Copyright and the Selfie

by Cara Disheroon, attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

l1aYeIn the ever transitioning world of copyright law, issues surrounding the selfie have recently taken center stage. The latest dispute involves a selfie taken by a monkey who, in 2011 in Indonesia, grabbed wildlife photographer David Slater’s camera to snap a wide-smiling image of itself. Wikipedia subsequently placed the image in Wikimedia Commons, the area of Wikipedia that holds open-source material. Slater then requested that the photo be removed as he was the copyright owner and Wiki refused. You can visit Mr. Slater’s webpage for additional examples of his work here.

Wikimedia stated to the Huffington Post in response to the controversy “We didn’t think the monkey owned the copyright – instead, our assessment was that there’s no one who owns the copyright. That means that the image falls into the public domain.”

It appears that the US Copyright Office agrees with Wiki’s analysis. Two weeks after the controversy broke, the agency issued a 1,222 page draft compendium analyzing federal copyright law in which it stated “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.” Within Chapter 300, which outlines the “Human Authorship Requirement,” the Office noted that copyright law protects “the fruits of intellectual labor” that are “founded in the creative powers of the mind.” A photograph taken by a monkey was specified in the list of examples NOT protected.

A similar ownership issue surrounding the selfie has also arisen in the context of the Ellen DeGeneres group selfie taken at this year’s Oscars and posted on Twitter. The photo, taken in the audience during the ceremony, quickly became the most tweeted photo of all time and DeGeneres later granted the Associated Press permission to share the photo for editorial purposes to subscribers of AP’s photo service. But legal scholars noted that DeGeneres may not be the actual owner of the copyright.   As Bradley Cooper technically pressed the button, he could arguably be the copyright owner given the courts view historically that pressing the shutter created ownership.

Should Cooper attempt to stake a claim, DeGeneres could have an argument based on Brod v. General Publishing Group, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 2544 (9th Cir. Feb. 15, 2002). In Brod, a photographer sued a book author for using his photographs without permission. The court found however, that the book author was a co-owner since his contributions to the process were “sufficiently original and expressive.” The copyrightable expressions in Brod included selection and arranging of subject matter, composition, camera angle and lighting.

As Bradley Cooper is unlikely to assert a copyright claim, the incident currently serves only as an interesting hypothetical. However, as technology advances, issues over authorship in the photography/video context will likely arise again as physical snapping of the shutter is no longer required to produce artistic works.

DRI IP Litigation Community Opens

by: Robert Wagner, patent attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

Tdri-logo-newhe contributors here on the Pit IP Tech Blog are proud to announce the formation of a new DRI Community (IP Litigation) that opened last month. I am co-chair of the community, and I will be splitting my time between this site and the community going forward. The IP Litigation Community is a forum for DRI members to share information and insights into issues involving their practice areas, along with useful resources.

One of my posts is featured on the community pages that deals with the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International  (No. 13-298) and how Courts and the US Patent and Trademark Office are dealing with that decision. The short answer is that things are looking rough for software inventors who are trying to obtain patents.

Third Circuit Rules that Octane Fitness’s Standard for Awarding Patent Attorneys’ Fees Applies in Lanham Act Cases

by: Kelly A. Williams, a shareholder at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

Attorneys' FeesOn September 4, 2014, the Third Circuit held that the revised, or “slightly altered standard” for awarding attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party in a patent case, as set forth in Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1749 (2014), also applies to cases brought under the Lanham Act. Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, Nos. 13-3305 & 14-1572, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 17118 (Sept. 4, 2014). In Octane Fitness, the Court held that “an ‘exceptional’ case [which merits attorneys’ fees] is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigation position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which it was litigated.” Consequently, the previous standard in the Third Circuit, which required a finding of culpable behavior before awarding fees, is no longer a prerequisite.

