Earlier this month, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) published a new set of Trademark Regulations and announced that amendments to Canada’s trademark laws will go into effect on June 17, 2019.  The CIPO’s website describes the regulatory initiative as “accession to trademark treaties and modernization of Canada’s trademark regime.”  As summarized by the Canadian Trademark Blog, the amendments include:

  • Canada’s accession to the Madrid Protocol;
  • eliminating filing bases and use of a mark as a prerequisite;
  • introducing a requirement of grouping goods and services into Nice classes;
  • introducing a shortened 10 year term for registration and renewal; and
  • introducing new distinctiveness requirements for registration.

The Canadian Trade-marks Act is available here.  The new Trademark Regulations are available here.

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) is seeking comment through mid-December on its proposed rule establishing a joint employer standard, as set forth in 83 FR 46681.  One of our Fox Rothschild partners, Tami McKnew, submitted the following comment to the NLRB, which speaks to the implications of the joint employer rule on trademark licensors/licensees:

“The proposed rule specifically acknowledges the effects of the 2015 shift in joint employer analysis evident in the Board’s decision in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (“Browning-Ferris”). Following the Browning-Ferris decision, franchisors, temporary employment firms, contract employers and others whose businesses necessitate some degree of interaction with and arguable control over non-employed workers found themselves as joint employers, despite decades of precedent otherwise. The effect on such businesses was immediate and profound.

With this proposed rulemaking the NLRB more clearly defines the conditions under which joint employment may be evident, and largely restores the pre-Browning-Ferris analytical framework. This is entirely appropriate, given the decades of business relationships and industries whose very structure incorporated and depended upon the prior established analytical framework. As recognized in the Notice, the proposed rule also reflects the pre-Browning-Ferris well-established and long-standing joint employment analytical framework.

However, that the Notice fails to adequately address, by specific acknowledgement or by example, the concerns of licensors and licensees of intellectual property, in particular patent, trademark or service mark licensors. Owners of such intellectual property rights must police and protect those rights; failure to do so may render such rights unenforceable. In legal jurisprudence, a patent owner’s policing obligations have been whittled down, especially given the elimination of a laches defense in infringement actions, SGA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, 137 S.Ct. 954 (2017), but affirmative action must be undertaken by the licensor to protect against infringement. The policing obligation remains for trademark owners, however. 15 U.S.C. §1064(5)(A).

Patent and trademark owners may license rights to practice patented technology or use trademarks or service marks. Such licenses require the licensee to abide by standards and/or to adhere to particular practices. Certain types of patents, for instance, process or method patents, may dictate an entire process and all the operations required to perform the method or process; the licensee has little or no choice as to the operations governed by the patent license.

Similarly, trademark or service mark licenses may dictate extensive quality control standards, processes and procedures. The most obvious example is the central role that trademark and service mark licensing have in a franchise system. But such licenses are not limited to the franchise industry. A dealer or distributor may sell products bearing the trademarks of one or more licensors; it may service products pursuant to licenses from different licensors; and it may lease products under license from yet a third licensor. The scenario is not unlikely. A tire dealer may be licensed to sell multiple brands; it may be licensed to provide recapping services, as directed in the license, by a different licensor; it may lease products under the service marks of yet a third licensor. Each of the licenses will include mandated procedures and operations over which the dealer has no control.

In each of these cases, control over significant operations in the licensee’s business is dictated by the licensor. Will the efforts of the licensors to police and enforce the licensed rights expose them to the risk of being considered the joint employer of the licensee’s employees whose employment is to perform such operations? And for a licensee who holds licenses from multiple licensors, as in the distribution example above, are multiple licensors potential joint employers? In each situation, the licensor can be said to offer “direct and immediate” control over the licensee’s employees, in that the licensor dictates the operations that form the central part of their employment. The ability of an owner of intellectual property to reap the potential financial benefits of a patent or trademark/service mark is ephemeral at best if enforcing those rights exposes one to the risk of becoming a joint employer of the licensee’s employees. More importantly in the context of the NLRB’s proposed rulemaking, it makes little sense to include such licensors at the bargaining table. Absent specific recognition in the proposed rule of the unique position of intellectual property licensors and licensees, the application of the joint employer analysis is unclear.

