NEWS

USPTO Launches Fast-Track Appeals Pilot Program

On July 2, 2020, the USPTO launched the “Fast-Track Appeals Pilot Program” which allows applicants to speed up the examination process on their most important inventions and get a decision in half the time of a normal application. The fee to Fast-Track an appeal is $400, and the USPTO estimates that an appeal will be read in six months under the program.

Trademarking generic.com

On June 30, 2020 the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling in trademark law: generic terms can be registered as trademarks when followed by .com.

Trademark law had, up to this time, held that generic terms are not registrable. For example, getting a trademark on the word “Farm”. Farm is a generic description of a type of property, and as such, it would be improper to grant rights of usage for the word to one party. In the same way a generic term couldn’t be combined with “Inc.” to bypass the principle, the PTO held that adding “.com” to a generic term yields a generic composite, not a distinctive mark.

It was this basic principle that led the USPTO to reject Booking.com as eligible for trademark. So Booking.com took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Patent and Trademark Office asked the Supreme Court to hand down a clear decision upholding the prohibition, arguing that overturning it could lead to large companies like Booking.com, abusing smaller companies that use the generic term “booking” anywhere.

Instead, the Supreme Court, by an 8-1 decision, rejected the USPTO’s request on the grounds that if consumers perceive a term as not being generic, then it isn’t generic. This reasoning is consistent with trademark law, which is essentially motivated to protect consumers in their ability to know where a good or service is coming from. But the Court was clear that while they could not create a bright line rule prohibiting generic.com trademarks, neither would such names be automatically considered distinctive. A substantial amount of evidence would be required to convince the PTO that consumers view such names as trademarked.

This ruling will likely lead to another gold-rush of companies trying to register such names. Lacking the bright-line rule, the PTO will have to consider the merits case by case. We expect there will be no shortage of registration attempts and subsequent challenges over the marks.

Political Campaigns and Copyrighted Music

At a recent political rally, the Trump campaign played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”. When the singer’s family found out, a cease-and-desist letter was sent, claiming that neither the singer, while still alive, nor his family, endorse the President and his political stances, and therefore don’t want Petty’s music associated with the campaign.

But despite copyrights on Petty’s music, there isn’t as much legal ground as the family might hope for ordering the campaign not to use the song.

Why is that? If they own the copyright to the song, then shouldn’t they be able to stop someone from using it?

When someone wants to use a copyrighted song, permission must be sought. But it is practicably impossible for a venue that plays a lot of music to reach out to every artist and ask permission for each song. Enter broad licenses issued by performance rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI. These licenses allow public venues to play a broad catalog of songs for a fee, without the risk of infringement. Usage under these broad licenses means that it is much more difficult to stop individuals from using specific songs.

Over recent years however, various artists have objected to their music being used for political campaigns. To address that, efforts have been made by ASCAP and BMI for artists to withdraw permission in these instances, by creating licenses for political entities that allow them to exclude individual songs.

But one way proven around that is the venues, arenas and stadiums, where the rallies take place have their own licenses, and those venues aren’t under the political entity rules.

If politicians can’t be stopped from using songs under copyright laws, the best recourse may simply be a public statement from the artist stating his views on the candidate. If the harm of using a song for a campaign rally boils down to people thinking the artist endorses the candidate, and the artist comes out with a vocal disavowal of the candidate and his campaign, it may even cause the campaign to look elsewhere for music, than from an artist vocally in opposition.

IP Deadlines Extended around the World Due to COVID-19

Patent offices all around the world have been finding ways to adjust to the COVID-19 situation by extending deadlines. In Australia, the IP office gave free extensions to customers until July 31. In China, the CNIPA has not extended any deadlines but has instead allowed applications abandoned due to the pandemic to be restored for free. Similarly, in Japan, the JPO did not extend any deadlines but does allow you to request an extension, but the JPO is generally strict in granting extensions. In Europe, the EPO extended their deadlines to June 2, but didn’t extend it further than that. They did, though, reduce the renewal fee by 50% until August 31. In South Korea, the KIPO extended their deadlines to June 1, but hasn’t extended it past that. Furthermore, only trademark opposition briefs, Office Action responses, and responses to notices for correction by KIPO has been extended, while other deadlines have not.

Australia (IP Australia):

  • Extended deadlines until July 31

Europe (EPO):

  • Extended deadlines until June 2

  • Renewal fee reduced by 50% until August 31

China (CNIPA):

  • No extended deadlines

  • Abandoned applications can be restored for free

Japan (JPO):                    

  • No extended deadlines

  • You can request an extension, but not many are given out

South Korea (KIPO):

  • Extended deadlines until June 1, but only for:

    • Trademark opposition briefs

    • Office Action responses

    • Responses to notices for correction by KIPO

Jennifer Lopez is Sued for Copyright Infringement… again

Jennifer Lopez posted a picture on Instagram taken by photographer Steve Sands, and was sued for over $150,000 because Sands was the author (i.e., the one who took the picture) and Lopez used it without his permission. This isn’t the first time she’s made this mistake.  She was sued for the same thing back in 2017 and 2019. 

Can you infringe street art?

LMNPOPI, a nationally known street artist, sued XYZ Films for copyright infringement for using LMNPOPI’s street art in their movie, Bushwick, without her permission. The District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled that this was not copyright infringement, though, because the use of the art was so minimal that its use was considered “fair use”.  If this art had been used in a less public area, however, the artist might well have prevailed.

Can Artificial Intelligence have its inventions patented?

With recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), it has become possible for an AI system to create inventions, but the question is whether or not those inventions could be protected under US patent law.  So far, the answer is “no”.  The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) says that AI systems aren’t classified as “inventors” because only people can be inventors, and for this reason, AI generated inventions cannot be protected by a patent.