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Entries in Trademark (61)

Thursday
Mar062014

Maasai Trademark – Maasai tribe wants control over commercial uses of its name

The Maasai tribe in Tanzania has a unique identity, name and culture that various companies use to sell products.maasai  For example, Diane von Furstenberg sold pillows and necklaces using the Maasai name and Jaguar Land Rover sold a limited-edition vehicle named after the tribe.  The Maasai tribe wants control over commercial uses of its name.   Seems fair the Maasai tribe should share in the profits earned by folks using their name, especially, since the Massai name is used to invoke the integrity, sensibility and style of the tribe members.

Personally, I find the arguments against granting the Maasai tribe ownership rights, trademark rights, and licensing rights to their name offensive.

CLAIM 1 AGAINST THE MAASAI OWNING THEIR NAME: because the tribe has never made an effort to enforce ownership of its culture and name until now, the rights have been lost.

COUNTER THIS CLAIM: To me, this is a rather colonial, imperialistic view of rights and ownership; however, tribes and indigenous people all over the world continually fight against this claim.  In an effort to set a global standard for respecting indigenous peoples’ rights in their names, culture, trademarks, traditional knowledge and other intellectual property, the UN has adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  It may take a high profile challenge by the Maasai to raise international awareness regarding the rights of tribes and indigenous people to their name, trademarks, customs, traditional knowledge and other intellectual property.

CLAIM 2 AGAINST THE MAASAI OWNING THEIR NAME: “It’s a nice idea, but if it would work, the French deficit would be gone by asking for royalties on French Fries.”

COUNTER TO THIS CLAIM:  A more accurate comparison than the french fry comment (which I don’t believe the French have ever claimed and may not even want) is the French zeal and persistence in successfully laying claims to and defending the right to use the word CHAMPAGNE as a regional indicator of bubbly wine from the Champagne region of France.

Evidently, the Maasai have launched a campaign to reclaim their name, traditional knowledge and other intellectual property so that they can share in the profits made off their name and likeness.  (They also have an attorney and a USPTO grant for support).

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

For more information see, The United Nations Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf; WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore at http://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/tk/en/wipo_grtkf_ic_26/wipo_grtkf_ic_26_inf_8.pdf;  article by Stephan Faris in Bloomberg Businessweek magazine titled, For Years, Companies Have Been Making Millions Off The Maasai Name, Now The Tribe Wants Its Cut; @iplegalfreebies and www.iplegalfreebies.wordpress.com.

Friday
Feb142014

"DUMB STARBUCKS" - a fake parody

Did you hear that a "DUMB STARBUCKS COFFEE" shop opened in California recently?  (AND this fake Dumb-Starbucks-Logoparody was a comedian's publicity stunt)(AND the shop has already been shut down by the LA County health inspectors)?  In addition to branding the pop-up cafe with a mocked-up Starbucks logo that added the word "dumb" into the logo, the cafe also featured a virtually identical menu to Starbucks and added the word "dumb" onto the menu boards.  (For example selling "Dumb Iced Espresso" in a "Dumb Tall" size cup).

How was this permissible?  Short answer, it wasn't.  Parody was being claimed although this was not a parody.  Folks often think that just because something is FUNNY it is legally a PARODY.  This is a not the case.  FUNNY ≠ PARODY.  Because this is such a common assumption it's worthwhile to mention it again (and again, and again). 

Not surprisingly, a spokeswoman for Starbucks Coffee said that despite the humor, the store cannot use the Starbucks name.

A few other interesting elements raised by this DUMB STARBUCKS parody claim:

  • Dumb Starbucks made a claim that their parody was similar to Weird Al Yankovic's music.  However, they left out a critical detail - permission.  Weird Al Yankovic ALWAYS gets permission for his music.
  • The fact that the shop was closed down by county health inspectors is an interesting detail in this Dumb saga.  In fact, it's not uncommon for various local inspection agencies to become involved when counterfeit merchandise is being sold (technically, the Dumb Starbucks scheme was a misappropriation of the Starbucks brand akin to counterfeiting).  If a trademark-infringing business is violating health or building codes in addition to selling counterfeit products, nipping them in the bud for applicable health or building code violations can quickly close the doors.  Hence this was the case with the Dumb Starbucks shop being shut down by health inspectors.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

For more information see, TMEP on trademark parody section 1207.01(b)(x) at http://tmep.uspto.gov/RDMS/detail/manual/TMEP/Oct2012/TMEP-1200d1e5036.xml; another blog post on parody; for other blogs posts on trademarks; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

Wednesday
Dec182013

Happy Holidays from Vanessa: vk@kasterlegal.com

Happy Holidays 2013 from vk@kasterlegal.com

Wishing you and yours a Happy Holidays! 

Thank you for following my blog http://iplegalfreebies.wordpress.com/!

