What’s Happening In The Intellectual Property World?

Monday, November 19th, 2018 @ 10:39AM

One thing that always keeps us interested in intellectual property is its huge role in everyday life. People of all ages are exposed to a staggering amount of material each day that is protected (or protectable) by copyright, trademark, and patent law.

But what’s really interesting is that this exposure actually helps to shape the law. Where do people that know your brand live? What do people associate with your brand? Are they confused between your work and someone else’s?

The answers to these questions and others like it can help businesses decide whether to expand. They can determine whether a band will have enough in royalties to retire comfortably, or if they’ll need to keep working.

So in spite of some appearances to the contrary, the law can be highly practical… highly influenced by the world around it… and as you probably know by now, it can be high stakes.

RIP to Pabst Blue Ribbon?

Imagine a world without Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Cold 45, Schlitz, Tsingtao, or Stroh’s. You may not care about any Pabst Brewing Company’s (“PBC”) 20+ historic beer brands, but you probably know a college student and/or hipster who does.

And that world could soon be a reality. Because as this is being written, PBC is currently duking it out in court against MillerCoors. At issue is PBC’s very existence.

The two conglomerates entered into an agreement in 2001 in which MillerCoors would brew PBC’s beers. As MillerCoors is the only brewery with the willingness and capacity to do so, it ultimately kept PBC in business. In return, it got a piece of the younger PBC demographic it craved.

The deal is due to end in 2020, with a window built in to negotiate an extension. But PBC has alleged that MillerCoors is attempting to sabotage the agreement. Claims against the latter include fraud, misrepresentation, breach of contract, and breach of anti-competition laws. If MillerCoors doesn’t brew PBC’s beers, PBC says it will have to shut down its operations—a move which MillerCoors is trying to engineer with its underhanded activities.

On its behalf, MillerCoors claims that it has the right to decide whether to keep brewing PBC’s beers, and that doing so has become more costly. PBC’s beers are brewed at a second brewery that MillerCoors may close in the face of rising competition and the strong popularity of craft brews. However, MillerCoors says that if it keeps the second brewery open, PBC can stay.

A verdict (or settlement) is imminent, as the trial is scheduled to conclude at the end of this month.

The Napster of the Teens

Though Napster and swapping MP3s online might feel very retro, this sort of thing still goes on all the time. The difference is what people are sharing. These days, it’s video games more than music. Other than that, the same rules largely apply… as do the penalties.

A couple in Arizona just found this out the hard way. Through two different websites, the couple offered unofficial downloads of hundreds of popular games. Not surprisingly, a manufacturer of many of those games – Nintendo of America – brought suit against the couple.

The complaint suggested assessing the maximum damages allowed by law: $150,000 for each Nintendo game hosted on the site, and $2,000,000 per trademark violation. The total would be more than $100,000,000.

Recognizing the grimness of their situation, the defendants recently settled with Nintendo for $12.23 million – still far more than most people can afford, but a bargain compared to the original request.

Will the judgment ever be satisfied? It’s not likely. Even so, it has already been successful for Nintendo in terms of its deterrent effect. A number of sites similar to those run by the defendants voluntarily stopped operating after the suit was filed.

The Latest Celebrity Infringement Feud (for Now)

Some readers may remember folk musician Tracy Chapman’s hit “Fast Car” from the 1980s. Those who don’t have probably heard it sampled elsewhere.

Though it was Chapman’s biggest hit, it isn’t her only song. And recently, one of her compositions is gaining new exposure as the subject of a copyright infringement suit.

Chapman claims that Nicki Minaj’s song “Sorry” infringes Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You.” The suit alleges Minaj’s song samples Chapman’s without authorization. After the fact, Minaj’s team attempted to secure the rights from Chapman. Though Chapman never consented to the use of her song, a New York DJ premiered Minaj’s “Sorry” on his radio show, leading Chapman to file her lawsuit.

Chapman is looking to prevent third parties from using Minaj’s “Sorry.” She’s also seeking damages and profits. Minaj has yet to respond to the suit.

Do You Have Questions About Copyright or Other Intellectual Property Rights?

Our firm focuses on intellectual property and entertainment law, including copyright, trademark, and patent law. We would be happy to discuss your matter with you. Contact us at (561) 953-9300 or via our website.

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