I respectfully suggest amending the proposed rule to include language which provides that the status of joint employment is inappropriate based solely on a licensor’s policing or enforcement of its patent, trademark or service mark requirements and standards. Intellectual property owners should not be dissuaded from enforcing their rights to control, police and enforce their patent, trademark or service mark rights.”

Credit: Tami’s comment was originally posted on Fox Rothschild’s Franchise Law Update blog.

 

As I previously blogged about, there is a circuit split as to whether, when a trademark owner/licensor files for bankruptcy, the licensee of the trademark can legally continue use of the mark or whether the trademark owner/licensor can reject its obligations under the licensing agreement and effectively prohibit the licensee’s continued use of the mark.  A case arising from the First Circuit, Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC N/K/A Old Cold LLC, involves this precise question and has made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

At the end of last week, following the submission of briefs from the parties and others, the Supreme Court decided to grant certiorari in the case.  According to SCOTUS blog, the issue presented is: “Whether, under Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code, a debtor-licensor’s “rejection” of a license agreement—which “constitutes a breach of such contract,” 11 U.S.C. § 365(g)—terminates rights of the licensee that would survive the licensor’s breach under applicable non-bankruptcy law.”

Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court did not provide any reasoning or insight into its decision to grant cert.  Nor did it directly respond to the parties’ positions regarding a recent order in Tempnology’s underlying bankruptcy case, which Tempnology argued (and Mission Product Holdings disagreed) may have a bearing on the Court’s decision to do so.

 

 

Over the past year, including in my blog post last month, we’ve traced the progression of the Coachella/Filmchella lawsuit, which was scheduled for trial earlier this month.  Approximately a week before trial, the parties settled the case and the Court entered a stipulated order as a result.  The order contains a permanent injunction prohibiting the Filmchella defendants from using the Filmchella marks, the Coachella marks, and any confusingly similar marks and requiring them to transfer certain domain names.  Like many trademark cases, this interesting and contested one did not make it to a jury.

The Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) has published a Consumer Update with a reminder regarding the implementation of the new Nutrition Facts label.  According to the FDA’s Update, at least 10% of food packaging already carries the new label and therefore consumers are, and will be, seeing two different versions of the Nutrition Facts label on the shelf.  As I previously blogged about, the FDA announced in 2016 that there would be changes to the label required for packaged foods starting in 2018.  However, the FDA has extended the deadline to comply until 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and 2021 for manufactures with less than $10 million in annual food sales.

In a nutshell, the FDA’s Update describes the new Nutrition Facts label as reflecting “updated scientific information, including our greater understanding of the links between diet and chronic disease” (e.g. obesity and heart disease) and as being “more realistic about how people eat today.”  The changes that the FDA has highlighted in its Update are provided verbatim below:

1. The new label makes it easier if you or a member of your family is counting calories by putting the calories, the number of servings, and the serving size in larger, bolder type. We thought it was important to better highlight these numbers because nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese, and obesity is associated with heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and diabetes.

2. FDA is required to base serving sizes on what people actually eat and drink, so serving size requirements have been adjusted to reflect more recent consumption data.  This way, the nutrition information provided for each serving is more realistic. For certain packages that contain more than one serving, you will see nutrition information per serving as well as per package. That means for a pint of ice cream, calories and nutrients are listed for one serving and the whole container.

3. Added sugars are now listed to help you know how much you are consuming. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends you consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. That is because it is difficult to get the nutrients you need for good health while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.

4. Good nutrition means that you are getting the right amount of nutrients for your body to function correctly and to fight chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, certain cancers, and type II diabetes. The FDA has updated the list of nutrients required on the label to include Vitamin D and Potassium because Americans today do not always get the recommended amounts of these nutrients. Conversely, Vitamins A and C are no longer required, because deficiencies in these vitamins are rare today, but they can be listed by manufacturers voluntarily.

