Judge Determines That Star Trek Copyright Suit Against Fan Film Anaxar Can Proceed

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

Last week, Judge Klausner from the US District Court for the Central District of California denied a fan film producer’s motion to dismiss a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Paramount Pictures and CBS Studio, which own the copyrights in the Star Trek franchise. The case present some interesting issues regarding the interplay between copyright holders and fans that attempt to create works inspired by or based off of more famous works. The case is pending in Los Angeles and is captioned Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Axanar Productions, Inc. (No. 2:15-cv-09938-RGK-E).

Background

Star Trek is one of the most successful science fiction creations of the last fifty years. Created by Gene Roddenberry and first aired on television in 1966, Star Trek chronicles the adventures of humans and aliens in the future as they venture through space. The original television series has spawned numerous feature Enterprisefilms and television series, in addition to creating a huge and devoted fan base. The fan base is noted, in particular, for recreating and reenacting characters and scenes from the franchise, as well as creating new works based on the characters and events portrayed in the television series and movies. This lawsuit arose out of one such effort by a group of fans to create a movie based on a scene from the original television series when Captain Kirk meets one of his heroes, Garth of Izar, and discusses Garth’s victory against the Klingons in the battle of Axanar. Defendants created a script, received funding through various sources, and released a short film based on the Battle of Axanar that is a preview of their anticipated longer film. Plaintiffs filed suit claiming that Defendants’ efforts violated numerous copyrights that they own in the Star Trek franchise.

Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint

In plaintiffs’ amended complaint, they set forth numerous examples of what they contend are infringing features or elements of defendants’ work, which include such things as various characters, alien races, costumes, settings, starships, logos, plot points, dialogue, and themes, some of which are shown below (Anaxar on the left, and plaintiffs’ on the right).

Uniform Comparison

Klingon Comparison

Starship Comparison

Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

Defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit on various grounds–that plaintiffs had failed to provide sufficient notice of what actions constituted infringement, that Paramount lacked standing to sue, that the allegations were not sufficient under the Twombly standard, that the various elements identified by plaintiffs were not protectable, that the claims were premature because the film had not been released, and that plaintiffs’ efforts amount to impermissible prior restraint.

Klingon Ship Comparison

The Court rejected all of these arguments at this procedural stage, noting (with a nod to the Star Trek franchise) that “[a]lthough the Court declines to address whether Plaintiffs’ Claims will prosper at this time, the Court does find Plaintiffs’ claims will live long enough to survive Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.”

Klingon Amicus Brief

One of the more interesting aspects to this case was an amicus brief filed by the Language Creation Society. In its amended complaint, plaintiffs asserted that the Klingon language itself was protected by copyright. The Language Creation Society argued that the copyright laws do not protect a language itself. The Judge did not address this point in the opinion on the motion to dismiss, but this issue is an interesting one presented in a novel form. The amicus brief is a particularly good read, as it is interspersed with quotes and phrases in the Klingon language.Klingon Quote

Conclusion

The case is far from over, but it is an interesting window into the difficulties (both legal and otherwise) that a successful copyright owner faces in trying to creatively and economically control its works.

 

Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) Seminar in Pittsburgh Jun 22, 2016

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®). Mr. Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law teaching Trade Secret Law, Trademark Law and the Law of Unfair Competition. He may be contacted at hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013. Website www.psmn.com or www.psmn.law

See copy of my Tweet from earlier today: “I’m pleased to be a part of the Federal Bar Association seminar set for Pittsburgh on the new Defend Trade Secrets Act  https://twitter.com/hashtag/DTSA?src=hash   on June 22, 2016. Co-Hosted by the Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Law Association (PIPLA) and the Duquesne University School of Law, where I teach Trade Secret Law as an adjunct Professor of Law. Register at FBA link: http://tinyurl.com/gm8nudj and see my Tweet at
https://twitter.com/PicadioSneath/status/730450574148149248
This is biggest Federal expansion of  #IP  Law since the Lanham Act and when signed by the President (today it appears) – it will provide immediate jurisdiction for  #tradesecret  actions in Federal Court.”

Big IP NEWS: Defend Trade Secrets Act 2016 (DTSA) Passes Congress – President to sign

EnrolledTitle_114Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®). Mr. Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law teaching Trade Secret Law, Trademark Law and the Law of Unfair Competition. He may be contacted at hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013. Website www.psmn.com or www.psmn.law

The US Congress has passed the landmark Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) and it is set for the President’s signature. It will soon be law. See Link to DTSA Legislation here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1890/text    Trade Secret law has long been the province of the States, more or less exclusively, and except for criminal protections against trade secret theft and economic espionage, there has been no Federal civil law providing a federal damages remedy for such theft.  Amended will be Crimes and Criminal Procedures – Title 18, Chapter 90, Section 1836 and the key provision is as follows:

“(1) IN GENERAL.—An owner of a trade secret that is misappropriated may bring a civil action under this subsection if the trade secret is related to a product or service used in, or intended for use in, interstate or foreign commerce.”