Like § 285 of the Patent Act, Section 35(a) of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1117(a)) permits the recovery of reasonable attorneys’ fees only “in exceptional cases.” In fact, the Octane Fitness Court noted that the Lanham Act fee provision is “identical” to § 285 of the Patent Act. The Third Circuit interpreted this as a clear message from the U.S. Supreme Court that it “was defining ‘exceptional’ not just for the fee provision in the Patent Act, but for the fee provision in the Lanham Act as well.”

Based on Octane Fitness and Fair Wind Sailing, a prevailing party under the Lanham Act (either plaintiff or a defendant) in the Third Circuit, must show the following to be awarded attorneys’ fees: (a) an unusual discrepancy in the merits of the positions taken by the parties; or (b) the losing party has litigated the case in an “unreasonable manner.” Whether litigation positions or litigation tactics are “exceptional” enough to warrant attorneys’ fees is to be determined on a case-by-case basis by the district courts based on the totality of the circumstances.

By removing a threshold finding of culpable behavior, the Courts are making it easier to award attorneys’ fees if there is a finding that the litigation was brought or conducted in an abusive manner. Time will tell if Octane Fitness and Fair Wind Sailing have this impact.

Ripple Effect from Alice and Mayo Cases Being Felt in Patent World

shutterstock_26396608By: Henry Sneath, Chair of the Intellectual Property practice at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. in Pittsburgh, Pa.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

Sharing a great post from Dennis Crouch and his tremendous blog: Patently-O

New Section 101 Decisions: Patents Invalid

The Supreme Court’s decisions from Alice and Mayo are beginning to really have their impact. A few examples:

  • Walker Digital v. Google (D. Del. September 2014) (data processing patent invalid under 101 as an abstract idea) (Judge Stark).
  • Genetic Tech v. LabCorp and 23AndMe (D. Del. September 2014) (method of predicting human performance based upon genetic testing invalid under 101 as a law of nature) (report and recommendation from Magistrate Judge to Judge Stark)
  • Ex parte Cote (P.T.A.B. August 2014) (computer method and hardware for ‘phase shifting’ design data invalid under 101)
  • Ex parte Jung (P.T.A.B. August 2014) (diagnostic method associated with epigenetic risk factors invalid under 101).” Patently-O.

To view the entire post – please visit Patently-O at this link: http://tinyurl.com/otj6v6n

Supreme Court Relaxes Standards for Awarding Attorneys’ Fees in Patent Cases

by: Robert Wagner, patent attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

Law and MoneyAs we noted earlier, the United States Supreme Court has taken a renewed interest in intellectual property and patent cases as of late. In Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., No. 12-1184, the Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit’s long-standing standard for determining whether to award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party in a patent infringement action. Now, prevailing parties need only show by a preponderance of the evidence that the case was “simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated.” And, this decision lies in the sound discretion of the trial court.

In Octane Fitness, ICON sued Octane Fitness for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,019,710. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Octane Fitness, but declined to award attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285, finding that the infringement claims were not frivolous, objectively baseless, or brought in bad faith. Octane Fitness appealed, arguing that the Federal Circuit’s standard for awarding fees under § 285 was too restrictive, but the Federal Circuit disagreed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify the standard.

In a unanimous decision written by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court looked to the statute, which reads in its entirety:

The court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.

Finding that the Patent Act provides no definition or guidance beyond this statement, the Court looked to the common understanding of the term “exceptional” and to when the provision was enacted and the standards that it was meant to codify.

“Exceptional,” the Court found, was meant to encompass things that are out of the ordinary, unusual, or special. The Court further concluded that Congress intended that courts be given discretion to determine when something was exceptional.

Putting these together, the Court held that courts have the discretion to award attorneys’ fees when a case “stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated.”

The Court rejected the Federal Circuit’s more rigid approach of limiting fee awards only when there has been litigation misconduct or if the party’s position was brought in bad faith and was objectively baseless.  Moreover, the Court found no basis to require the prevailing party to prove its entitlement to fees by clear and convincing evidence.

