Category Archives: Intellectual Property

The Power of .com in Securing Federal Trademark Rights

On June 30, 2020, the United States Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg in “United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V.,” decided that “Booking.com” was a name that was eligible for federal trademark registration. In doing so, the Court rejected the United States Patented Trademark Office’s (USPTO) “nearly per se rule” and instead held that the proper standard of whether a term is “generic,” depends on “whether consumers in fact perceive that term as the name of a class or, instead, as a term capable of distinguishing among members of the class.”

To be eligible for trademark registration under the Lanham Act, a mark must be sufficiently “distinctive” meaning that “the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others.” “Distinctiveness,” should be viewed on a spectrum. On one end are the most distinctive marks, “arbitrary” (‘Camel cigarettes’), ‘fanciful’ (‘Kodak’ film), or ‘suggestive’ (Tide laundry detergent).” [1]. On a lower part of the spectrum are “descriptive” marks, which by themselves are not eligible for trademark registration. Instead, the mark must have acquired distinctiveness, meaning that “in the minds of the public,” the mark is significant. Finally, the lowest portion of the “distinctive” spectrum is “generic.” This refers to marks such as the name of the good itself (e.g. “wine”).

Though the word “booking” on its own would likely fall into the generic portion of the distinctiveness spectrum, adding “.com” pushes the mark to “descriptive.” As the Court explained, “whether ‘Booking.com’ is generic turns on whether that term, taken as a whole, signifies to consumers the class of online hotel-reservation services.” Thus, the Court would need to make a finding that consumers construe “booking.com” to represent not one hotel reservation service, but instead the class of hotel reservation services. The Supreme Court stated simply that they accepted the lower court’s findings that consumers do not perceive “Booking.com” in this manner, and as such, “Booking.com” is not generic. On this finding alone, the Court found this case could be resolved.

The PTO disagreed, and attempted to argue for the following rule,

“when a generic term is combined with a generic top-level domain like “.com,” the resulting combination is generic. In other words, every “generic.com” term is generic according to the PTO, absent exceptional circumstances.”

The PTO advocated for this rule relying on the same line of logic of the matter of, “Goodyear’s India Rubber Glove Mfg. Co. v. Goodyear Rubber Co.” In the PTO’s argument, that case stands for the proposition that adding the word “company” to a generic word does not confer trademark eligibility. The PTO argued that the word “company” and “.com” should be treated exactly the same.

The Court soundly rejected this argument, pointing out that only one entity may occupy a particular domain name, unlike adding the word “company” or “incorporated”. Thus, adding “.com” infers to consumers that this is a “specific entity.” Additionally, the Court found that the rule from the Goodyear’s case (referenced above) as articulated by the PTO was mistaken. The Court explained, “Instead, Goodyear reflects a more modest principle, harmonious with Congress’ subsequent enactment: A compound of generic elements is generic if the combination yields no additional meaning to consumers capable of distinguishing the goods or services.”

What is crucial to note, is that the Court did not instead adopt another “per se” rule, that adding “.com” to the end of a generic word will always guarantee trademark registration eligibility for the mark. Instead, the Court would require parties to show evidence that the public would in fact see that mark as “distinguishing.” To make this determination, the Court stated that the type of evidence to be considered should be “consumer surveys, . . . dictionaries, usage by consumers and competitors, and any other source of evidence bearing on how consumers perceive a term’s meaning.”

[1] Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Brothers, Inc., 529 U.S. 205, 210–211, 120 S.Ct. 1339, 146 L.Ed.2d 182 (2000).

For any questions about the case or how to handle your trademark strategy, please contact our office below.

This article was written by Emilio E. Rodriguez, Legal Intern for Assouline & Berlowe PA (under the direction of Partner Greg Popowitz). Emilio is a student at the University of Miami Law School.

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

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Power to the Patent Office! No Judicial Review of IPR Time Bars

Patent applications are routinely a back and forth process between the patent applicant and the Patent Office. In some rare situations, a third party can submit evidence of prior use to the USPTO during the application process. However, the third party cannot actively participate in the application process.

After a patent is granted, third parties are increasingly using inter parties reviews (IPR) to challenge claims to an issued patent. An IPR is conducted at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) where it will review the patentability of one or more claims based on Section 102 (anticipation) or Section 103 (obviousness).

In a recent decision by The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in Thryv v. Click-to-Call, the Court was tasked with deciding whether 35 U.S.C. 314(d) permits judicial review of the PTAB’s decision to institute an IPR upon finding that Section 315(b)’s time bar did not apply. Section 314(d) states that “[t]he determination by the Director [of the Patent Office] whether to institute an inter parties review under this section shall be final and nonappealable”. Section 215(b), the time bar, states that “[a]n inter parties review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceedings us filed more than one year after that date on which the petitioner … is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent”.

