What Can Celebrities Actually Trademark?

March 17th, 2015

“I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Seems like a simple enough sentence. But Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who made the phrase popular during his defiant press conference on Super Bowl media day, is now trying to claim ownership of it.

Lynch, who used the phrase to answer every reporter’s question on the biggest day in the sports media world, has filed a trademark for the phrase, and it’s just the latest in an attempt at celebrities to cash in on some commonplace happenings that have

Katy Perry has filed a trademark for “Left Shark,” a reference to the uncoordinated, dancing plush that flanked her during her Super Bowl halftime performance. And according to Think Progress, Taylor Swift filed for trademarks for a variety of lines from her album 1989, even seemingly banal phrases like “Nice to meet you, where you been?” and “this sick beat.”

It begs the question: What is actually eligible to be trademarked?

The US Patent and Trademark Office has an interesting decision on their hands. If the USPTO does grant these trademarks, it creates an interesting precedent. We’ve already discussed how the Seahawks franchise has tried to trademark something mundane as the number 12, and a phrase, without any kind of context, would be just as difficult to grant. Still, celebrities could make the argument that certain phrases are immediately identifiable with them, and thus, protectable. This is a tough one to call.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Trademarks , , , , , ,

Apple and Ericsson at War Again

March 13th, 2015

Apple has another patent battle on their hands.

Last week, Ericsson brought suit against the Cupertino giant for reportedly infringing on 41 of its patents that are used in iPhones and iPads.

“Ericsson’s technology and our engineers are behind these patents,” Gustav Brismark, head of the company’s patent strategy, said in an interview. “We’re asking for a fair payment from Apple for using our technology.”

Along with the potential ban on iPad and iPhone imports to the United States, Ericsson said it was also asking for payments for any potential damages caused by Apple’s using its patents without a license.

This isn’t the first time these companies have found themselves in litigation with one another. In January, the two companies sued each other over Apple’s use of a number of Ericsson patents related to wireless technology, so it seems Apple has a new opponent in the never-ending smartphone patent wars.

Ericsson has really gone on the offensive, and their attempt to block US iPhone and iPad imports is a power play. While they may fall short of attaining that goal, they certainly have gotten themselves noticed by both Apple and the market. That right there might be half the battle. Time will tell how this will shake out, but it could have huge ramifications if Ericsson is successful.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Patents , , , , ,

Uber Faces New Battle: Patent Infringement Claims

February 20th, 2015

Is Uber infringing on a patent? That’s what Sidecar is claiming.

Sidecar is a small rival of Uber, whose founder obtained a patent related to mobile ride hailing way back in 2002. According to Gigaom, the patent, which confers on Sidecar the right to exclude others from using the invention until 2020, includes a drawing that shows a wireless network linking a car and passenger via satellite.

However, some believe Sidecar’s claim does not nearly have enough merit to stop Uber in its tracks.

“This application is really seeking to claim the basic idea of pricing and service, which is a concept Adam Smith discussed 200 years ago. The notion that’s a new idea in this day and age is far-fetched,” said Michael Strapp, a patent lawyer with Goodwin Procter, told Gigaom.

Uber’s earliest patents can be traced back to 2010.

To this point, nothing has been able to derail Uber, but the patent in question could certainly throw a monkey wrench in their business model. Uber’s share of the market is substantial, and they can take similar approaches that social media giant Facebook has in the past (i.e. buying Sidecar and its patent portfolio), or simply go to war in court to gain precedent that their business is infringement-proof. Still, even without a full-fledged taxi war, Uber might need to rely on its hot brand to deflect secondary adopters. It will be interesting to see what path Uber takes.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Patents , ,

Will Hershey Eat Its Own with Chocolate Litigation?

February 16th, 2015

RTR18VJY_largeLet there be chocolate! Americans have developed a loud, strong rallying cry against a British chocolate embargo, but a licensing agreement has made it all moot.

At issue are the famous British-made Cadbury Eggs, Rolos, Toffee Crisps and Yorkie candy bars, which are imported into the U.S. by a company called Let’s Buy British Imports (LBB).  Last August, Hershey brought a lawsuit against LBB claiming that it was importing products not intended for sale in the U.S. and thus infringing on its trademark and trade dress licensing.

This does not mean the Cadbury brand will disappear completely from American shelves.  Hershey has a licensing agreement to manufacture the chocolate in the U.S. using a slightly different recipe.  The American version has a lower fat content, uses a different type of milk and, according to British chocolate-o-philes, is a far inferior product.

Tea & Sympathy, a New York shop specializing in British goods characterized the difference between the two in a post on its Facebook page:

“Due to legal action by the so-called chocolate maker Hershey’s, we can no longer import the real Cadbury chocolate from England. They want us to sell their dreadful Cadbury approximation but we can’t in good conscience sell you such awful chocolate when we have made our reputation on selling you the yummy real English stuff.”