This decision may have substantial consequences going forward in patent cases, for both plaintiffs and defendants. Because the Court has emphasized that this decision is left to the discretion of the trial court, and the standard is much more flexible, one would expect to see more courts awarding fees. In theory, this will act as a deterrent for bringing frivolous patent claims and may reduce some of the more objectionable patent troll cases. But, it may also put more pressure on defendants with weaker defenses to settle, rather than to litigate at all costs. Only time will tell to see what effects come from this decision.

Court Awards Limited Enhanced Damages in CMU v. Marvell Case

by: Robert Wagner, patent attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

marvell_chipYesterday, Judge Nora Barry Fischer issued her opinion in the Carnegie Mellon University v. Marvell Technology Group, Ltd. patent infringement lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Case No. 2:09-cv-00290-NBF) and awarded an additional 23% in enhanced damages above and beyond the jury’s $1.17 billion award. In total, with all enhancements and interest awards, Marvell is facing at least a $1,535,889,387.60 damage award with an ongoing $0.50/chip royalty for the lifetime of the patent.

The jury returned a $1.17 billion award in December 2012, finding that Marvell willfully infringed two of CMU’s patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 6,201,839 and 6,438,180). It awarded a royalty of $0.50 per chip Marvell sold using the patented technology. In September 2013, the Court denied Marvell’s post-trial motions and determined that Marvell’s infringement was willful. The Court yesterday determined that some enhancement of the damage award was appropriate, although not to the extent requested by CMU (who wanted an additional 200% in damages).

In weighing the parties’ arguments as to whether the damage award should be enhanced, Judge Fischer appeared to focus primarily on three factors. First, she was concerned that a double or triple award of damages could cripple Marvell. Second, she was concerned about CMU’s “inexcusable” delay for almost 6 years after learning of Marvell’s infringement before taking action. Finally, she balanced these factors against Marvell’s willful infringement and its actions before CMU filed suit.

Weighing all of these factors (and the others under the Read test), Judge Fischer concluded that a 23% enhancement properly balanced all of the relevant interests.

In this decision, Judge Fischer also awarded damages on the sales of additional infringing products that were not part of the jury’s verdict but occurred before entry of judgment (this was uncontested), established a post-judgment royalty rate of $0.50 per infringing chip sold, and set a 0.14% post-judgment interest rate. She denied CMU’s motion for a permanent injunction and for prejudgment interest, finding that neither were warranted under the circumstances.

Given the amounts at issue, one expects that these decisions will not be the final word in this case, and that at least the Federal Circuit will be looking at this case on appeal.

Is CafePress a Service Provider and Could Its Stripping of Metadata Cost It Safe Harbor Status Under the DMCA?

by Cara Disheroon, attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

The Southern District of California recently grappled with these issues in Steven M. Gardner v. CafePress Inc., Case No. 3:13-cv-1108-GPC-JMA (S.D. Cal. Feb. 26, 2014). The case centered on a copyright infringement claim against the self-publishing site CafePress and provides an interesting analysis of the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) at 17 U.S.C. § 512.

The facts regarding the images were undisputed.  Plaintiff, Gardner alleged copyright infringement of various wildlife images which were distributed for sale on the site by CafePress users. Gardner filed suit and CafePress, on the same day they received the complaint, disabled access to the alleged infringing material.  Subsequently, they discovered a second member’s use of the artist’s work and immediately disabled and terminated the second user’s account. Before the material was disabled however, $6,320 worth of products was sold. CafePress then moved for summary judgment based on the safe harbor provision of § 512.

In analyzing whether CafePress could take advantage of the safe harbor provision, the court began with an analysis of the term “service provider” under § 512(c). Noting that the language “a provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities therefor” was a broad definition, they then compared CafePress to other vendors such as Amazon and eBay. Unlike these companies however, CafePress’s service differed as they actually determine the prices for retail products, pay users only a royalty or commission, possess the ability to modify designs and determine which products are sold. The court found CafePress’s activities to be beyond a service that “merely facilitates the exchange of information between internet users” and thus the court was unable to find as a matter of law, that CafePress was a “service provider.”

