Thursday, July 26, 2012

Facebook's Patent Gets Approved

One of the features that attract people to Facebook is the ability to “block” certain individuals like bosses, coworkers, and family from being able to view possibly incriminating or humiliating photos and status updates. These privacy settings are unique to Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg filed a patent application back in 2006 for the function– titled as “”Dynamically generating a privacy summary.” The application said: “As social networking has grown more popular, users have realized a need for a certain amount of privacy…not every particular user wants all the other users to be able to access the information about the particular user.” So true.

After a six-year wait and multiple rejections, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finally approved the patent for Facebook’s privacy settings. (U.S. patent 8,225,376) The patent summarizes how the privacy setting works: “One or more privacy setting selections are received from the user associated with the profile. The profile associated with the user is updated to incorporate the one or more privacy setting selections. A privacy summary is then generated for the profile based on the one or more privacy setting selections.”

Even though Facebook now has a patent for its complex privacy setting (the patent was reportedly rejected multiple times for its Section 103 “obviousness”), you should still be careful about what you post on Facebook. There are apps such as Stalkbook, which have tried to get around Facebook’s privacy settings to allow a user to view ALL of another individual’s profile, including hidden content.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We Buy Ugly Houses Trademark Dispute

“We Buy Ugly Houses” is the trademark that HomeVestors of America, Inc. registered back in 2001. The company specializes in training franchisees to buy homes, “flip,” and resell the homes. HomeVestors has in subsequent years also registered variations on “We Buy Ugly Houses” such as “We Buy Ugly Houses And Make Them Nice Again” and a Spanish translation “Compramos Casas Feas.”

Since popularizing its slogan, HomeVestors has stayed active in enforcing protection of its federally registered trademark. This includes preventing other real-estate companies from using “We Buy Ugly Houses” or something of that sort on their websites and as a part of their domain names. In the past, HomeVestors, Inc. has succeeded in lawsuits against defendants using domain names such as

Most recently, HomeVestors filed a lawsuit against the House Buyer Network and its CEO Duane LeGate, Inc., which provides a similar service as HomeVestors, Inc. The complaint states that HomeVestors “is known as the WE BUY UGLY HOUSES® people and is the number one buyer of houses in the United States.”

Apparently, the dispute between the two parties stems from a settlement agreement that they entered into in 2006 “whereby LeGate transferred a number of domain names to Plaintiff and whereby LeGate agreed to stop purchasing keywords incorporating the HomeVestors” trademarks. In the lawsuit, HomeVestors claims that LeGate and House Buyers Inc. violated the agreement and infringed on its trademark by continuing to buy Internet advertising keywords that included words similar to HomeVestors’ registered trademarks.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Boyz Trademark Infringement Lawsuit

The American rap group, New Boyz, has experienced large success in a short period of time. The New Boyz music capitalizes on catchy beats and lyrics like:

“You’re a jerk! Jerk Jerk Jerk!” and “Tell all the homies she got bunz, bunz, bunz.” Surprisingly, the group has yet to trademark its name “New Boyz.”

In the polar opposite genre of music–Christian music, an Australian band called Newsboys has been around since 1985 and remains popular with Christian music listeners. The band registered the trademark “Newsboys” in 1994. The band recently filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the New Boyz for allegedly infringing on their trademark.

The Newsboys claim that the name “New Boyz” confuses consumers because of the similarity in sound between the two names and since the rap group also uses the name in relation to entertainment/music. Additionally, Newsboys says that the confusion created by the similar name damages the band’s reputation. The New Boyz use explicit lyrics while the Newsboys obviously use wholesome lyrics in songs such as “He Reigns” and “In Christ Alone.”

