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U.S. Supreme Court Issues Test for Separability Under the Copyright Act

Posted by: Kelly A. Williams, shareholder at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  Ms. Williams may be contacted at kwilliams@psmn.com or 412-288-4005.

Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, has said, “You either know fashion or you don’t.”  I think it is safe to say that the courts are still struggling to understand fashion—at least the extent to which fashion is afforded potentially 100 years or more of protection under the Copyright Act.  Generally, “useful articles,” such as clothing are not eligible for copyright protection.  However, Congress affords limited protection for artistic elements in useful articles by providing that “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features” of the “design of a useful article” are eligible for copyright protection as artistic works if those features “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.”  17 U.S.C. § 101.  Simple right?

Not so simple.  The federal courts have struggled to create a uniform standard for applying this provision of the Copyright Act.  At least nine different approaches have developed in the courts over the years, and the issue has challenged courts and scholars alike.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court tried to provide clarity as to when artistic elements in clothing are deemed to be separable and potentially protected by copyright law.  In Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., Varsity Brands obtained or acquired more than 200 U.S. copyright registrations for two-dimensional designs appearing on the surface of their cheerleading uniforms and other garments.  These designs are primarily “combinations, positionings, and arrangements of elements” that include “chevrons . . . , lines, curves, stripes, angles, diagonals, inverted [chevrons], coloring, and shapes.”  Varsity Brands sued Star Athletica, a competitor, for infringing Varsity Brands’ copyrights for the following designs:

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the widespread disagreement over the proper test for implementing Section 101’s separate identification and independent-existence requirements. Justice Thomas, writing for the majority,  held that a feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated.

The court stated that the issue depends solely on statutory interpretation.  For the first part of the test, the court need only be able to look at the useful article and spot some two or three-dimensional element that appears to have pictorial, graphic or sculptural qualities.  For the second part of the test, the court must determine that the separately identified feature has the capacity to exist apart from the utilitarian aspects of the article.  “The ultimate separability question, then, is whether the feature for which copyright protection is claimed would  have been eligible for copyright protection as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work had it originally been fixed in some tangible medium other than a useful article before being applied to a useful article.”

While the court has set forth a new, national standard for separability, the application of that standard is not necessarily clear. In other words, while we know “The Devil Wears Prada,” it is also clear that “The Devil Is in the Details” when it comes to actually determining if the new standard is met.[1] In this case, the majority of the court found that the arrangements of lines, chevrons, and colorful shapes appearing on the surface of Varsity Brands’ cheerleading uniforms were separable features of the design of those cheerleading uniforms.  For the majority, the decorations were features having pictorial, graphic or sculptural qualities.  Additionally, the court determined if the arrangement of colors, shapes, stripes, and chevrons on the surface of the cheerleading uniforms were separated from the uniform and applied in another medium—for example, on a painter’s canvas—they would qualify as “two-dimensional . . . works of . . . art.”  The court further determined that imaginatively removing the surface decorations from the uniforms and applying them in another medium would not replicate the uniform itself.  Accordingly, the court held that the decorations were separable from the uniforms.

However, presented with the same facts, the dissenting justices (Justice Bryer, with Justice Kennedy joining) disagreed, finding that in applying the new standard for separability, the Varsity Brands’ designs could not “be perceived as . . . two- or three-dimensional work[s] of art separate from the useful article.”  The dissent found that the design features in the uniforms were not capable of existing independently of the utilitarian aspect of the object to which they relate.  “Looking at all five of Varsity’s pictures, I do not see how one could conceptualize the design features in a way that does not picture, not just artistic designs, but dresses as well. . . . Varsity, then, seeks to do indirectly what it cannot do directly:  bring along the design and cut of the dresses by seeking to protect surface decorations whose ‘treatment and arrangement’ are coextensive with that design and cut.”  By way of contrasting example, Justice Bryer found the cat in each of the lamps below to be both physically and conceptually separate, meeting the test:

Thus, while the standard has been clarified, the lower courts will be tasked with applying the standard with little guidance on how to do so, which is likely to be challenging if the Star Athletica decision is any indication.  Moreover, the Supreme Court did not decide if the Varsity Brands’ designs at issue in Star Athletica were copyrightable—just whether they were separable.  The court explicitly stated that it expressed no opinion on whether the uniform designs were sufficiently original to qualify for copyright protection or whether any other prerequisite of a valid copyright had been satisfied.  Therefore, the lower court, on remand, will have to determine if Varsity Brands’ designs are original enough to warrant copyright protection.