5. The old label lists calories from fats, but the new label does not. The FDA made this change because research shows the type of fat consumed is more important than total fats. For example, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in most vegetable oils and nuts, can reduce the risk of developing heart disease when eaten in place of saturated and trans fat.

6. Daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, and Vitamin D have been updated and are used to calculate the % Daily Value (DV) that you see on the label. The % DV helps you understand the nutrition information in the context of a daily diet. The footnote at the bottom of the label has changed to better explain the meaning of the % DV.

See FDA Consumer Update, available at https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm620013.htm?utm_campaign=Nutrition%20Facts%20Label%20Reboot%3A%20A%20Tale%20of%20Two%20Labels&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua.

What does “natural” mean in the context of product advertising?  Consumers see phrases like “natural,” “all natural,” and “100% natural” over and over again in modern marketing.  The trouble is that “natural” may not mean what consumers expect it to mean, thereby opening companies up to claims of false or misleading advertising.

Two recent lawsuits against Pret A Manger, the sandwich company, provide a cogent illustration.  One complaint was filed by two consumers as a class action.  The other was filed by three non-profit organizations (including the Organic Consumers Association) on behalf of their members and the general public.  Both complaints assert that Pret A Manger has deceptively labeled, marketed, and sold certain bread and other baked goods as “Natural Food” when the products contain trace amounts of a chemical biocide.  According to the non-profit plaintiffs, consumers are willing to pay more for “natural” products and consumers expect such products to be free of pesticides.

This isn’t the first time the Organic Consumers Association, the Federal Trade Commission, or others have gone after companies advertising their products as “natural.”  Companies should be mindful when marketing their products using that term, and should be prepared to defend the claim with substantiation if necessary.

 

The Coachella/Filmchella trademark infringement case, which we have previously covered herehere, and here, is headed to trial in California this October.  Last week, the federal judge assigned to the case denied Coachella’s partial summary judgment motion and ruled that a jury, not the judge, must ultimately decide whether the Filmchella founder committed trademark infringement by way of his movie festival.  The standard the judge had to apply was whether a reasonable juror could find that the two festivals are not similar enough to cause confusion, which is exactly what the judge determined.

As a result, the case will head to trial and will be decided by jury verdict.  Until then, the court’s preliminary injunction in favor of Coachella, which currently prohibits the use of Filmchella, remains in effect.

 

Earlier this year, I authored a blog post about the so-called “Monkey Selfies” after the Ninth Circuit ruled that animals cannot sue for copyright infringement because, as nonhumans, they lack the required standing under the Copyright Act.  Recently, following a single judge’s request for a vote, the Ninth Circuit did not vote in favor of an en banc hearing (a full panel rehearing of the case).

Therefore, the Ninth Circuit’s earlier ruling against the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., on behalf of a monkey named Naruto, stands.  At least for now.

Just when we thought the unconstitutionality of the ban on disparaging and scandalous trademarks had been resolved, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) is shaking things up.  As a reminder, and as previously covered on this blog here and here, there were two important rulings in 2017 related to the trademark ban set forth in section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.  First, in June 2017, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the disparaging trademark ban is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s free speech clause and later, in December 2017, the Federal Circuit found that the Supreme Court’s ruling also applies to the ban on immoral and scandalous trademarks.

Refusing to accept the latter ruling, the USPTO has now petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Federal Circuit’s decision and to essentially reinstate the ban on scandalous trademarks.  Although the unconstitutionality of the disparaging trademark ban is settled law from the Supreme Court, the USPTO views the scandalous trademark ban as different and as not violative of the First Amendment.  Whether the Supreme Court will hear the case and will agree with the USPTO remains to be seen.

 

66567075 - ketogenic diet with nutrition diagram written on a note.Yesterday the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) affirmed the refusal by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to allow a Florida company to register trademarks containing the word “Keto.”  In its ruling, the TTAB explained that the term “keto” is descriptive for ketogenic dietary products, even when combined with the other words making up the company’s trademark registrations.  With the popularity in ketogenic dieting and products, this may serve as an informative ruling going forward.