As many Americans know, Cadbury is most famous in the U.S. for their Creme Eggs, which are released ahead of Easter season. But one has to wonder what kind of impact Hershey’s legal actions will have on their sales. British chocolate fans are emphatic that the American version simply isn’t the same, therefore Hershey may actually be diluting their own ability to move Cadbury product. However, it begs the question: just how discerning is the typical America chocolate egg consumer? Is Cadbury chocolate simply a once-a-year novelty that will sell no matter the fat content? Or will the news of the law suit actually dilute Hershey’s licensed brand? With just a few weeks to go before Easter baskets and chocolate eggs start appearing on shelves, one would think we’re about to find out.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions IP strategy, Trademarks , , ,

The Chinese Prison Escape Plan: Patents

February 11th, 2015

Arrested in China?  Your intellectual property could be a get-out-of-jail-free card.china

In December, we released a study that found China led the world with over 600,000 patent applications,  but raised some questions about the quality of those patents.  A new report from Gizmodo says that is partly due to a government that encourages inventors with everything from cash gifts, tenured jobs at universities, and even early release from prison:

“The unusual policy came to light last month when the Beijing Youth Daily published the results of an undercover investigation into an emerging cottage industry of patent application businesses that cater to an unusual market: Prisoners. Specifically, wealthy prisoners can pay these small businesses anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to have inventors’ ideas patented as their own—everything from cigarette holders to geothermal energy innovations.”

The quality of China’s intellectual property is always a point of contention with its critics, whether it’s the nature of utility model patents or the aggressive government incentivization of patenting activity. This new wrinkle will undoubtedly add fuel to that fire. However, one takeaway from China’s extreme methods of gathering IP is the emphasis the government is placing on patents. There will be more to this story and China’s place in the global innovation landscape continues to evolve, but it’s clear that the country is making good on its promise to draw innovation from all corners.

Bob Stembridge, Customer Relations Manager, Thomson Reuters Patents , ,

Is Apple Getting Ready to Wear GoPro Out?

February 3rd, 2015

Watch out, GoPro. Apple may be gearing up to get into wearable tech.

According to the Guardian, shares in GoPro have dropped more than 10% amid speculation Apple could be entering the wearable cameras market after it was granted a new patent.gopro apple

But the patent may not indicate such a move by the tech company. The patent in question was actually filed by Kodak in 2012, and only came under Apple’s control as part of a slate of patents bought by consortiums led by Apple and Google for $525m.

This one has all the players. Kodak’s old portfolio is emerging to scare off GoPro investors, and it makes sense. Apple has developed their brand and their operating software to a point where consumers are now inherently more comfortable with anything the company produces. But let’s not underestimate GoPro’s share of this market. They have incredible brand recognition and a big head start. If Apple gets into wearables and pairs them with their iOS and Cloud-sharing capabilities, the possibilities are endless. But this could force GoPro to innovate faster and better, too. We could be on the precipice of exciting times in this space.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Patents , , , , ,

Apple, Ericsson Set to Battle Over Royalties, Patents

January 29th, 2015

Apple and wireless technology company Ericsson have ramped up their ongoing fight over royalties and patents.

According to CNET, Apple filed a lawsuit this month in the US District Court for the North District of California which says that although it uses Ericsson’s LTE technology in its products, it does not believe that the patents related to that technology are essential to cellular operation and fetch too much in royalties.

CNET explains:

“At issue is fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) patent licensing. Ericsson has secured FRAND status on some of its patents related to LTE wireless technology that Apple uses in its iPhone smartphones. While the companies previously had an agreement in place, Apple has battled with Ericsson over the past two years, saying that the FRAND license extension it was expected to sign is unfair.”

FRAND was a huge component of the war that raged for years between Apple and Samsung, and now Apple is once again fighting this fight, only this time its stateside (Ericsson is headquartered in Sweden). While Ericsson’s licensing model may be prohibitive, Apple may have a problem with precedent. Ericsson says they have reached fair deals with more than 100 companies in the industry, so Apple’s complaint could be seen as posturing by the iPhone maker simply to boost margins. That said, Apple has been very successful in patent litigation as of late, so this could ramp up a battle that Apple intends to take the distance.  Time will tell.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Patents , , , , ,

Seahawks Try to Trademark the Number 12

January 26th, 2015

The Seattle Seahawks are red hot. The defending Super Bowl champions are just days away from trying to become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back Super Bowls, so it should come as no surprise that the team’s brand is just as popular. As a result, the franchise is taking aggressive steps in trying to trademark it.12th man flag

The NFL is a $9 billion a year industry and has thousands of trademarks protecting its 32 franchise scattered across the United States. According to the Seattle Times, the Seahawks have filed some two dozen trademark applications since October 2013 for phrases such as “Go Hawks” and the number “12.” The US Patent and Trademark Organization turned down one of the 12 applications due to a previous trademark for a NASCAR team. Another was refused due to a previous trademark for a hotel.