Photo Credit: This photograph was taken by my friend Nancy (http://nancyadler.com/)

Thursday
Dec052013

Trademarks as Membership Marks – Hells Angels, Fresno Bulldogs

Trademarks are often used as membership insignia for various organizations, groups and fans… like the Hells Angels and the Fresno State Bulldogs football team.  In fact, one of the primary reasons why a trademark registration is so valuable is because it can create a clear link between brands and their members and fans.  Members and fans generally want to be associated with brands and will wear merchandise bearing their favorite brands.  (The exclusive rights granted to an owner of a trademark registered with the USPTO helps make this happen.  By granting an owner exclusive rights to use a trademark on particular goods or services, then it's easier to avoid customer confusion as to the source of the goods and services. This in turn often strengthens brands by increasing brand awareness and public recognition).

Using trademarks as Membership Marks can raise some interesting situations regarding trademark use and infringement.  Here are two interesting situations raised by membership marks that are registered USPTO trademarks:

  • Hells Angels, Example #1: The Hells Angels motorcycle club owns registered USPTO Reg No. 1136494  trademarks which are valuable membership insignia and the Hells Angels, like all trademark owners, have the right to pursue folks and businesses who use their trademarks without permission (ie trademark infringers).  In a recent NY Times article, the trademark attorney for the Hells Angels addressed the issue of pursuing trademark infringers by stating that, “[t]he intent is not just to punish the infringers but to educate the public that the Hells Angels marques are well guarded and not generic and that they must not be infringed upon.”  This statement relates to a strategy for dealing with other folks or businesses who use the Hells Angels trademarks without permission or who use confusingly similar trademarks.
  • Fresno State Bulldogs, Example #2: Fresno State University in California owns registered trademarks featuring their bulldog mascot.  Wearing merchandise produced by the University featuring the bulldog mascot and team name displays allegiance to the team – ie “fan membership insignia.”  A recent NY Times arUSPTO Serial No. 86050169ticle reported that it’s not only wholesome football fans who are flocking to buy and wear jerseys, shirts, hats and other merchandise produced and sold by the University bearing the registered bulldog trademark… but that a violent street gang has also adopted the Fresno State Bulldogs trademark and apparel as a gang symbol.  Evidently, the gang is purchasing and using legitimate University shirts, jerseys and other merchandise bearing the registered Bulldogs trademark as a gang symbol indicating gang membership.  Buying legitimate University merchandise is obviously not trademark infringement; although, it will be interesting to see how the University develops a strategy for dealing with upholding its brand image.  Unfortunately, the University’s registered trademark is now playing a double “membership” role… indicating two drastically different types of membership.

These two situations highlight two vastly different circumstances involving membership marks that are registered USPTO trademarks.  Reading NY Times articles on both situations described above that were printed only 20 days apart inspired this blog post on trademarks that are used as membership insignia.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

For more information see, USPTO Registration 1136494 for one of the Hells Angels' trademark registrations; USPTO Serial Number 86050169 for one of Fresno State's trademark applications;  Pride and Peril of a Logo, published in the NY Times on 11/9/13 by M. Wollan and Despite Outlaw Image, Hells Angels Sue Often, published in the NY Times on 11/29/13 by S.E. Kovaleski, and the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) which is a tool for searching the USPTO's database of registered trademarks and prior pending applications at http://tess2.uspto.gov; @iplegalfreebies and www.iplegalfreebies.wordpress.com.

Monday
Jul222013

Getting Paid for… Co-Creating awesome stuff like the game Twister and Superman

Getting paid for creating wildly successful stuff can take many forms and is an important part of the creative process. Often stuff that becomes wildly successful (like the Superman comic and the game Twister) start out as humble creative endeavors created by two co-creators. For example: superman

  • SUPERMAN was created by Seigel and Schuster who created a comic book out of four weeks worth of comic strips that they couldn’t sell. They sold the comic book along with their rights to the creation for $130. (long-running litigation has ensued regarding the existence, validity and scope of an agreement transferring the rights to Superman).
  • TWISTER was created by Foley (a game designer) and Rabens (an artist) who wetwisterre awarded a US Patent (No. 3,454,279) for their invention of an “apparatus for playing a game wherein the players constitute the game pieces.” Evidently Foley did not receive royalties for the game; however, he did negotiate a buyout and sold his rights. (According to a Mr. Foley’s obituary this past week, he accepted about $27,000 in a negotiated buyout).

It’s interesting to compare these deals. Did the creators have any idea that their creations would become iconic? Probably not. At least not in the case of Superman. If Superman's co-creators had known how famous their creation would become, they probably would have negotiated a higher price, residual rights, royalties and possibly reserved merchandising rights.

Personally, I am a big fan of both Superman and Twister! I am in awe of the creative minds who created these gems... and I encourage folks to negotiate creative deals to maximize revenue from their creations. You never know.... your creation could become a cultural icon.

For more information on the ongoing Superman litigation, see also, http://dockets.justia.com/docket/california/cacdce/2:2004cv08400/166317/; http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2013/03/superman-legal-battle-isnt-over-yet-siegels-try-a-new-strategy/; http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-06-13/marc-toberoff-supermans-lawyer; @iplegalfreebies and www.iplegalfreebies.wordpress.com.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

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