Trademark Maintenance During Business Interruptions

Trademark Maintenance During Business Interruptions
Elizabeth Sewell

During this unpredictable time, we have a few practical trademark maintenance tips that could save “future you” time and money. Foundationally, trademark rights are maintained via use of the mark in commerce. For federally registered marks, this use is evidenced in maintenance filings during the lifecycle of the trademark. However, use in commerce may be difficult, if not impossible, during pandemic-related shutdowns. Typically, periods of non-use of a mark can leave a trademark owner without evidence to support a registration’s maintenance filings and may also leave a trademark vulnerable to claims of cancellation or abandonment.

The good news is that the Lanham Act, the law governing federal trademark rights, has a built in safeguard that allows owners to avoid unnecessary and unwanted results in light of unforeseen events, like, for example, global pandemics…

In the event that you have a U.S. Trademark Office maintenance filing due in the coming months, our team is ready to assist you. Just as important, trademark owners that may not have maintenance filings due, but who experience interruptions in operations, should note the following for their records:

  1. The date that use of the mark stopped (or your “non-essential” business had to cease operations);
  2. The approximate date when you hope to resume use (or resume operations); and
  3. Documentation of the facts that lead to non-use (for example, an order from local or state government) and affirmation that you intend to use your trademark when those special circumstances are relieved. (37 C.F.R.§2.161)

We recognize that the health and safety of your family and community is your top priority during this difficult time. We will do our part to help you focus on what matters most by providing our expertise on the path forward for your business.

For further information regarding your trademarks, please feel free to contact us.

 

2020 Update: Data Privacy Laws in the United States

2020 Update: Data Privacy Laws in the United States
Courtney Reigel

After the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) in 2016, the world watched to see whether the United States would adopt a similar data privacy law at the federal level.  While U.S. lawmakers, the tech industry, and consumer advocates have been working towards a federal data privacy bill, Congress has yet to pass, or even seriously consider, such legislation.  However, a federal law may finally be on the horizon – two data privacy bills have been introduced in the Senate, and a bi-partisan bill is currently being developed by a House committee.  In honor of Data Privacy Day, celebrated internationally on January 28, we explore the current status of data privacy laws in the United States.

In the absence of a comprehensive federal law, numerous states across the U.S. have passed their own data privacy legislation, including, perhaps most notably, California.  The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“CCPA”) became effective on January 1, 2020, creating new obligations for covered businesses regarding privacy notices and the handling of California consumers’ personal information.  The CCPA only protects Californians’ personal information but may apply to companies that do business in California even if they are not physically located in the state.  Businesses continue to scramble to understand and comply with the CCPA, which is only one of many state and industry-specific laws forming the current patchwork of data privacy laws in the U.S.

However, a federal solution may be on the horizon.  In November 2019, two data privacy bills were introduced in the Senate – the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) and the United States Consumer Data Privacy Act (CDPA).  The bills share many similarities, including enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission, and would provide individuals with new rights regarding their personal information.  However, COPRA (introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.) and the CDPA (introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.) vary on some important points, leading many to wonder whether either bill could make it through Congress.  For example, COPRA would preempt only state laws that expressly conflict with the Act, leaving state laws that provide additional protection to consumers intact, whereas the CDPA would preempt all state laws regarding data privacy (except for data breach notification provisions), including the CCPA.  COPRA would also allow for an individual private right of action, similar to the CCPA, while the CDPA would not.

Additionally, the House Energy & Commerce Committee recently released an initial draft of a bi-partisan data privacy bill.  Bi-partisan support will be critical for Congress to enact a federal data privacy law, but the initial House bill does little to reconcile the differences between the two introduced Senate bills.  Further, while this federal legislation is pending, numerous states are actively considering data privacy bills themselves.  Specifically, multiple states are in the process of considering data privacy legislation mirroring the CCPA.  In other states, such as Virginia (where the Virginia Privacy Act was introduced earlier this month), representatives have pulled provisions from the CCPA as well as the GDPR to create a more tailored bill for their state legislature to consider.  With many states in their legislative sessions and various federal bills pending, 2020 is already shaping up to be an exciting year for data privacy in the United States.

Rina’s Return to Rome

As someone who studied abroad in Rome, I thought I had seen it all.  (Well, truly, I don’t think that’s possible – there’s an unending list of things to see in the Eternal City.)  On my recent return trip to Italy, I was wonderfully surprised and excited by all of the new things I was able to experience this time around.  And all the delicious Italian wine and authentic food we sampled.