For more information, including the different and interesting issue that Justice Ginsburg’s concurring opinion raises, see the full opinion of Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc. at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-866_0971.pdf.

[1] “The Devil Wears Prada” is a book written by Lauren Weisberger, a former personal assistant to Anna Wintour.  The character in the book and later in the successful movie based on the book, Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep in the movie), is believed to be based upon Anna Wintour.

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Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Employer Owes No Duty to Protect Employee Data

 Kelly WilliamsKelly A. Williams, a shareholder at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

In an apparent case of first impression, a divided three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that an employer does not owe a legal duty to its employees to protect the employees’ electronically stored personal and financial information.  In Dittman v. UPMC, decided on January 12, 2017 (docket no. 971 WDA 2015), the Superior Court affirmed an opinion of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, PA (opinion by the Honorable R. Stanton Wettick, Jr.), sustaining defendant University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (“UPMC”) preliminary objections to an employee class action suit.  The suit arose from a data breach of the employees’ personal information, which was provided to UPMC as a condition of employment.

The employees sued UPMC for negligence and breach of contract after their names, birth dates, social security numbers, tax information, addresses, salaries and bank information were stolen due to the data breach. Specifically, they alleged that UPMC failed to properly encrypt data, establish adequate firewalls and implement adequate authentication protocols to protect the information in its computer network.  All of UPMC’s 62,000 employees and former employees were affected by the breach.  Appellants consisted of two separate but overlapping classes.  One class alleged that the stolen information had already been used to file fraudulent tax returns and steal the tax refunds of certain employees.  The other class consisted of those who had not suffered this harm but alleged that they were at increased and imminent risk of becoming victims of identity theft crimes, fraud and abuse.

security-breach-image-2To determine whether a duty of care exists, the Pennsylvania courts look to five factors, none of which are determinative alone. Seebold v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 57 A.3d 1232, 1243 (Pa. 2012); Althaus ex. rel. Althaus v. Cohen, 756 A.2d 1166, 1169 (Pa. 2000).  The five factors are:

  1. the relationship between the parties;
  2. the social utility of the actor’s conduct;
  3. the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred;
  4. the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and
  5. the overall public interest in the proposed solution.

In Dittman, the court found that the first factor weighed in favor of finding a duty because the employer-employee relationship gives rise to duties on the employer.  The court next weighed the second factor against the third:  the need of employers to collect and store personal information about their employees against the risk of storing information electronically and the foreseeability of data breaches.  The court concluded:

While a data breach (and its ensuing harm) is generally foreseeable, we do not believe that this possibility outweighs the social utility of electronically storing employee information. In the modern era, more and more information is stored electronically and the days of keeping documents in file cabinets are long gone. Without doubt, employees and consumers alike derive substantial benefits from efficiencies resulting from the transfer and storage of electronic data. Although breaches of electronically stored data are a potential risk, this generalized risk does not outweigh the social utility of maintaining electronically stored information. We note here that Appellants do not allege that UPMC encountered a specific threat of intrusion into its computer systems.

Analysis of the fourth factor looks to the consequences of imposing a duty.  In this situation, the court considered that data breaches are widespread and that there is no safe harbor for entities storing confidential information.  It was also the court’s opinion that no judicially created duty of care is needed to incentivize companies to protect confidential employee information because other statutes and safeguards are in place to prevent employers from disclosing confidential information.  Thus, the court concluded that “it unnecessary to require employers to incur potentially significant costs to increase security measures when there is no true way to prevent data breaches altogether. Employers strive to run their businesses efficiently and they have an incentive to protect employee information and prevent these types of occurrences.”