Despite the long procedural history, the case boils down to whether there should be judicial review of the PTAB’s decision or is the action is limited to the Director of the Patent Office. In a 7-2 majority opinion written by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held that there is no judicial review of the USPTO’s authority to decide whether a party properly petitioned under the AIA within a year of being sued for patent infringement, or was in privity with a supplier, business partner or other party who had been sued.

The unsettling part of this opinion is that the USPTO admitted that the IPR proceeding should not have been instituted due to the privity of the underlying parties and resulting time bar. However, SCOTUS’ decision says a time bar decision is not judicially reviewable under Sections 314(b) and 315(d). Justice Giunburg stated that the language supports the Patent Office’s goal of removing bad patents.

The result will cede more power to the Patent Office’s Precedential Opinion Panel (POP), where PTO management, including Director Andrei Iancu, exercises discretionary review over panel decisions.

The Intellectual Property team at Assouline and Berlowe includes two Registered Patent Attorneys, Peter Koziol and Greg Popowitz. For any questions about the case or how to handle your patent strategy, please contact our office below.

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

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Webinar: Branding and Business, with a Primer on Non-Use Due to Covid-19

Intellectual Property Partner Greg Popowitz recently recorded a webinar on the Zoom platform titled Branding and Business, with a Primer on Non-Use Due to Covid-19. The course can be found here.

Mr. Popowitz speaks about the intersection of business and branding. He covers topics such as the importance of a brand, how to select a brand, how to protect a brand, and how to enforce/monetize your brand.

Another focus of the webinar is on the topic of trademark non-use. An often overlooked subject of trademark law, non-use is a critical topic for brand holders in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) outlines several scenarios of excusable non-use. The webinar discusses those scenarios and how trademark owners can document their non-use to fight off challenges to their trademark rights in the future due to non-use.

Mr. Popowitz also references a statistic he saw during a trip to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2018. The average person sees approximately 1,500 brands during the course of their day. 1,500? That seems like a lot. But think about all the advertisements on TV and the web, driving on the road (billboards, badges on cars), and walking through a grocery store or shopping mall. Of course, this statistic does not apply to our current stay at home orders during COVID-19.

For more information about the intersection of branding and business, please listen to the webinar. If you have any additional questions about Intellectual Property, contact Mr. Popowitz below.

https://www.nacle.com/CLE/Courses/Branding-and-Business-with-a-Primer-on-Non-Use-Due-to-Covid-19-1465

Greg M. Popowitz, Esq.

Make Your IP Pop

Registered Patent Attorney / Partner

Intellectual Property Litigation

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

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TRADEMARK ALERT – Is Your Brand “Dead” for Non-Use During the Covid-19 Shutdown?

We are in trying times. The Coronavirus known as Covid-19 has impacted the world. Businesses are trying to navigate how to operate in the middle of a pandemic. Emergency orders are continually coming out from all levels of government regarding essential and non-essential businesses, including “stay at home” orders. What if you are deemed a non-essential business and your business is effectively shutdown as a result? While direct revenue is likely a pressing concern, what about the brands around your products or services that you have built over the years?

Trademark law is centered upon use of a brand in commerce. Without use, the brand will eventually become abandoned. After three years of non-use without any attempt to resume use, the USPTO will presume the owner abandoned the brand. Section 71 of the Trademark Act is designed to remove “deadwood” from the register. However, it is not designed to cancel registrations due to a temporary interruption of use of the brand due to circumstances beyond the control of the trademark owner.

The Trademark Manual of Examination and Procedure (TMEP) details excusable (and non-excusable) non-use of a brand. See TMEP 1613.11.

Some examples of excusable non-use include:

  • Trade Embargo or Other Circumstance Beyond Holder’s Control (Covid-19?):  When the holder of the registered brand is willing and able to continue use of the brand in commerce, but is unable to do so due to a trade embargo
  • Sale of Business: Temporary non-use during the sale
  • Retooling: Limited circumstances if the tooling was critical and there was no other means to produce without the shutdown for tooling
  • Orders on Hand: If the product is the kind of good that cannot be produced quickly or in large numbers (for example, airplanes), but there are orders on hand and activity toward filling them
  • llness, Fire, and Other Catastrophes (Covid-19?): Illness, fire, and other catastrophes may create situations of temporary non-use, with the holder being able to outline arrangements and plans for resumption of use.  Note, illness of the owner does not qualify as excusable non-use unless the business cannot operate without the owner

Examples of non-excusable non-use:

  • Business Decision: A business decision to stop use of the brand is not beyond the holder’s control
  • Decreased Demand: Decreased demand for the product sold under the brand, resulting in its discontinuance for an indefinite period
  • Negotiations with Distributors: Helps to show lack of intention to abandon the mark but not excusable non-use
  • Use in Foreign Country: This has no bearing on excusable non-use in the United States that can be regulated by the U.S. Congress (use in commerce)
  • Use of Mark on Different Goods/Services: Using the brand on goods/services outside of the registered class
  • Use of Mark in Another Form: Material changes to mark

Non-use of a brand due to Covid-19 may be covered as excusable non-use under “Other Circumstance Beyond Holder’s Control” and/or “Catastrophe”. If you have stopped using your brand, it is advisable to document the date you stopped using the brand in all related products and/or services covered by your trademark registration, including why you stopped using the brand. For example, shutdown orders by the government, lack of supply chain to make the products, or workers contracting Covid-19 and directly impacting your facilities. Documenting this situation will suport a declaration surrounding excusable non-use if or when you need to provide justification for the gap of time for non-use of your brand(s). You had spent considerable time and money building your brand through the years. It is important you take the necessary steps to protect the brand if use has temporarily stopped during this pandemic.

For any questions about excusable non-use or to look into protecting your brands, contact Greg Popowitz.

Greg M. Popowitz, Esq.

Make Your IP Pop

Registered Patent Attorney / Partner

Intellectual Property Litigation

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

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Mobile/Gaming Patent Presentation by Peter Koziol (3/3/2020)

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Registered Patent Attorney and Partner Peter Koziol will be presenting an audio webcast on March 3, 2020 (at noon) on the subject of Mobile Applications, Gaming and Entertainment Patent Law.  To sign up to attend the presentation, click here.  Presented by  the Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law (EASL) section of the Florida Bar, the one hour CLE will provide Technology Credit, which is a relatively new requirement for Florida attorneys.

Peter is a seasoned Intellectual Property attorney that handles the prosecution and litigation surrounding patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.  Peter has developed a unique skill set regarding application/software related patents given his background in software engineering and his litigation surrounding software patents.

For any questions about the presentation and Intellectual Property, contact Peter Koziol and the Intellectual Property team at Assouline & Berlowe.

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

2300 Glades Road

East Tower #135

Boca Raton, Florida 33431

Main: 561.361.6566

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

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BANKRUPTCY LAW – Small Business Reorganization Act, New Interim Rules Released

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The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida, through its Chief Judge, Laurel M. Isicoff, issued several updates tonight regarding the new Small Business Reorganization Act (SBRA), which goes into effect TOMORROW!

As stated by the Chief Judge: “The SBRA creates a new subchapter V of chapter 11 for the reorganization of small business debtors.  It does not repeal existing chapter 11 provisions regarding small business debtors, but instead creates an alternative procedure that small business debtors may elect to use.”

The Court further stated that: The Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States has promulgated Interim Rules and Form Amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure as a result of the passage of the Small Business Reorganization Act.

Among the numerous orders, is Administrative Order 2020-02 In re: Adoption of Interim SBRA Bankruptcy Rules.  This is an important set of rules that bankruptcy practitioners in the Southern District of Florida must follow.

Amended Official Forms 101, 201, 309E (renumbered 309E1), 309F (renumbered as 309F1), 314 (use Local Form LF-33), 315, and 425A, and new Official Forms 309E2, and 309F2 become effective February 19, 2020. For changes in the Bankruptcy Forms please visit: https://www.uscourts.gov/rules-policies/pending-rules-and-forms-amendments/pending-changes-bankruptcy-forms.

Additional SBRA Resource:

A Guide to the Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019” by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul W. Bonapfel Northern District of Georgia.

Eric N. Assouline, Esq.

 

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“Brand” New Trademark Rules Starting 2/15/2020

TMThe United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will not issue a federal trademark registration without the applicant first proving the mark (brand) being protected is actually being used in commerce.  Whether the proof is submitted with the initial application (for actual use applications) or later in the application process (for intent to use applications), the applicant will need to submit specimen of use for the  brand.  The types of evidence varies depending on the type of class associated with the brand.  For products, the specimen must be on the product itself, the packaging, or manuals.  While service based classes can use marketing materials, such a flyers, websites, and signage.

On February 15, 2020, the USPTO is updating the rules of specimen that are submitted to prove use in commerce.  The rules are becoming stricter.  For goods, the goods themselves must be included with the packaging, labels, or displays.  For apparel, hang tags or labels must actually be connected to the apparel, not merely next to the products.

Screen shots of websites showing the mark and detailing the services provided have been relatively standard as specimen over the years.  Under the new rules, any such screenshots will now require the URL and a date of the screen print.

The purpose behind the new rules is to prevent the submission of fraudulent specimen for marks that actually are not in use.  This is why digital images and mock ups of marketing materials are often rejected by the USPTO.