Why are the Seahawks so interested in the number? Their fan base is collectively known as the 12th man, and that has led to countless entrepreneurs developing their own gear with number 12 on them.  They’ve also trademarked such phrases as ‘Legion of Boom’ (their nickname for their defensive backs) and ‘Spirit of 12’, as well as the design for their 12th man flag they raise before every game.

Seattle’s NFL franchise has also opposed or considered opposing a number of trademark filings involving the number 12, including ‘District 12’, which was filed by a film company looking to protect to it as geographical name in reference to the Hunger Games movies.

While the Hawks’ strategy is certainly diligent, it could prove challenging. As it is, Seattle licenses their use of “12th man” from Texas A&M University for $5,000 a year. And their hopes to protect some of these marks may be determined to be extending far past their categories (for example, the Seahawks have challenged “Batch No. 12” vodka and whiskey). The Seahawks have every right to try to protect their brand, and most likely will be successful more than they fail. But getting the number 12 trademarked may be one big game that they can’t win.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Trademarks , , , , , ,

Death to Patent Trolls? Silicon Valley Fights Back

January 21st, 2015

Silicon Valley has a new way to fight back non-practicing entities (NPEs): death squads.

Don’t worry, that’s not literal. That’s the nickname for the Patent Trial and Appeals Board, a far more civilized way technology companies are figuratively lining up accused “patent trolls” for execution.

According to the SF Gate, the Board, which was created by Congress in 2011  and is made up of administrative patent judges, has eliminated 78 percent of NPE claims from September 2012 to March 2013.

“It’s not surprising a lot of the big tech companiesare using the board,” Peter Lee, a professor of law at UC Davis, told the Gate. “They are the ones most hurt by bad patents.”

It’s a huge development for tech companies, because it offers a quicker and more cost-effective way to resolve intellectual property disputes than going to court. NPEs can not only act as a drain on financial resources, but have the ability to draw a company’s time and energy away from their primary objection: innovation. The Patent Trial and Appeals Board seems to be working just as intended, and consumers may reap the reward with tech companies more focused  than ever on creating more engaging products.

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Patents , , ,

Thomson Reuters Analysis Finds Automotive Industry Doubling Down on Fuel Economy Innovation

January 20th, 2015

AutomotiveToday, we’ve released the results of our study of the global automobile industry’s recent patent activity, which details a massive commitment from carmakers to new propulsion technology, which jumped from fewer than 2,000 patents filed in 2009 to nearly 12,000 by July 2014.

With the clock ticking towards Model Year 2025 – where U.S. automakers’ fleets will be required by law to boast an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon – it seems the industry is working diligently to comply. The 2012 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate  has set the agenda for the next decade of car manufacturing, and it’s all about fuel efficiency.

Following are among the key findings in the report:

  • Propulsion Patents Explode: According to analysis of patent data from 2009 through July 2014, activity in propulsion technology grew from fewer than 2,000 patents to nearly 12,000: more than any other technology area in the automotive industry. It was also the only area of patents to reflect a year-over-year growth in the five-year span.
  • Toyota, Japan Lead the Way: With over 7,000 patent assignments to the company during the period covered, Toyota is the auto world’s top innovator from a patent perspective. The company is one of five Japanese carmakers (Honda, Denso, Seiko Epson, Mitsubishi) in the top ten, the most of any country. In contrast, the United States has one representative in the top 10 assignees, General Motors, is seventh on the list, with short of 3,000 patents.
  • Hyundai Sets Blistering Pace: The one Korean automaker in the top ten, Hyundai, has burst onto the patenting scene.  The company has earned the distinction as the fastest growing patentee, climbing from a low point of under 500 in 2010. Since then it is on a remarkable sprint toward the top, resulting in nearly 1,200 patent filings in 2013, enough to rank them third on the most-assigned list.
  • ‘Connected’ Vehicle Technology Gains Momentum: After stealing the stage at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the field of telematics, which enables Wi-Fi-style communications in vehicles and powers the sensors that enable self-driving vehicles, has made a prominent showing in the Thomson Reuters Automotive Industry report.  Companies as diverse as General Motors, LG and United Parcel Service are actively patenting in the field.
  • Safety Patents Grow Modestly: Patent activity in the four remaining auto categories (navigation, handling, safety and security, and entertainment) stayed flat or dipped, with safety and security being the lone exception. Less than 1,000 patents were filed in 2009 in the safety and security classification, a number that grew to roughly 2,500 in 2013.

To read the full report, visit: http://go.thomsonreuters.com/autoreport

Laura Gaze, Senior Marketing Manager, IP Solutions Patents , , , , , , ,