Finally, the fifth factor looks to whether there is a public interest in imposing a duty.  The Superior Court found persuasive the reasoning of the trial court that imposing a duty here would greatly expend judicial resources and would result in judicial activism.  The Superior Court agreed with the trial court that the Pennsylvania legislature has considered the same issues and chose only to impose a duty of notification of a data breach.  “It is not for the courts to alter the direction of the General Assembly because public policy is a matter for the legislature.”

Weighing all five factors, the court held that the factors weighed against imposing a duty.  Judge Stabile filed a concurring opinion, which Judge Olson, the writer for the majority opinion, joined.  Judge Stabile agreed with the ruling but emphasized that the law in this area is quickly changing and that the ruling was based on the facts pled in that particular case.  One of the key facts for Judge Stabile was the fact that the employees had not alleged that UPMC was on notice of any specific security threat.  In a dissenting opinion, Judge Musmanno concluded that  allegations that UPMC failed to properly encrypt data, establish adequate fire walls and implement appropriate authentication protocols was sufficient to allege that UPMC knew or should have known that there was a likelihood data would be stolen.  Judge Musmanno also disagreed with the majority’s assumption that employers are sufficiently incentivized to protect employee data without a duty imposed upon them to do so.

The employees filed a motion for reconsideration and reargument on January 26, 2017.  Thus, the Superior Court’s January 2017 opinion may not be the final word on the issue.

security-breach-imageDittman is interesting in the world of data breach lawsuits because it does not address standing.  Many data breach defendants have relied upon the theory that plaintiffs lack standing to bring claims for data breaches where plaintiffs cannot prove actual harm from the breach.  Proof of actual harm can be challenging because evidence regarding the use of the stolen information may be difficult to find.  Here, standing was not discussed by the Superior Court.  In the trial court below, UPMC had argued that the claims against it should be dismissed on the grounds that the employees lacked standing to assert claims on behalf of employees who had not yet been injured.  UPMC also asserted that the employees’ negligence and breach of implied contract claims failed as a matter of law.  After oral argument on these issues, the trial court ordered both parties to file supplemental briefs on the issue of whether UPMC owed a duty to its employees with respect to the handling of their personal and financial data.  This ultimately proved to be the issue that the trial court and the Superior Court found to be determinative.

The Dittman v. UPMC opinion may be found at:  http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17833965968674892500&q=dittman+v.+upmc&hl=en&as_sdt=6,39&as_vis=1.

SCOTUS Gives Guidance Regarding Attorney Fee Awards in Copyright Cases

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

SupremeCourtImage_1On June 16, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion on awarding attorneys’ fees in copyright cases for the first time in two decades and issued the first copyright case in two years. The case is Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons Inc., case number 15-375.  Section 505 of the Copyright Act provides that a district court “may  . . . award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing  party.”  The issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether a court, in exercising that authority, should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s position.  The court held that it should but that courts must also give due consideration to all other circumstances relevant to granting fees.  It further held that the district courts retain discretion, in light of those factors, to make an award of attorneys’ fees even when the losing party advanced a reasonable claim or defense.

Kirtsaeng, who was from Thailand, came to the U.S. to go to Cornell University.  While there, he discovered John Wiley & Sons, an academic publishing company, sold virtually identical, English language textbooks in the U.S. and Thailand, but sold them at a much cheaper price in Thailand.  He had family and friends in Thailand buy the books, ship them to him in the U.S. and sold them at a profit.