Overall, Rome hasn’t changed much since I lived there 12 years ago.  We stayed in my old neighborhood and went to some of my old haunts like Remo’s Pizzeria (the best pizza in Rome).  When I was studying there, Rome was trying to build Metro Line C.  It’s still a work in progress as tunneling under the city has resulted in never-ending excavations as they dig up more history.  The Colosseum, Roman Forum, Sistine Chapel, Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain – they’re all still there, attracting more visitors than ever, and they are truly amazing sights to behold.  But some of the unexpected and special activities we came across will make this trip most memorable for me:

  • Exploring the Colosseum at night with no crowds and a tour of the underground
  • Experiencing the virtual chariot race at the Circus Maximus
  • Visiting the long-off limits Palatine Hill for an incredible aerial view of the Forum and exploration of the imperial palace ruins
  • Climbing to the top of St. Peter’s dome
  • Descending into the Grottoes under Saint Peter’s Basilica to see the tombs of the Popes
  • Enjoying a glass of prosecco on Castel Sant’Angelo with a view of the Vatican in the distance

Similarly, in our travels south to Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast, more new experiences became highlights of our travels:

  • Viewing the unbelievably well-preserved frescoes in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii
  • Boating to the Green (not blue!) Grotto on Capri to see the glowing aqua water
  • Getting sidetracked when driving the Amalfi Coast and discovering the wonderful seaside town of Maiori
  • Watching an unforgettable sunset over Positano on our last evening in Italy

I’m already excited for more new experiences when we make it back to Italy someday (we threw our coins in the Trevi Fountain, after all).  Of course, the thought of all that pasta and gelato doesn’t hurt either….

-Rina Van Orden, Esq.

IP Rights in Halloween Costumes

When I was growing up, I, like many children, wore homemade costumes of my favorite characters for Halloween – saving my parents money versus the store-bought alternatives, but certainly costing my mother time.  With a rise in intellectual property protection efforts by companies large and small in recent years, you may be wondering if your handmade creations might put you at risk for an infringement claim from one of the more over-zealous intellectual property enforcers (here’s looking at you, Disney).  As a lawyer, I am nigh physically incapable of saying “have no fear,” but I think I’m comfortable with a reassuring “have very little fear!”

The four areas of intellectual property protection that could apply to a Halloween costume are publicity rights and trademark, copyright, and patent protection.  I will address each in turn:

Publicity Rights

Should your costume include elements that could be used to identify a particular person, you may be violating such person’s publicity rights.  For example, a costume of Albert Einstein was the subject of a publicity rights lawsuit in 2010.  Publicity rights laws vary from state to state, and typically prevent unauthorized reproduction or use of a person’s likeness (which may include name, image, portrait, picture, signature, or other identifying elements) for commercial or advertising purposes.  The purpose of such laws is to prevent unauthorized parties from trading off the likeness of others without fair compensation.  Therefore, unless you plan on using your homemade costume in an advertising (e.g. in an advertisement for your small business) or commercial (e.g. manufacturing, producing, or selling your costumes) sense, you are likely not at risk for violating your costume subject’s publicity rights.

Trademark

Trademark owners have an affirmative duty to police their marks against unauthorized use by a third party.  However, trademarks by their definition are used as source identifiers for goods or services being sold in commerce.  Like the commercial and advertising aspects discussed above regarding publicity rights, trademark protection seeks to prevent parties from benefiting or trading off the trademarks of others for financial or reputational gain.  Thus, recreating a protected design, logo, image, etc. in a homemade costume that will be used for personal use only (and likely for one night only), presents very minimal risk of liability for trademark infringement.

Copyright

Unlike publicity rights and trademark laws, federal copyright protection extends to any reproduction of a protected work.  However, the Copyright Act specifically carves out exceptions for “fair use” reproductions.  Surprisingly, Halloween costumes are not directly addressed; however, the statutory factors to be considered in determining whether or not a fair use exception applies include “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial purpose;” and, “the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”  17 U.S.C. § 107(1), (4).  Again, the law focuses on commercial, rather than personal, use of the potentially infringing work.  Also, practically speaking, damages in many copyright claims are based on lost profits to the copyright owner, meaning sales of the infringing work that should be attributed to the rightful copyright holder.  Again, so long as your costume is made and used for your or your family’s personal use only, your use of the copyrighted material is very likely a “fair use.”

Patent

Patents prohibit any recreation of the patented design and, in general, apply to innovative designs.  This may sometimes apply to costumes.  For example, a patent exists for a costume that can be modified for comfort according to the outside temperature.  The U.S. laws concerning patents also consider what are known as “design patents.”  Design patents lack the exception of fair use but are only in effect for fourteen (14) years, and only protect unique and original designs separate and apart from a functional aspect of a costume.  This mains that no one can have a patent on a purple suit, but could have a design patent on a distinctive and ornamental patterned suit.  While it is unlikely that your recreated costume would run afoul of a design patent, the possibility is higher than in the other areas discussed above, particularly as there is no exception or commercial requirement.  The practical risk is even lower, as patent owners are unlikely to be patrolling neighborhoods (outside of their own trick-or-treating efforts) looking for infringers.  Furthermore, design patents are not the preferred method of protection in many cases, as the protection expires after a much shorter period (consider the fact that patent protection for designs is only 14 years, versus the “lifetime of author plus 75 years” protection applied to copyrights).

Conclusion

Avoid the urge to market, mass produce, and sell your wonderful homemade “wears” and devote the energy you may have used worrying about infringing on Marvel’s intellectual property to how many candy corns you can fit in your mouth at one time!  This author is pro-candy corn, but if that offends you to your core, consider Skittles and/or M&Ms instead.  Happy Halloween!

-Fred Freeman, Esq.