While the purpose of the rules is to help thwart fraud, one of the rule updates requires the inclusion of an applicant’s email address, not only the attorney’s email address.  This was optional in the past.  There is a known issue with companies mining the USPTO public records for applicant physical addresses and mailing official looking invoices that mislead applicants to pay fees that provide little to no value.

While the intent of the USPTO to require applicant email addresses is to help communication channels between the USPTO and applicants, the result will be greater access to applicants to those companies that mine USPTO databases trying to mislead applicants directly.  As a result of significant push back from practitioners and the public at large, the USPTO is presently looking at ways to “mask” the applicant’s email addresses from public viewing.

For any questions about the new trademark rules or to look into protecting your brands, contact Greg Popowitz.

Greg M. Popowitz, Esq.

Registered Patent Attorney / Partner

Intellectual Property Litigation

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

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HAPPY 17th ANNIVERSARY to ASSOULINE & BERLOWE!

MIAMI – Assouline & Berlowe, P.A., The Business Law Firm, is pleased to announce that today it is celebrating its 17th Anniversary.

Started on February 10, 2003, through humble beginnings, in a small subleased space in Coral Gables, Assouline & Berlowe has weathered the many business climate changes and challenges of the past two decades.

Assouline & Berlowe is proud of its contributions to its communities in the tri-county area, as part of its presence with offices in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale/Dania Beach, and Boca Raton.  Assouline & Berlowe regularly supports both its legal community and numerous charitable organizations alike.

Assouline & Berlowe is strategically positioned to continue its expansion as a strong player in South Florida’s international business environment.

To all those that we have worked with in the past and to those we hope to work with in the future, we say thank you.

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You Thought All Settlement Offers Were Confidential?

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Photo by Alexander Mils on Pexels.com

That is not the case if the settlement offers show the case was litigated in an unreasonable manner. Federal Rule of Evidence 408 protects settlement communications.  The purpose being to encourage litigants to communicate and work on resolving the claims of the case.  Like most rules, there are exceptions.

Enter Blackbird Tech LLC v. Health in Motion LLC, 2018-2393 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 16, 2019).  Blackbird sued Health in Motion (“HIM”) and Leisure Fitness Equipment LLC (“Leisure”) for patent infringement regarding exercise equipment.  After 19 months of litigation, Blackbird voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit, with prejudice, and executed a covenant not to sue.  Shortly thereafter, the Defendants moved for attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. 285, which allows an award of attorneys’ fees in patent cases to the prevailing party in “exceptional cases”.  The District Court granted attorneys’ fees and expenses in the amount of $363,243.80, which Blackbird appealed.

The Federal Circuit, which streamlines patent decisions of the district courts, affirmed the decision, holding the District Court did not abuse its discretion due to the way Blackbird litigated the case.  During the course of the litigation, Blackbird had a peculiar settlement strategy of decreasing offers that stood out.  The first offer was $80,000, then $50,000, then $15,000, and finally a walk-away offer of zero.  Defendants rejected all the offers.  The Federal Circuit analyzed the settlement offers and the nature of the decreasing offers, each of which were “significantly less than the cost of litigation.”  The Federal Circuit viewed the offers with suspicion.

The District Court also found that Blackbird unreasonably “delayed in producing documents, withheld many documents until after [Appellees] took [Blackbird’s] deposition[,] and completely failed to produce other responsive documents.”  Lastly, Blackbird unreasonably “filed a notice of dismissal, covenant not to sue, and motion to dismiss without first notifying [Appellees’] counsel, on the same day pretrial submissions were due and shortly before [Appellees’] motion for summary judgment was to be decided.”

While all of the issues led to the exceptional fee award due to Blackbird’s abusive litigation, the unique aspect was the court’s ability to open the window into settlement offers to demonstrate the abusive litigation tactics.  Blackbird’s settlement demands were far less that the anticipated cost of defense, which Blackbird admitted, and equated to mere “nuisance value settlement offers.”  While most settlement offers and negotiations are closed from public view, the court may open that door to assess whether attorneys fees can be awarded in exceptional cases.

For any questions about trademarks, patents, or copyrights, contact Greg Popowitz.

Greg M. Popowitz, Esq.

Registered Patent Attorney / Partner

Intellectual Property Litigation

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

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INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION / BANKRUPTCY PANEL DISCUSSION – October 23, 2019 at the University of Miami

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ONLY 7 DAYS LEFT.

The International Arbitration Society at the University of Miami School of Law is presenting a panel discussion on the conflict between International Arbitration and Domestic Insolvency.

Date : October 23, 2019

Time: 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

The discussion will be followed by a networking social.

Students, professionals and practitioners are invited to attend and participate.

Please RSVP here: https://lnkd.in/eAT24JM

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