Wiley sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement, claiming Kirtsaeng’s sale of the books violated its exclusive right to distribute its textbooks.  Kirtsaeng invoked the “first sale doctrine” as a defense, which enables the lawful owner of a book (or other work) to resell or otherwise dispose of it as he or she wishes.  Wiley countered that the first sale doctrine did not apply to books manufactured abroad.  The circuit courts were split on the issue, and the issue went up to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court agreed with Kirtsaeng and held that the first sale doctrine does allow the resale of foreign made books.

Kirtsaeng went back to the district court and sought $2 million in attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party pursuant to section 505.  The District Court denied the motion, relying on Second Circuit precedent that gave “substantial weight” to the “objective reasonableness” of Wiley’s infringement claim.  The rational for that approach was that the imposition of a fee award against a copyright holder with an objectively reasonable—although unsuccessful—litigation position will generally not promote the purposes of the Copyright Act.  The District Court and the Second Circuit, on appeal, agreed that Wiley’s position was reasonable.  They also found that the other factors to be considered did not outweigh the reasonableness finding.   These non-exclusive factors were set forth in Fogerty v. Fantasy Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994).  In that case, the Supreme Court identified the non-exclusive factors as the frivolousness of the case, the loser’s motivation, the objective unreasonableness of their case, and considerations of compensation and deterrence, all of which are to be applied in a manner that’s faithful to the purposes of the Copyright Act.

In Kirstaeng, the Supreme Court explained that objective reasonableness can be only an important factor in assessing fee applications—not the controlling one.  District courts must take into account a range of considerations beyond the reasonableness of litigating positions.  Thus, a court may award fees even though the losing party offered reasonable arguments.  The Supreme Court cited as an example the situation where a court orders fee-shifting because of a party’s litigation misconduct, or the court decides to deter repeated instances of copyright infringement (i.e. copyright infringement “trolls”).  “Although objective reasonableness carries significant weight, courts must view all the circumstances of a case on their own terms, in light of the Copyright Act’s essential goals” (for instance—enriching the general public through access to creative works).

The Supreme Court concluded that the Kirstaeng matter should be remanded to the District Court because it appeared that the court had put too much emphasis on the “reasonableness” question.  Thus, the Supreme Court ordered the remand to ensure that the District Court evaluates the motion consistent with the analysis that it set forth—giving substantial weight to the reasonableness of Wiley’s litigating position, but also taking into account all other relevant factors.

Copyright Infringement Suit Over Hit Song Fails Due to Lack of Valid Copyright Registration

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

Copyright SignRapper Rick Ross and his producers sued LMFAO members Skyler and Stefan Gordy in December 2013, claiming that “Party Rock Anthem,” which topped the Billboard charts for six weeks and sold more than 7.5 million copies in the U.S., infringed Rick Ross’s 2006 hit “Hustlin’.”  The court held that Rick Ross and his producers didn’t have the copyright registration necessary to sue for infringement.  The court determined that Ross and his producers never presented evidence showing they were the owners of “Hustlin’,” and the three different registrations for the song at the U.S. Copyright Office were all inaccurate.

Interestingly, the members of LMFAO didn’t dispute that they had Ross’ “every day I’m hustlin” lyrics in mind when they drafted their “every day I’m shuffling” lyric.  However, they raised several defenses including lack of standing and fair use.  They won on lack of standing.  If they had not, the court had previously ruled that it would leave the fair use issue for trial.  That issue was whether LMFAO transformed Ross’ lyric into something new.

Also of note was the Register of Copyrights’ finding that the misrepresentations on three registrations for Ross’s Hustlin’ song were strong enough that the Register would cancel all three.  The court also commented on this, finding that the misrepresentations were dramatic and unexplained especially because two of them were filed by major, global music corporations.  The court’s ruling did not cancel the registrations.  However, it did bar Ross from bringing the infringement action because it turned on whether there was a valid registration, and Ross and his producers didn’t have one.

The case is found at Roberts v. Gordy, case no. 1:13-cv-2470 in the U.S. Dist. Court for the S.D. Florida.