Congress has now added a civil remedy provision to Federal protection of Trade Secrets wherein prior Federal law only provided criminal sanctions. This has been described as a major new development in Federal IP law and will provide federal jurisdiction for Trade Secret Misappropriation cases. The law will NOT preempt nor change State laws and therefore actions will be brought in both federal and state court jurisdictions. Most states (48) have adopted a form of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) and actions can still be brought under those state statutes, but those statutes vary to some degree. The DTSA is very similar to the UTSA based state court statutes, but there will be differences depending on the state jurisdiction from which cases are brought or removed. DTSA will apply to any acts of trade secret misappropriation that take place AFTER the act is signed into law (not retroactive). The Statute of Limitations will be 3 years according to the actual text linked above, but some commentators have stated that it is 5 years (we will need to check to get accurate information on the SOL and will follow up).

The DTSA contains an important and somewhat controversial “Civil Seizure” provision which renders it different from most state laws and which reads:

“(i) APPLICATION.—Based on an affidavit or verified complaint satisfying the requirements of this paragraph, the court may, upon ex parte application but only in extraordinary circumstances, issue an order providing for the seizure of property necessary to prevent the propagation or dissemination of the trade secret that is the subject of the action.”

This provision is controversial because it can be ordered by a court ex-parte. By amendment, the words “but only in extraordinary circumstances” were added to attempt to mollify some critics of this provision. However, there are some strict limitations to the ex-parte injunctions and a couple of them are below:

“(ii) REQUIREMENTS FOR ISSUING ORDER.—The court may not grant an application under clause (i) unless the court finds that it clearly appears from specific facts that—

“(I) an order issued pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or another form of equitable relief would be inadequate to achieve the purpose of this paragraph because the party to which the order would be issued would evade, avoid, or otherwise not comply with such an order;

“(II) an immediate and irreparable injury will occur if such seizure is not ordered.”

Such ex-parte injunctions must be very specific and the court must go to great lengths not to overreach or to punish through publicity an accused wrongdoer during the period of seizure. There are other typical requirements for injunctions like posting of security and careful management of the seized materials, and the accused wrongdoer has a right of action back against the claimant if the seizure turns out to be wrongful or excessive.

In an action for misappropriation, a court may order injunctive relief and may

“(B) award—

“(i) (I) damages for actual loss caused by the misappropriation of the trade secret; and

“(II) damages for any unjust enrichment caused by the misappropriation of the trade secret that is not addressed in computing damages for actual loss; or

“(ii) in lieu of damages measured by any other methods, the damages caused by the misappropriation measured by imposition of liability for a reasonable royalty for the misappropriator’s unauthorized disclosure or use of the trade secret;

“(C) if the trade secret is willfully and maliciously misappropriated, award exemplary damages in an amount not more than 2 times the amount of the damages awarded under subparagraph (B); and

“(D) if a claim of the misappropriation is made in bad faith, which may be established by circumstantial evidence, a motion to terminate an injunction is made or opposed in bad faith, or the trade secret was willfully and maliciously misappropriated, award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.”

It is unclear as to how this bill will be enforced against foreign Trade Secret theft, or if there will even be jurisdiction under this act for such claims. We will follow up on that issue in future posts. See the Senate and House reports below which contain a substantial amount of background legislative history and commentary. Contact us for additional information. We will continue to study this new law and report to our readers.

Here is a link to the US Senate report on the bill: https://www.congress.gov/congressional-report/114th-congress/senate-report/220/1

Here is a link to the US House report on the bill: https://www.congress.gov/congressional-report/114th-congress/house-report/529/1

Sneath, Henry 2012 headshot

Henry M. Sneath, Esquire – 412-288-4013 or hsneath@psmn.com

Follow me on Twitter @picadiosneath and on Google+: http://tinyurl.com/ktfwrah

 

 

Federal Circuit Reverses Design Patent Claim Construction

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

In the wake of the Apple v. Samsung cases, the importance of design patents has become more visible. Whether a product infringes a design patent can sometimes be difficult to determine because design patents only protect the ornamental aspects of a design, and not the functional aspects. The Federal Circuit, in Sport Dimension, Inc. v. The Coleman Company, Inc. (No. 2015-1553) recently considered the interplay between ornamentation and functionality in a design patent.

Background

Coleman sells a variety of outdoor sporting equipment, including personal flotation devices. One of its products,  a flotation device with two arm bands and a torso piece, is protected by US Design Patent No. D623,714.

