Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law

Morris County Intellectual Propery Law Blog

Patent law: Nintendo comes out on top in court

In 2018, Gamevice filed a legal claim against gaming icon, Nintendo. Patent law was the central focus of the claim. The plaintiff's claim accused Nintendo of infringing upon its patent regarding a particular product line of game controllers. New Jersey gamers may be familiar with the products in question.

It was not the only time Gamevice went to bat in court against Nintendo. More recently, in 2019, following an International Trade Commission investigation, the former sued the latter regarding the claimed infringement of intellectual property. However, in both cases, it was Nintendo who walked away the victor.

Guitar companies gridlocked over trademark law issues

Many New Jersey guitar enthusiasts are familiar with the Gibson guitar brand. A former Gibson employee left the company back in the 1980s when it closed its doors in one state to move to another. The former employee launched a new guitar company known as Heritage Guitars. Trademark law is now the central focus of litigation between these two businesses. 

Gibson has reportedly threatened to sue Heritage for trademark infringement, which apparently has prompted Heritage to file a lawsuit against Gibson. A spokesman for Heritage said Gibson has threatened a lawsuit because it is not happy with an unfavorable trademark decision an appellate court handed down. Heritage says it believes Gibson's threats are meant to intimidate and to have a negative effect on Heritage's business success. 

Understand patent law and avoid legal problems

If you have a new design, business idea or formula, it's understandable you'd want to protect your interests and keep others from stealing what you worked so hard to develop. This is why patent law exists, protecting inventors and entrepreneurs in New Jersey and across the country. The process to obtain a patent can be quite complex, and numerous types of problems can arise that delay or impede your ability to accomplish your goals. 

There are basically three types of patents, and knowing which one you need, as well as which application you would use to apply is key to helping you achieve your patent goals. In some cases, an international patent is needed to protect an invention. This is usually the case if the inventor plans to engage in international trade.

Panda Express files suit against Panda Libre

Fans of Panda Express in New Jersey may be interested to learn of a lawsuit filed by the Chinese takeout chain. Lawyers for the restaurant chain filed a civil suit against a Phoenix-based restaurant named Panda Libre. Panda Express alleged that Panda Libre infringed on its trademark name in the suit.

Panda Libre is a restaurant that offers Asian-Mexican fare. The name was chosen to represent both types of cuisine offered at the eatery. Panda Express says that it has owned the trademark for the word Panda since 2001 and that other restaurants that use the name in their title are guilty of trademark infringement. In the suit, Panda Express has asked for Panda Libre to change its name and destroy social media posts, signs and other materials with the name.

Soccer team names cause intellectual property setbacks

New Jersey residents can take a lesson from Major League Soccer when it comes to staying out of trouble when it comes to starting a business. Specifically, aspiring businesspersons may overlook intellectual property issues and can end up in legal hot water. The same exact thing happened to soccer legend David Beckham which may now force him to have to rebrand his new soccer team.

MLS teams have sought to pattern themselves after large European soccer clubs to take advantage of the name recognition that these clubs enjoy worldwide. The problem is that Inter Milan filed a trademark application for its name in the U.S. back in 2014. Beckham has sought to brand his club as Inter Miami, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has not granted Inter Miami's request to patent its name because there are two entities seeking to patent similar names.

Nonprofit company accuses basketball star of trademark violation

New Jersey companies and individuals who have acquired a trademark should be aware of the process of protecting it from illegal use. Sometimes, this involves a small entity taking on a larger one. In one lawsuit, a Maryland nonprofit is accusing a basketball star of using its slogan on social media and profiting from it.

According to the nonprofit known as Game Plan, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and his media company are accruing profit by using its trademarked phrase. James' company, Uninterrupted, allegedly used the phrase "I am more than an athlete" despite it having been trademarked by Game Plan. Others are named in the filing including Nike, ESPN and a video game company. Game Plan seeks $33 million. It says that it has used that phrase since 2016 and trademarked it in 2018.

Google sued over patent infringement

Many New Jersey residents have smart speakers in their homes, but the ones made by Google are now at the center of a patent infringement lawsuit. The CEO of Sonos appeared on CNBC to defend the company's decision to file a lawsuit against the technology giant. He said that Google used wireless speaker technology developed and patented by Sonos in its smart speakers.

According to court filings, Sonos claims that Google gained access to the patented technology in 2013 when Sonos worked out a deal that added Google's music streaming service to its speaker products. The lawsuit went on to accuse Google of willfully stealing the technology two years later to build a similar wireless speaker product called Chromecast Audio.

Uncertainty over damages raises concerns over copyright law

Copyright issues can be deeply concerning to many New Jersey businesses, especially if they produce goods that could have some interaction with others' intellectual property. Infringement cases can result in massively differing penalties, and people may not know what to expect if a dispute develops between different rights owners. When a copyright holder accuses another person or business of infringement, they can seek statutory damages in court through litigation. The sums assessed can vary greatly, with penalties ranging from $200 to $150,000 per infringed copyright. These penalties are not necessarily linked to the damages suffered by the original copyright owner or profits accumulated by the alleged infringer.

Some industries are particularly prone to conflicts over copyrights, including software development, video creation and music. Creators may allege that their works are infringed by others, while they may say that they developed their projects through their own creativity. The issue of what exactly can be considered fair use still remains open for debate in many circumstances. Some reformers have urged changes to copyright law to set specific damages or caps in infringement cases, such as actual financial losses or a certain percentage above.

Protecting trade secrets from whistleblower misappropriation

Businesses in New Jersey may suffer harm when their trade secrets are misappropriated. Companies may file lawsuits against people who steal their trade secrets in most cases. However, people who reveal trade secrets as a whistleblower have legal immunity under the Defend Trade Secrets Act. Companies can take steps to protect their trade secrets by implementing strategies to prevent them from being revealed.

Companies should place strict limits on who has access to their proprietary information. They should write policies to limit access and strictly adhere to them. Companies are also required to notify their employees about the immunity provision under the DTSA, so they should make certain to comply.

Trademark infringement major concern for businesses

Many New Jersey companies have good reason to be concerned about trademark infringement, particularly with the challenging global environment of online sales and e-commerce. Infringement types can range from confusingly similar products sold by legitimate competitor brands to blatant counterfeits marketed for sale online with fake brand logos and imagery. One company reported that 85% of the brands it works with faced at least some problems with trademark infringement in 2019, an increase from the already high numbers of 2018 when 81% reported the same concerns. In 2017, 74% of the businesses the trademark research firm works with reported that their intellectual property had been violated.

Many of these trademark violations were linked to online sales. Consumers and companies have complained about the proliferation of counterfeit products on online marketplaces, and those numbers were reflected in the survey results. Almost 40% of the companies said that their trademarks had been infringed upon on various e-commerce sites in 2019, including large marketplaces like Amazon. While 44% said their business names had been copied, another 44% said that infringers set up web domain names to hijack their customers and divert them to another page. The businesses took the infringement seriously with 75% reporting that they had taken legal action, up to and including trademark litigation.

Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law - Intellectual Property

27 Bennington Drive
Flanders, NJ 07836

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Fax: 973-584-2621
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