Moreover, § 512(i) requires that the provider must have “adopted and reasonably implemented” a policy to terminate repeat infringers and not interfere with “standard technical measures” used to protect copyrighted works. Plaintiff contended that CafePress interfered with “standard technical measures” by deleting metadata when images are uploaded to the website. The court agreed stating that the deletion created a dispute of material fact thereby precluding judgment as a matter of law and adding “From a logical perspective, metadata appears to be an easy and economical way to attach copyright information to an image.” At this stage, the discussion is only dicta but it is nevertheless important as the court appears to be placing the burden on CafePress and given the fact that many social media sites routinely strip metadata, a ruling on the merits could potentially affect a whole host of sites which conduct the practice.

CafePress did prevail on its Motion for Partial Judgment as to statutory damages and attorney fees given that Gardner had failed to register his images before the alleged infringement. Concluding that the alleged acts constituted the same “series of acts” that commenced prior to registration of the images, the court granted CafePress’s motion. This means that Gardner is limited to his actual damages of $6,320 and may affect whether the case proceeds to trial.

If the case does proceed however, a ruling by the court on the merits could have a huge impact on numerous self-publishing sites with the potential loss of safe harbor status and the risk of significant statutory damages.

 

“Johnny Football”

By: Joe Carnicella, intellectual property attorney with Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

On March 20, 2014, the USPTO rejected an application for the “Johnny Football” trademark on the grounds that the applied-for-mark consists of a name, portrait or signature identifying a particular living individual whose written consent to register the mark is not of record.  On November 1, 2012, Kenneth R. Reynolds Family Investments, an investment firm based in College Station, Texas, filed for the trademark “Johnny Football” as Johnny Manziel began his ascent to fame as Texas A&M’s quarterback.  Johnny Manziel, through his organization JMAN2 Enterprises, filed for the same trademark three months later.   The investment firm now has six months to request that the USPTO reconsider its decision or to file an appeal.  The application filed by Manziel’s organization has been stayed pending the outcome of the investment firm’s application.

What Is a Trademark?

PSMN What Is...? SeriesBy: Joe Carnicella, intellectual property attorney with Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

As part of our “What is . . . ?” series, it’s time to find out just what is a trademark / service mark.

A trademark / service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the goods or services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of goods or services, even if that source is unknown.  There are five categories of marks: fanciful, arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive and generic.  A fanciful mark comprises a term that has been invented for the sole purpose of functioning as a trademark or service mark.  These words are either unknown in the language or are completely out of common usage.  Examples of fanciful marks include PEPSI and KODAK.  An arbitrary mark comprises words that are common in language but, when used to identify particular goods or services, do not suggest or describe a significant ingredient, quality or characteristic of the goods or services.  An example of an arbitrary mark is APPLE for computers.  A suggestive mark comprises words that, when applied to the goods or services at issue, require imagination, thought or perception to reach a conclusion as to the nature of those goods or services.  A descriptive mark comprises words that merely describe an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the specified goods or services.  Finally, a generic mark comprises words that the relevant purchasing public understands primarily as the common or class name for the goods or services.

Now that you have an understanding of what is a trademark / service mark, the next step is to determine whether you can and should obtain a mark.  An important issue to determine is whether a mark is registrable.  One of the most common grounds for refusal of a registration is that the potential mark causes a likelihood of confusion with an existing mark.  In particular, a likelihood of confusion exists when the marks are similar and the goods or services relate in a way that such consumers would mistakenly believe they come from the same source.  Other grounds for refusal exist as well.  The other important issue to determine is whether the mark is enforceable based on the strength of the mark.  The strongest mark, and thus, the easiest to enforce, is a fanciful mark, and next in line would be an arbitrary mark followed by a suggestive mark.

If you are interested in obtaining a trademark / service mark, you should consult a trademark attorney to advise and to assist you with the federal registration process.       Continue reading

What Is the Difference Between a Provisional and Non-Provisional Patent Application?

by: Robert Wagner, patent attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

What is the Difference Between a Provisional and Non-Provisional Patent Application?

