Jan.-Feb. 2011 Quick Links, Part 3 (Trademarks, Domain Names and Trade Secrets Edition)

By Eric Goldman

Trademarks and Domain Names

* From my perspective, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) domain name seizures are one of the US government’s top 5 all-time worst assaults on the Internet’s integrity. DHS’s ICE division is grabbing domain names—the virtual equivalent of printing presses—citing half-baked legal theories and poorly researched factual claims without any advance notice or adversarial proceedings. This is exactly what we expect our government won’t do.

Yet, I haven’t seen a proportionate blowback. Why aren’t affected domain name owners suing the government for improperly seizing their printing presses? (This takes me back to the 2-decade-old Steve Jackson Games case and the EFF’s founding). Why aren’t there Congressional hearings asking DHS to defend its behavior? Where aren’t other parts of the administration forcing DHS to justify itself? Why aren’t judges pushing DHS to do a better job of demonstrating their cases on an ex parte basis? I’m a little baffled why there hasn’t been a revolt against the DHS’s baldfaced abuse of government power. I confess I’m part of the problem in that I haven’t grabbed the pitchforks either, but I’m not sure how I can best help. If you have any thoughts, I’d welcome them.

A linkwrap on this topic:

Techdirt raises some general questions.

– One of the DHS affidavits. Techdirt deconstructs it.

– Sen. Wyden seems like our only legislator paying attention.

Wendy Seltzer explores the due process problems.

– An ICE representative tried to defend its actions, with no success.

– Another 18 names seized.

– In a crackdown aimed at child porn, DHS took down 84,000 websites “by mistake.” This is exactly the kind of “mistake” that would not happen if due process were followed and speech restrictions were subject to adversarial proceedings.

EFF on what the repeated DHS screwups teach us about the “wisdom” of COICA:

Techdirt: “ICE Boss: It’s Okay To Ignore The Constitution If It’s To Protect Companies”

* Private Career Training Institutions Agency v. Vancouver Career College (Burnaby) Inc., 2011 BCCA 69 (BC Ct. App. Feb 11, 2011): “The burden was on the appellant to satisfy the judge that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the respondents’ use of keyword advertising was actually or potentially misleading. He found as a fact that the appellant had not established that the respondents’ keyword advertising was actually or potentially misleading. He stated that the appellant had not persuaded him that the respondents’ use of its competitors’ names in keyword advertising “could…lead a student astray or into making a harmful error of judgment”. There was evidence to support those findings.”

* NY S953: New York is trying yet again to ban domain name sales to terrorist groups. My prior blog post.

* Kim v. Coach: class action suit for Coach sending trademark takedown notices to eBay for the resales of legitimate goods. AP story.

* Joe Mullin recaps our efforts to crack open the Rosetta Stone v. Google joint appendix.

* LinkedIn allows ad targeting by company name. Competitive poaching, anyone? Will they be the newest defendants in keyword ad lawsuits?

* Rebecca covers an interesting and complicated dispute over a comparable drug being linked to a patented drug in a pharmaceutical reference database, with some parallels to keyword advertising.

* The Supreme Court denied certiorari in the latest appeal in Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue Inc. Prof. McCarthy on the ruling for which certiorari was sought.

* Law.com: Digital Chocolate and Zynga Settle over ‘Mafia Wars’

* Ford sues Ferrari for naming one of its race cars “F150” in celebration of Italy’s 150th anniversary of unification.

* Subway seeks to trademark “footlong.”

* Las Vegas Sun: Double Down Saloon v. Double Down Lounge.

* Technolawyer tries to enforce a trademark in “SmallLaw.”

* Fleischer Studios v. AVELA (9th Cir. Feb. 23, 2011). The Ninth Circuit says that the Betty Boop character is in the public domain. This is quite a remarkable opinion, but I particularly call your attention to the discussion about trademarks and merchandising (cites omitted):

Even a cursory examination, let alone a close one, of “the articles themselves, the defendant’s merchandising practices, and any evidence that consumers have actually inferred a connection between the defendant’s product and the trademark owner,” reveal that A.V.E.L.A. is not using Betty Boop as a trademark, but instead as a functional product. Just as in Job’s Daughters [a 1980 9th Circuit case the majority cites even though it wasn’t cited by either party or the district court], Betty Boop “w[as] a prominent feature of each item so as to be visible to others when worn . . . .” A.V.E.L.A. “never designated the merchandise as ‘official’ [Fleischer] merchandise or otherwise affirmatively indicated sponsorship.” Fleischer “did not show a single instance in which a customer was misled about the origin, sponsorship, or endorsement of [A.V.E.L.A.’s products], nor that it received any complaints about [A.V.E.L.A.’s] wares.”…“The name and [Betty Boop image] were functional aesthetic components of the product, not trademarks. There could be, therefore, no infringement.”

The court goes on to discuss Dastar:

If we ruled that A.V.E.L.A.’s depictions of Betty Boop infringed Fleischer’s trademarks, the Betty Boop character would essentially never enter the public domain. Such a result would run directly contrary to Dastar.

I applaud the majority opinion’s spirit, and this could be quite a revolutionary opinion if it truly sets Ninth Circuit precedent. However, I’ve repeatedly criticized the Ninth Circuit for making up the rules panel-by-panel (I know I’m not the only one), and I suspect this is just another one-off. Kate Spelman thinks this is a good case for en banc review (I agree).

* WSJ: A quick survey of major legal issues in franchising law.

* Meth Lab Cleanup LLC v. Spaulding Decon, LLC, 2010 WL 5572397(D. Idaho Oct. 25, 2010): “the mere fact that resulting harm from the alleged confusion over the contents of the parties’ websites may be incurred by an Idaho company is not sufficient to show that Spaulding “directed” its conduct toward Idaho.”

* Walgreens is elevating the profile of its house-branded products.

* Index of WIPO UDRP Panel Decisions

* Oddee: 12 Hilarious Knock-off Fails

Trade Secrets

* Has the original Coca-Cola recipe leaked out?

* Reality Blurred: The producers of Survivor sue over leaked information about the upcoming season, but they drop the suit once they learn the leak source.

* David S. Almeling et al, A Statistical Analysis of Trade Secret Litigation in State Courts