Wednesday, August 04, 2010

TV Guide summaries of recent TM and copyright decisions

In the past three weeks, there have been a few interesting appeals court decisions on trademark and copyright issues. Here is my take on the salient points:

  • In a fact-intensive "likelihood of confusion" decision notable only for the parties' and the court's seeming confusion over what "initial interest confusion" is, the 8th Circuit held that the defendant's SENSORYFLAVORS mark for "flavor delivery systems" (which I think is basically a line of flavor enhancing food additives) did not infringe its rival's SENSIENT FLAVORS mark, particularly in light of the sophisticated corporate customers each party sold to. Sensient Tech. Corp. v. SensoryEffects Flavor Co., No. 09-2686 (8th Cir. July 21, 2010).

  • Two copyright decisions turned on the proper filtering out of unprotectable ideas. In Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., No. 09-55673 (9th Cir. July 22, 2010), a Mattel employee (under an employment agreement assigning his work product to Mattel) two-timed his employer by providing a rival toy company with the idea for, and sketches and a crude sculpt of, a doll that MGA eventually transformed into the successful BRATZ line of dolls and characters. In an entertaining opinion by Judge Kozinski, the 9th Circuit held that the district court improperly enjoined the rival and improperly transferred its BRATZ line to Mattel. The main thrust of the opinion was that the finished BRATZ characters were too different from the rough sketches and crude sculpt that Mattel owned (through the employment agreement) once the unprotectable "ideas" were filtered out. On the same day, the 11th Circuit resolved a dispute between rival "binkie" (i.e., baby pacifier) makers on the same basis. In Baby Buddies, Inc. v. Toys "R" Us, Inc., No. 08-17021 (11th Cir. July 22, 2010), the products were binkies embodying a teddy bear and a ribbon bow into the design. Like the 9th Circuit in the Bratz case, the 11th Circuit held that, once the idea of a teddy bear shaped and ribbon bow-bearing binkie was filtered out, the way the defendant (Toys "R" Us) expressed those ideas was not substantially similar to the plaintiff's design.

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