldwide sharing. It is likely that the GIFs would have been considered protected under fair use because the GIF creators were not making a profit, the GIFs did not infringe upon Disney's income, and the GIFs were likely used for a satirical purpose. However, because of Disney's big name and ready legal team, it is understandable that Giphy wanted to be extra cautious.

How can I protect trade secrets?

The world of technology is constantly changing – often at lightning speed. However, some hardware and software developers fail to realize that their latest design or development method is a trade secret. For entrepreneurs within the tech industry, protecting trade secrets is worthwhile because trade secrets are an important part of keeping tech companies competitive.

Examples of trade secrets

Process for recording intellectual property security interests

Similar to how tangible assets can be utilized, intellectual value can also be used to secure a loan based on the intellectual property's inherent value. Filing documents with relevant and specific organizations for the purpose of establishing a lender's security interest in intellectual property is known as perfection. However, intellectual property owners in California will follow slightly different processes when officially pursuing perfection for a loan based on whether the intellectual property is a trademark, patent, or copyright.

Although the federal Lanham Act addresses issues related to trademarks, it does not discuss pursuing security interests. In the absence of federal level governing language, a security interest pertaining to a trademark falls under the review of Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. Instructed by the Uniform Commercial Code, the parties involved must file a UCC-1 financing statement. Typically, for further security, lenders also choose to file a document at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirming the existence of the security interest as well.

Recording a security interest for a patent would follow the same two-step process as a trademark because the federal Patent Act does not address security interests. However, unlike trademarks, there is no filing fee for recording a security interest for patents or pending patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Target in trademark dispute with small business

Target, one of the biggest and most popular big-box store in the country is facing a lawsuit from a small business owner. Emily Golub, an entrepreneur from Georgia, accuses Target of infringing her trademark through the launch of its Good & Gather food brand in September 2019. Golub is the owner of Garnish & Gather, an Atlanta-based company that promotes local foods, meal kits, and prepared items developed by local chefs. She says that the name of Target's line is too similar to that of her company and could lead to serious confusion in terms of brand recognition among consumers. Golub's complaint against Target seeks a temporary restraining order to prohibit the sale of food and beverage products bearing the Good & Gather label.

The Georgia woman trademarked her business name in 2014. She says that she approached Target in August 2019, prior to the nationwide rollout of the brand in September, to notify Target with her claim for trademark infringement. However, the large retail company proceeded to introduce its Good & Gather products at 1,800 stores nationwide. Golub's owner claims that there are as many as 50 products that closely overlap between her line Garnish & Gather and Target's Good & Gather. The Target brand of 650 products includes prepared deli items, bagged salad, cheeses, side meals, frozen fruit, chips and fresh vegetables, among other items. The Georgia business owner also noted that both Garnish & Gather's and Good &Gather's logos display leaf-inspired lettering, which could further contribute to consumer confusion.

Patent lawsuits hit major auto companies

Many people enjoy connecting their mobile phones and other devices to the entertainment system in their vehicles through an onboard connector or, more frequently, a Bluetooth connection. However, Blitzsafe Texas has filed 15 lawsuits within four years claiming that major automobile manufacturers are infringing on its patents for technology that does exactly that. Blitzsafe Texas is headquartered in the town of Marshall, a community that is perhaps best-known as the location where one of the greatest numbers of patent infringement lawsuits are filed in the country. After the Supreme Court ruled that patent-infringement plaintiffs could not simply choose the venue where their cases are filed, some firms with many cases moved there, qualifying them to select that venue.

Blitzsafe claims that they have held patents for linking mobile devices to automobiles through wired connections since 2009 and Bluetooth connections since 2012. The patents being litigated relate to technology that allow drivers to receive hands-free calls and play stored music over the car stereo systems. Blitzsafe filed two new similar lawsuits in November 2018, one accusing General Motors and the other accusing Fiat, Chrysler, and Maserati of infringing its patents with technologies that allow drivers to connect their phones to the vehicles' infotainment systems. Chrysler, Ram, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and other car brands use technology with the same purpose in their vehicles.

Five Invention Mistakes

 

New inventors can be either giddy or extremely secretive about their product. They either want the world to know about it or nobody at all. Regardless of which camp the inventor is in, many don't know where to begin to bring their idea to market. 

Backcountry.com faces backlash over trademark lawsuits

Outdoor enthusiasts might be surprised to learn that Backcountry.com is facing heavy public backlash for filing a series of lawsuits against other businesses with similar names. The retail giant trademarked the word "backcountry" in 2018 to protect its new line of outdoor clothing and equipment.

According to multiple media outlets, Salt Lake City-based Backcountry.com starting filing trademark lawsuits against smaller companies with "backcountry" in their names last year. So far, it has filed suits against Colorado-based Cripple Creek Backcountry, Michigan ski manufacturer Marquette Backcountry, Utah's electric bike manufacturer Backcountry eBikes, an avalanche education group called Backcountry Babes and a small coffee company called Backcountry Nitro. As a result of the suits, which were filed in federal court, two of the companies have already changed their names.

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