Flotation DeviceSport Dimension also sells personal flotation devices, including its line of Body Glove products that also have two armbands and a torso section.

Body GloveColeman brought suit against Sport Dimension, alleging infringement of the ‘714 patent.

The trial court adopted Sport Dimension’s claim construction, which expressly excluded the arm bands and side torso tapering as elements of the claim, because functional elements not protected by the patent. Coleman then moved for entry of a judgment of non-infringement in favor of Sport Dimension so that it could appeal the claim construction ruling.

The Federal Circuit reversed the claim construction, vacated the judgment of non-infringement, and remanded.

Analysis

The Federal Circuit began by noting that it is often difficult to use words to describe a design, which is why illustrations are an important part of design patents. Despite the limitations of words, the Court noted that it is often constructive for courts to construe design patents in order to guide the fact finder in determining infringement.

The Court then noted the law of infringement of design patents–a design patent cannot protect purely functional designs, but it can protect designs that are not primarily functional even if certain elements have functional purposes. Thus, design patents can be used with products that have elements that are both functional and non-functional, but the design patent will only protect the non-functional elements that are shown in the patent. Of particular interest to design patent litigators, the Court reviewed the key cases in the design patent arena.

In analyzing the patent in dispute and the trial court’s claim construction, the Federal Circuit found that the trial court went too far in excluding entirely the arm bands and tapered side torso from the scope of the patent. The Court agreed that these elements had functional aspects, but concluded it was improper to entirely exclude these elements. The test for infringement of a design patent is not an element-by-element comparison. Instead, infringement is to be assessed based on the overall design, excluding the functional aspects of certain elements (as opposed to excluding the elements entirely).

Based on this faulty claim construction, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded.

Conclusion

This case highlights the difficulty that design patents present for courts and fact finders. Sometimes, the functional/ornamental aspects are difficult to distinguish and apply. Nonetheless, design patents are still an important piece of intellectual property for many companies and should not be discounted lightly.

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.

VENUE: Will Texas Lose its Dominance as a Patent Venue? Fed. Circuit Tackles Venue in the “Heartland” Case

 

FEDERAL CIRCUIT HEARS ORAL ARGUMENT IN “HEARTLAND” CASE ON MAJOR VENUE ISSUE

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Group at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®) in Pittsburgh, Pa. He may be contacted at hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013. Website www.psmn.com or www.psmn.law

Federal CircuitYesterday the Federal Circuit heard oral argument on the mandamus petition filed by TC Heartland in an underlying case lodged in the District Court of Delaware ( The underlying case is Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v. TC Heartland LLC, case number 1:14-cv-00028, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware). The outcome could either keep the status quo where Texas is the venue of choice for an inordinately large number of patent infringement filings, or force courts to adopt a different standard for evaluating proper venue. Texas, Delaware and the Northern District of California receive the majority of patent case filings, but Texas gets over 40% of all filings alone. Heartland, as sued by Kraft Foods, is headquartered in Indiana and believes that the case should be lodged in their home jurisdiction and not where they have little or no business contact in Delaware – beyond sales of product. On a challenge to venue, the District Court used the currently applied standard finding “venue is appropriate for a defendant in a patent infringement case where personal jurisdiction exists.” Heartland argues that the Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011 effectively repealed the Federal Circuit’s 1990 ruling in VE Holding v. Johnson Gas Appliance that patent suits can be brought anywhere a defendant makes sales. In other words, that personal jurisdiction and venue are essentially the same. Heartland, in its mandamus petition ( https://www.eff.org/files/2015/10/28/in_re_tc_heartland.pdf ) has asked the Federal Circuit to reevaluate the VE Holding case along with certain Congressional venue legislation and the overall venue issue.

Here are a couple of resources to assist you in following this case. The great blog at Patently-O has written on Heartland: http://patentlyo.com/patent/2015/10/defendant-jurisdictional-infringement.html

See also a fascinating study of what would happen to patent case filings if the Federal Circuit changed the venue standard: From Patently-O: Guest Post: What Would Happen to Patent Cases if They Couldn’t all be Filed in Texas? March 11, 2016 PatentJasonRantanen by Colleen Chien, Santa Clara University Law School and Michael Risch, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

Sneath Headshot  Henry M. Sneath, Esq.

 

                        

 

Federal Circuit Recognizes Patent Agent Privilege

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

Federal CircuitThe Federal Circuit recently decided an interesting case about whether there should be a patent agent-client privilege. In In re: Queen’s University at Kingston (Case No. 14-145), the Federal Circuit concluded that there should be such a privilege in a 2-1 decision written by Judge O’Malley (Judge Lourie joined the decision, and Judge Reyna dissented).

