Supreme Court to Review Whether “Offensive” Names Can Be Trademarked

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review the Federal Circuit’s decision to strike down the Lanham Act’s ban on “disparaging” trademarks.  The case, Lee v. Tam, No. 15-1293, involved an Asian American dance-rock band’s attempt to trademark their name THE SLANTS. The U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused, citing the Lanham Act’s prohibition on “disparaging” trademarks. The Federal Circuit held that this prohibition violated trademark applicants’ First Amendment Rights. (See Litigation Law Blog’s previous post about the Federal Circuit’s decision from December 23, 2015.)

The Supreme Court’s decision could impact the more famous battle over an attempt to cancel the trademark registration for the NFL’s Washington Redskins as disparaging to Native Americans.

In the Washington Redskins case, a federal district court had ruled that the football team’s trademark disparaged Native Americans.  The team had appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was scheduled to hold oral argument in December.  On October 18, 2016, the Fourth Circuit agreed to stay consideration of the appeal until the Supreme Court decides Lee v. Tam.

For more information on the Lanham Act or the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Lee v. Tam, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Chair of the Firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at keinhorn@genovaburns.com or Jennifer Borek, Esq., Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at jborek@genovaburns.com.

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Federal Circuit Gives Samsung Another Victory Against Apple In The Smartphone Patent War

Update: On March 21, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Samsung’s certiorari petition regarding a separate patent (a design patent and related trade dress registration for the design elements of the iPhone).  The Court agreed to review a limited question regarding the types of damages available in such cases: “Where a design patent is applied to only a component of a product, should an award of infringer’s profits be limited to those profits attributable to the component?”

In another twist of fortunes in the long-running smartphone patent war between Apple and Samsung, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has once again overturned Apple’s patent infringement jury verdict – this time for $119.6 Million – against Samsung. The Court left intact Samsung’s small $158,400 verdict against Apple.

The case was initially filed by Apple in February 2012, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Samsung infringed eight of Apple’s patents used on the iPhone. Not to be outdone, Samsung countersued alleging that Apple had infringed eight of its patents used in Samsung’s Android smartphones.

After a series of trial rulings and appeals, the parties conducted a 13-day trial and the jury awarded $119.6 million to Apple based on a finding that Samsung had infringed Apple’s “structures,” “slide to unlock,” and “autocorrect” patents. Samsung was not nearly as successful, with the jury awarding it a mere $158,400 in damages for the infringement of its “camera systems” patent.

Though Apple won the trial court battle, on appeal, the Federal Circuit has granted ultimate victory to Samsung, finding that Apple’s “slide to unlock” and “autocorrect” patents were invalid (and therefore not patentable) because the evidence indicated that the inventions would have been “obvious” to a person having ordinary skill in the art, in light of the publically available information at the time the inventions were made. The Court also reversed the jury’s decision that Samsung had infringed Apple’s “structures” patent based on a technical finding that the patent required the use of a “analyzer server” and Apple failed to present sufficient evidence to allow a jury to conclude that the Samsung software met this “analyzer server” limitation. Apple has a small chance of turning the wheel of fortune back if an en banc Federal Circuit agrees to hear the case or if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to grant certiorari.

As this case demonstrates, fortunes can be won and lost on appeal and, as such, it is critically important to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each case even after a jury verdict is rendered.

For more information regarding patent litigation and appeals or the Court’s Federal Circuit’s decision, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Director of the firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group at keinhorn@genovaburns.com, or Jennifer Borek, Esq., a Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group at jborek@genovaburns.com.

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