“Happy Birthday to You” Song Copyright Stricken

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

Good Morning to You Productions Corp. v. Warner Chappell Music, Case. No. 2:13-cv-04460, C.D. Cal. is about whether Warner/Chappell was properly asserting that it owned a copyright in the song “Happy Birthday to You.”

Birthday CakeThe case is a class action suit led by film production companies and a California musician who were working on a documentary about the song, “Happy Birthday to You.”  Warner/Chappell claimed to have a copyright on the song and demanded that Plaintiffs pay a $1,500 licensing fee to use the song.  The court goes through a large amount of historical evidence presented by both sides on cross motions for summary judgment.  After reviewing the evidence, the court found that Warner/Chappell did not own a valid copyright in the “Happy Birthday” lyrics and that the music for the song had entered the public domain years ago.  The origin of Warner/Chappell’s claim that it owned the copyright went back to a previous company which had acquired a song from two sisters that had the same music but different words, titled “Good Morning to All.”  The court could not find any reference to the “Happy Birthday” words in the agreement between the sisters and the purchasing company, Summy Co. (Defendants were successors-in-interest to Summy Co.).  Thus, the court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs are seeking to have Warner/Chappell return the millions of dollars they collected over the years.  Also, we are all now free to sing “Happy Birthday to You” without fear of having to pay $1,500 (unless the case gets reversed on any appeal).

Another Attempt at a Federal Trade Secrets Law

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

US Capitol BuildingA bill was introduced on Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives that would allow a private right of action for misappropriation of trade secrets under federal law.  Currently, federal law only provides criminal relief for the theft of trade secrets and civil relief is left to the laws of each state.  This is not the first time that Congress has tried to pass such a law.  An attempt approximately one year ago failed.  The current bill is title “Defend Trade Secrets Act,” and it would be enacted under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.  Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dozens of corporations, including IBM, Boeing, General Electric and Nike, support the bill.  Trade secrets and the protection of trade secrets are becoming increasingly important as the laws governing patent protection are changing and narrowing.  Let’s see if the government gets it done this time.

3rd Circuit Hears Argument on Cybersecurity Issue Regarding Data Breaches of Consumer Information

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

ComputerOn March 3, 2015, the Third Circuit heard oral argument in FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp. (No. 14-3514) on the novel issue of whether or not the Federal Trade Commission can sue a company for failing to properly secure consumer data. The case arose when the FTC sued Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, after Russian hackers broke into the Wyndham’s computer network and stole the credit card information for thousands of customers. The FTC filed the suit based on its authority under federal law to patrol unfair business practices. The Wyndham Hotel contends that its cybersecurity system is outside the realm of the FTC’s authority and that the FTC had not given notice about what the law would require with regard to corporate data security practices. The case reached the Third Circuit after the District for New Jersey denied the Wyndham’s motion to dismiss, and the Wyndham filed an interlocutory appeal. The panel’s, consisting of Judge Thomas Ambro and Senior Judges Anthony Scirica and Jane Roth, interest in the novel issue was apparent from the fact that oral argument lasted twice as long as the allotted time and the Court requested supplemental briefing.

See this article for additional information (subscription required). A recording of the oral argument can be found here at the 3rd Circuit’s website.

The Western District of Pennsylvania Weighs in on the Admissibility of Facebook Posts

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

wd-pa-courthouseIn Newill v. Campbell Transp. Co., plaintiff sought to preclude defendant from introducing several of his Facebook posts into evidence on the bases that the posts were irrelevant or would be unfairly prejudicial. The case involved personal injury claims and employability issues. Defendant had obtained Facebook posts showing plaintiff engaging in physically taxing activities and posts showing plaintiff using “casual or rough language.” Defendant sought to use the physical activity posts to show that plaintiff retained the ability to engage in physical activities and sought to use the “language” posts to argue that plaintiff would have been employed had he not posted questionable language on Facebook.