PSMN What Is...? SeriesOne of the key decisions that an inventor needs to make in the patenting process is whether to file a provisional or non-provisional patent application, so understanding the difference between these two kinds of applications is important for inventors. Both of these types of applications serve useful roles in the patent process, but they are two very different kinds of patent applications that create very different rights.

Non-Provisional Applications

A non-provisional patent application is an application filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office that is examined by a patent examiner and can potentially lead to the issuance of a patent. It has a number of formal requirements that must be satisfied in order to be accepted by the Patent Office. For instance, it must contain a written description of the invention with sufficient detail to both demonstrate that the inventor has invented something and to explain it in sufficient detail such that one of ordinary skill in the art could practice the invention without undue experimentation. It generally must contain formal drawings that show various embodiments of the invention. It must be accompanied by an oath or declaration by the inventor or inventors that confirms that they invented the invention described in the application. The inventors must also identify all relevant prior art that they are aware of. Finally, it must contain a series of claims, which are what defines the scope of the patent and the protections it provides.

In general, non-provisional applications are complicated documents that must be prepared with extreme care if an inventor wants a patent that will be enforceable and that will product his or her invention to the broadest extent possible. The precise language of the claims is incredibly important, as is making sure that the written description and drawings adequately explain the invention and enable one to make and use it. As such, it takes time (and money) to draft one correctly.

Provisional Applications

A provisional application, on the other hand, is never examined by a patent examiner and can never lead to the issuance of a patent by itself. Unlike a non-provisional application, there are only two requirements for filing a provisional application—it must contain a written description of the invention and sufficient drawings (which can be informal) to understand the invention. The other formal requirements of a non-provisional application (such as formal drawings, claims, oaths, declarations, and prior art disclosures) are not necessary. A provisional patent application lasts for one year before it expires, and this one-year period cannot be extended.

Because provisional applications are significantly less formal than a non-provisional application, they can be drafted more quickly (and cheaply) and can include more information than is necessary or prudent to include in a non-provisional application. Inventors can literally attach journal articles, PowerPoint slides, photographs, hand-written drawings, etc. to the application, in addition to the narrative that describes the invention.

In order for a provisional application to lead to the issuance of a patent, it must either be converted or it must be appropriately referenced in a non-provisional application that is filed within one year of the filing date of the provisional application (this one-year date cannot be extended).

So, why would one choose to file a provisional application?

So, if a provisional application only lasts for one year and cannot, by itself, ever become a patent, why would anyone want to file one? Under the current patent laws, the public sale or disclosure of an invention before a patent application (either a non-provisional or provisional application) has been filed can act as a bar that prohibits an inventor from being able to obtain a patent on the invention in the future. A provisional application provides a way for an inventor to get an application on file before a key event so as not to prevent him or her from getting a patent later on.

For example, if a company is about to present a new product at a trade show or if an inventor is about to present a paper or give a talk at a conference, the inventor can file a provisional application that contains the materials that will be publicly disclosed, along with a sufficiently detailed write-up of the invention, before that information is disclosed without having to go through the considerable time and effort required to file a non-provisional application.

In addition, in the new first-inventor-to-file regime that exists under the America Invents Act (AIA), it may be prudent for an inventor to file a series of provisional applications as it is refining and developing a new product or invention in order to protect those ideas from another inventor filing in the Patent Office first. A provisional patent application provides a quicker and cheaper means for doing so.

Conclusion

These descriptions give you some idea of the differences between provisional and non-provisional patent applications. Both types of applications serve important roles in the patenting process, and are often utilized in concert—i.e., an inventor files a provisional patent application followed by a non-provisional patent application within a year. As with all the information in our What Is…? series, there is significantly more detail and nuance behind what is described in this article. If you are interested in obtaining a patent, you should consult a patent attorney to help you determine which application is appropriate for the circumstances you find yourself in.