Some of the more high-profile IP lawsuits in recent years demonstrate the sticky intellectual property issues that could affect any business – not just mega-corporations like Jack Daniels or Disney.
Even with the most careful planning, IP lawsuits may be unavoidable for some companies – if you find or invent a way to make money, people are going to show up to try and take it from you even if it means stealing your ideas.
The high-profile cases discussed below cover a range of IP lawsuits including:
- Copyright infringement,
- Trademark infringement,
- First Amendment defenses to IP lawsuits, and
- Theft of intellectual property by former employees.
IP Lawsuits in the Movie Industry
If you have a great idea, can you pitch it to movie companies or publishers without the fear of your ideas being stolen?
The US Supreme Court has denied cert in Daniels v. Disney, leaving in place a 9th Circuit opinion dismissing Daniels’ copyright infringement claim. This case demonstrates the need for extreme care and for the advice of counsel when pitching an idea to a company like Disney that has the means to use and monetize your idea…
Denise Daniels hired a team to produce and develop her idea that involved five characters, the moodsters, who each represented a different emotion as experienced by young children. They produced a 30-minute pilot for a television series and developed a line of books and toys based on the moodsters.
They also pitched their idea to Disney and Pixar…
Disney declined to buy Daniels’ idea, but then proceeded to develop and produce their film, “Inside Out,” which featured…. “five anthropomorphized emotions that live inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley.”
When Daniels sued for copyright infringement, the district court and the 9th Circuit dismissed her claim, finding that the characters did not have consistent, identifiable character traits and were therefore not protected under copyright law.
IP Lawsuits in the Music Industry
Famous IP lawsuits based on copyright violations in songs include:
- Vanilla Ice was sued by Queen and David Bowie for using the famous bassline from “Under Pressure” in the song “Ice Ice Baby.” Although there is no appellate opinion on the case, it was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money (Vanilla Ice says he ultimately bought the rights to the song). Stop, collaborate, and listen…
- Led Zeppelin was sued by Willie Dixon – twice – for the similarities between their songs “Bring it On Home” and “Whole Lotta Love” and Dixon’s songs “Bring it On Home” and “You Need Love.” In both cases, the litigation settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money, and Dixon’s name was added to the song credits.
- Marvin Gaye’s estate sued Robin Thicke for copyright violation based on the similarities of the song “Blurred Lines” to Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give it Up,” and Gaye’s estate was ultimately awarded millions of dollars in damages and royalties.
IP Lawsuits in Literature
If you plagiarize another author and attempt to sell their writing as your own, you can be sued for copyright infringement. But it is not copyright infringement to use someone else’s idea to tell a fictional story based on the same historical facts…
When Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh sued Random House, claiming that Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” had infringed their copyright by stealing the idea of their book “The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail,” the Court denied their claim because:
- There was no plagiarism,
- There is nothing wrong with telling a story in the same manner as a previous author (weaving a fictional story around historical facts), and
- Historical facts are not protected by copyright.
IP Lawsuits Based on Toys
Mattel sued MGA and MGA sued Mattel based on the alleged theft of the design of MGA’s “Bratz” dolls by a Mattel employee who was working as a consultant for MGA when he designed the Bratz dolls – although it’s not clear who ultimately “won” the lawsuit, it’s clear that hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake and the companies were embroiled in extended litigation for years.
Jack Daniels lost its IP lawsuit against the Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker this year when the US Supreme Court declined to review the 9th Circuit’s decision in favor of Bad Spaniels’ maker, VIP Products.
The dog toy looked like a Jack Daniels bottle and was “poop-themed,” neither of which made Jack Daniel’s Properties happy. They brought an IP lawsuit for copyright infringement that was rejected by the 9th Circuit because the toy was parody, and it was an expressive work entitled to First Amendment protection.
IP Lawsuits in the Tech Industry
When Google AdWords “auctions” your law firm’s name to other law firms for advertising purposes is that trademark infringement?
If you search the internet for “Axelrod,” and the sponsored links provided by Google include other law firms, how did the other law firms’ names pop up there? Most likely, those law firms are using Google AdWords – they bid against other users for placement of their ad whenever someone searches for a particular term or phrase.
For example, if you search for “Axelrod and Associates,” and you get “Jo-Jo’s Law Firm” as a sponsored result, that will only happen if Jo-Jo’s law firm included “Axelrod and Associates” as a search phrase that would result in showing Jo-Jo’s law firm at the top of the search results.
This means 1) Jo-Jo’s law firm is using Axelrod’s name for their own marketing, and 2) Google is profiting from the use of Axelrod’s trademark.
There have been many, many lawsuits over Google’s trademark violations in Google AdWords – some successful, some not successful, and many settled out of court. Google does have a process to resolve alleged trademark violations – if this is happening to your trademark, you can file a complaint here or send an email to [email protected].
Your Myrtle Beach intellectual property lawyer on the Axelrod team can help you to prevent IP lawsuits by registering your copyrights and trademarks and by negotiating contracts on your behalf to ensure that your rights are protected.
We are also available to file IP lawsuits and defend against IP lawsuits to enforce your intellectual property rights.