The court held that the physical activity posts were relevant and admissible for the purpose of showing plaintiff could engage in physical activity but that his posts of “casual or rough” language were not admissible for supporting the claim that he remained unemployed because of these posts. With respect to the physical activity posts, the court ruled that plaintiff’s claim that he was embarrassed by the posts was not sufficient to preclude their admissibility generally. However, the court did state that it would be willing to assess particular posts at trial and whether there was a sufficient basis for excluding them under Federal Rule of Evidence 611 (granting the court discretion to bar harassment and undue embarrassment of a witness). As to the claim that the “language” posts interfered with plaintiff’s ability to find employment, the court held that this was speculation on the part of defendant’s expert, and therefore, they were inadmissible.

Newill v. Campbell Transp. Co., 2:12-cv-1344 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 14, 2015). The full opinion can be found here.

SCOTUS Decides That the Issue of Trademark “Tacking” Is One for a Jury

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

This week the United States Supreme Court determined that a jury should decide the issue of whether “tacking” can be used by a trademark holder to assert a priority position.

Hana Bank LogoIn Hana Financial, Inc. v. Hana Bank, No. 13-1211 (decided January 21, 2015), Hana Financial sued Hana Bank for trademark infringement. Hana Bank asserted the doctrine of tacking as a defense, claiming that its mark came first. This argument is relevant because under trademark law, rights in a trademark are determined by the date of the mark’s first use in commerce. In other words, the party who uses a mark in commerce first is given priority over other users. The doctrine of tacking arose from courts’ recognition that trademark users ought to be able to modify their marks over time without losing priority (for instance, think of the Aunt Jemima mark: The mark dates to 1893 but Aunt Jemima has changed her appearance over the years. Thanks to the tacking doctrine, the owner of the mark, currently Quaker Oats Company, keeps that 1893 priority date. Fun Fact: The Aunt Jemima mark actually changed trademark law in the United States. (See this article for details.)   A trademark holder may use “tacking” when the original and revised trademarks are “legal equivalents” in that they create the same, continuing commercial impression. In short, tacking applies when a consumer considers both marks to be the same despite a modification.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion delivered by Justice Sotomayor, concluded that because the tacking inquiry operates from the perspective of an ordinary purchaser or consumer, a jury should make the determination of whether the modified mark creates the same, continuing commercial impression. Prior to this ruling, there had been a split in the federal circuit courts as to whether tacking was a question for the jury or the court. The Supreme Court has now decided the issue. Note, that the Supreme Court did acknowledge that the issue of tacking could still be decided by a judge on a motion for judgment as a matter of law or on a motion summary judgment under the right set of facts.

So which bank won? Hana Bank. Hana Bank convinced a jury that the doctrine of tacking applied to its mark such that it had priority over Hana Financial. Based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, the jury verdict will stand.

Beer Drinkers Bring Down Trademark Litigation

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

You might wonder what could cause people to take to social media to rail against a trademark suit. It turns out one thing is beer: IPAs to be more exact.

 

Law360 and CNBC reported this week about the social media backlash that occurred when Lagunitas Brewing Co. brought a trademark suit against Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. over the use of “IPA” on labels for India Pale Ale. The backlash was so great that Lagunitas moved to dismiss its lawsuit just two days after it filed the suit.

For those of you who practice in the area of trademark law, you might quickly jump to the conclusion that the suit was a weak one given that the term IPA sounds very “descriptive” or “generic” at first glance. However, the suit wasn’t that simple. Lagunitas didn’t just oppose the use of “IPA” on the label, and in fact there are a lot of beers out there with “IPA” on the label (yes, I’ll admit I’m pretty well aware of these other beers having tried a few myself). Lagunitas’ objection was the way in which Sierra Nevada designed its logo, which allegedly looked very similar to Lagunitas’.

Whether Lagunitas would have ultimately prevailed in a court of law is up for debate. However, Lagunitas appeared to be losing in the court of public opinion and that was enough to push it to withdraw the suit. This is an interesting issue for IP practitioners to keep in mind in those cases where a client’s business is dependent upon favorable public opinion.

Other sources for this article: Law360.