The lawsuit states that: “Plaintiff has already documented several instances of actual confusion among its customers, prospective customers and other outside observers who mistakenly assume a connection between Plaintiff and Defendant and the respective music they offer.” If a court agrees that using the name “New Boyz” creates a likelihood of confusion with the registered trademark “Newsboys,” then the rap group will have to find a new name, which may affect their recognition with fans. Then again, maybe the New Boyz are just “too cool to care.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Apple Trademark Dispute in China of Xuebao

Apple is engaged in yet ANOTHER trademark dispute in China. This time, the lawsuit involves the trademark “Snow Leopard,” which is the name of Apple’s operating system OS X 10.6 released in 2009. Jiangsu Xuebao, a Chinese company, alleges that it owns the Chinese trademark rights for “Xuebao.”

You may be thinking, but wait a minute how is that the same as “Snow Leopard.” Well, the Chinese word “Xuebao” literally translates to “Snow Leopard.”

Jiangsu Xuebao claims that Apple’s use of “Snow Leopard” confuses consumers because it also makes computer products and now demands about $80,000 from Apple. Back in 1998, Jiangsu Xuebao filed an application with the USPTO for the U.S. trademark rights to “Xuebao” (later abandoned). However, that application just stated that the trademark would be used in connection with goods such as dishwashing detergents, shampoos, scented soaps, shoe wax, and other similar products.

Considering that Apple just settled a trademark dispute with Proview over the rights to “iPad” in China for $60 million, Jiangsu Xuebao’s request doesn’t seem like much, but it does seem a little suspicious. The hearing for Apple and Jiangsu Xuebao will be on July 10th. Considering the large sum that Apple just paid to Proview, it will be interesting to see how this case turns out and whether more of these types of lawsuits pop up in China.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Trademark Infringement of Brave?

Disney released yet another mega blockbuster new animated movie this weekend called “Brave”. To no one’s surprise, the movie scored the top box office spot and has already grossed over $80 million worldwide. Just a few days before the release of Disney’s “Brave,” a company called Phase 4 Films released a low-budget version called “Kiara the Brave.” “Kiara” wasn’t released in theaters, but distributed through iTunes, Amazon, and I even saw it offered on On-Demand service through my TV.

Both of the animated films feature a redheaded, adventurous heroine and use a similar plot. So what gives? Lately there has been a phenomena of low budget movies that appear to be very similar to the mega blockbuster movies. These movies of course open right around the same time as the mega blockbuster version. It’s unclear how much the makers of “Kiara” have profited from the movie, but considering the mega popularity of “Brave,” “Kiara” seems to have the potential to capitalize off of the similarities between the two movies.

Most likely, there isn’t much Disney can do about “Kiara” liberally using a similar plot as “Brave.” It is not enough that “Kiara” uses a similar story line as “Brave” because it must also be substantially similar in tone and pace to win a copyright infringement case. In some situations, a court will not determine that the other party’s movie infringed a copyright without evidence that the other party had access to the script.

With respect to trademark protection, titles of movies have very little to no protection alone typically. Disney has filed multiple trademark applications for the word “Brave” in connection with the movie and other goods, but the applications have not issued yet. Further, and surprisingly, we stumbled upon another trademark impediment that Disney is facing against the Atlanta Braves! Disney applied for the trademark rights over “Brave,” but the Atlanta Braves baseball team filed an Opposition proceeding to many of the pending trademark applications in relation to the use of the trademark for a number of different classes of goods/services. The Atlanta Braves already registered the trademark “Braves” prior to Disney’s first use date of “Brave,” which was in March 2010. The opposition to the registration states:

“Applicant’s BRAVE mark so resembles Opposer’s BRAVES Marks as to be likely, when used in connection with Applicant’s goods and services, to cause confusion, to cause mistake, and to deceive the trade and public, who are likely to believe that Applicant’s goods and services have their origin with Opposer and/or that such goods and services are approved, endorsed or sponsored by Opposer or associated in some way with Opposer. Opposer would thereby be injured by the granting to Applicant of certificates of registration for Applicant’s BRAVE mark.”

Disney’s trademark is still pending, but may not be approved if the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board determines that there is a likelihood of confusion between Disney’s use and the baseball team’s use of “Brave.”