Background

Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. in the Eastern District of Texas. During discovery, Samsung sought to discovery certain communications between Queen’s University employees and its registered patent agents. The district court granted a motion to compel, finding, in part, that there was no patent agent privilege. Queen’s University filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Federal Circuit challenging the order.

Analysis

The Federal Circuit first determined that its law, and not the law of the regional circuits or state law should apply to determine whether a patent agent privilege might exist because the issue relates to patent-specific subject matter. It also noted that the issue was one of first impression at the Federal Circuit, but was one where there is conflicting authority at the district court level.

The Court then decided that it was appropriate to consider the writ given that once the documents were produced, there would be no easy way to undo the damage if a privilege existed. The Court also noted that the district court split on the subject favored it providing some clarity on the issue. The Federal Circuit then turned to the issue of whether it should recognize a patent agent privilege.

The Court found that Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence authorizes federal courts, in appropriate circumstances, to recognize new privileges. It further noted that it did so with some caution, as privileges restrict the flow of information and should not be created lightly.

The Court then looked to the Supreme Court’s decision in Sperry v. State of Florida ex rel. Florida Bar, 373 U.S. 379 (1963), in which the Supreme Court recognized that patent agents perform acts that constitute the practice of law and that the regulation of patent agents is solely governed by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

In looking at the Supreme Court’s analysis in that case, the Court traced the history of patent agents and the nature of their work before concluding that a limited patent agent privilege is appropriate.

The Court next turned to what the scope of that privilege should be. Not all communications with a patent agent can be privileged.

Communications between non-attorney patent agents and their clients that are in furtherance of the performance of these tasks, or “which are reasonably necessary and incident to the preparation and prosecution of patent applications or other proceeding before the Office involving a patent application or patent in which the practitioner is authorized to participate” receive the benefit of the patent-agent privilege.
Communications that are not reasonably necessary and incident to the prosecution of patents before the Patent Office fall outside the scope of the patent-agent privilege. For instance, communications with a patent agent who is offering an opinion on the validity of another party’s patent in contemplation of litigation or for the sale or purchase of a patent, or on infringement, are not “reasonably necessary and incident to the preparation and prosecution of patent applications or other proceeding before the Office.”

Based on the recognition of this new privilege, the Court grant the petition for a writ of mandamus, vacated the district court’s order on the motion to compel, and remanded for further consideration.

Huge CMU v. Marvell Patent Infringement Case Settled in Pittsburgh

 

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Group at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®) in Pittsburgh, Pa. He may be contacted at hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013. Website www.psmn.com or www.psmn.law

marvell_chipFrom “ars technica“* publication: One of the largest patent verdict cases ever was obtained by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh Federal District Court in 2012 in the courtroom of the Hon. Nora Barry Fischer as presiding judge. CMU won a $1.17 billion jury verdict in 2012 and the court enhanced the verdict to $1.54 Billion.  The Federal Circuit cut the win significantly, by reducing the damages and eliminating the enhanced damages award, but kept the main verdict intact. The case was just settled here in Pittsburgh for $750 Million. It will allegedly be the second largest payment ever in a technology patent case. A thorough article on the matter with good links to the case history appears at web publication ars technica*(http://tinyurl.com/zwb26wg ).

*ars technica is a copyrighted publication and the references and links herein are from the website of ars technica (© Ars Technica 1998-2016)

Henry M. Sneath

Sneath Headshot

Monkeys Cannot Own Copyrights

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

l1aYeA little over a year ago, we discussed an interesting case where the owner of a camera that took a picture of a monkey could not register a copyright in the picture because the monkey was the one took a picture of itself. Well, that case reemerged last year when attorneys for PETA who “represent” the monkey filed a lawsuit in California arguing that the photographer violated the monkey’s copyright when he published pictures that the monkey took. (Naruto v. Slater, 3:15-cv-04324-WHO, C.D. Cal.) Last week, the Court granted the photographer’s motion to dismiss, holding that a monkey is not entitled to register a copyright with the Copyright Office or bring suit for copyright infrinement.

The monkey brought suit under Sections 106 and 501 of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §§ 106 and 501), alleging that the publication of the photographs it took violated its copyrights in these photographs. The Court initially noted that there is no per se bar to an animal being a proper plaintiff in some limited circumstances, so it chose not to focus on that aspect of the case. Instead, the Court looked to the language of the Copyright Act, its legislative history, court opinions interpreting the Act, and the regulations of the Copyright Office. Taking all of these together, the Court found no indicating that Congress ever intended for animals to be able to hold copyrights or bring suit under the Act. In particular, the Court noted the Copyright Office has considered this very situation–whether a monkey can hold a copyright–and concluded that it cannot. See Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices § 313.2 (December 2014).

So, for now at least, photographs taken by monkeys (and other animals) cannot be copyrighted by the animal.

“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).