Monday, August 13, 2012

Unofficial 9/11 Memorials Come Under Fire from FDNY Trademark Lawyers

A project using salvaged FDNY firetrucks as "mobile museums and memorials" dedicated to the memory of September 11, 2001, and the heroic firefighters who died that fateful day, have come under fire from lawyers representing the New York City Fire Department.
Source:  Remembrance Rescue Project Website

In July 2011, a group of firefighters purchased former Rescue Truck Number 3 from the City of New York, when it was going to be scrapped.  The firefighters were able to use parts from Rescue Trucks Numbers 4 and 5 to restore them to working condition.  The trucks became part of the "Remembrance Rescue Project."

The Project's website claims to be an educational, not for profit effort focused on educating and memorializing September 11. The Project's application for tax-exempt status from the IRS under Section 501(c)(3) is currently pending.  

The domain name is currently registered to Christopher Gantz of "Strike the Box Enterprises" in Schaumberg, Illinois, whose e-mail address is apparently offers children's amusement-park type "rent a fire truck" services for birthday and block parties.

The so-called "mobile memorials" that travel across America are not an official FDNY-sanctioned operation, and the trucks are operated by firefighters across the country who purportedly volunteer their time.

However, FDNY lawyers and others have raised questions about the ongoing usage of the official New York City Fire Department logos on the Project's refurbished trucks, after multiple cease and desist letters were sent to the Project's management.

Source:  Remembrance Rescue Project Website
There have also been questions about the lack of involvement by active or retired FDNY members with the Project, but the Project claims that it has repeatedly tried to obtain assistance from the FDNY, as well as from family members of the fallen firefighters, but hasn't received any support.

As for the logos, the Project claims that it is currently redesigning them to steer clear of the NYFD's registered trademarks.

What is the IKEA Trademark Worth? Alot.

What is Swedish-furniture maker IKEA's trademark worth?

The official price in 2012 is 9 billion euros, or 11.1 billion dollars.

That's how much the trademark was valued during a recent transaction where it was assigned to one of IKEA's subsidiaries.

Ikea is a family-owned company and was founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad.  At the age of 86, Kamprad is still actively involved in the business.

Believe it or not, IKEA is not the most valuable brand in Sweden. 

The clothing retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) ranks first with its trademark estimated at 15 billion euros, or 18.5 billion dollars.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cuties Suppliers Embroiled in Legal Battle Over Name

A dispute involving the beloved Cuties-brand of California clementines has escalated into trademark litigation over millions of dollars and who can control the name.

The seedless, high-quality, easy-to-peel fruit is an incredibly-successful product. 

California Cutie consists of two varieties of mandarins: Clementine Mandarins and W. Murcott Mandarins.  Contrary to popular belief, Cuties are not just “little oranges.”

Berne Evans, the owner of Pasadena, California-based company Sun Pacific, and Stewart Resnick, owner of Delano, California-based Paramount, began collaborating in the late 1990's. They agreed in 1999 to grow, pack, market and sell clementines.  They coined the name "CUTIES" for the product they jointly developed in 2001.

In 2004, the two companies harvested the first major crop of Cuties.  By 2011-2012, Cuties' volume had grown to 75 million boxes of fruit.

However, Paramount and Sun Pacific now claim each owes the other millions of dollars, and a legal battle involving who has the right to sell Cuties juice has landed the parties in arbitration.

Previously-filed public court documents show that Paramount wants $60 million from Sun Pacific and Sun Pacific wants $18 million from Paramount.

Fortunately for the public, according to the parties, no impact on supply is expected.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The North Face Kicks Butt...Face

The North Face has asked a federal judge to hold the owners of "The South Butt" in contempt of court.

The North Face had sued James "Jimmy" Winkelmann and the South Butt LLC in 2009, alleging trademark infringement from the use of "THE SOUTH BUTT."  The defendants claimed it was merely a parody, but the Defendants consented to a Permanent Injunction in 2010 barring them from using any of the South Butt marks.

The North Face now claims that only two days later, the now-enjoined Defendants formed a new company called Why Climb Mountains LLC, and came out with a new clothing line -- THE BUTT FACE.

North Face Apparel cites a consumer survey that it conducted, showing that more than 1 out of 3 people perceive the North Face as being associated with the Butt Face mark.

North Face Apparel is seeking sanctions including damages and attorneys' fees.

The case raises several interesting legal issues.  First, when a defendant consents to be permanently enjoined after having been sued, he is under a legal duty to steer clearer of potential infringement than he otherwise would have in the first place.

Therefore, had the South Butt came out with "THE BUTT FACE" initially, it may or may not have been found liable (although given the results of the survey, they probably would have been sued anyway).  But the point is that Court Orders have to have meaning or else, where is the finality to litigation?

Further, the parody defense that could have potentially prevailed in the first case, becomes a tougher sell to the Court the second time around, as the defendant's conduct demonstrates its potential for treating the litigation process as a joke, and disrespecting the Court's authority.

Beastie Boys Sue Monster Energy Drink for Copyright Infringement

Wikimedia Commons / Michael Morel
In a complaint filed this week in Manhattan federal court, the Beastie Boys accused California-based Monster Beverage of using their music without permission in several promotional videos for Monster Energy Drink.

The iconic rap group alleges that its distinctive music was used in a video promoting Monster Energy Drink's "Ruckus in the Rockies 2012" and that the video text even uses the group's name as well as the name of the late Adam "MCA" Yauch.

Yauch’s recently filed will may play a role in explaining why the band’s surviving members filed the lawsuit.

Leaving his $6.4 million estate to his wife and daughter, Yauch explicitly forbid the commercial license of his music, writing that “in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.”

Facebook "Like" Button Not Protected as Free Speech, Federal Court Rules

Be careful what you "like" on Facebook:  The click of that button is not protected as free speech, one federal judge has ruled.

Bobby Bland and several others were employed as civilian workers by the Hampton, Virginia Sherriff's Office. The Sheriff, B.J. Roberts, ran for re-election against Jim Adams, and the plaintiffs were apparently not in favor of their boss being reelected.

In fact, three of the plaintiffs went so far as to "like" Adams' Facebook page.

Unfortunately for them, their boss won the election, and he decided to not retain the plaintiffs as employees of the Sheriff's Office. They sued him for unlawful termination.

The Sheriff justified the firings on cost-cutting and budgeting grounds, but the plaintiffs argued that the terminations clearly violated their First Amendment rights. The Court granted Sheriff Roberts’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing the plaintiffs' case.

The judge held that "simply liking a Facebook page" was not a "substantive statement" that warranted constitutional protection. The Court said that it would not attempt to "infer the actual content" of the message from "one click of a button."

The Court wrote that "Facebook posts can be considered matters of public concern; however, the Court does not believe [it to be] sufficient speech to garner First Amendment protection." (emphasis in original).

The ruling raises interesting questions about the odd "speech vs. conduct" divide.

For example, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, burning an American flag carries sufficient expressive content to be protected speech.

In Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court acknowledged that conduct may be "sufficiently imbued with elements of communication to fall within the scope" of the First Amendment.
In deciding whether particular conduct possesses sufficient communicative elements to bring the First Amendment into play, the Supreme Court asked whether "an intent to convey a particularized message was present, and [whether] the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it."
The Supreme Court found that, under the circumstances, "Johnson's burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct, permitting him to invoke the First Amendment...Occurring as it did at the end of a demonstration coinciding with the Republican National Convention, the expressive, overtly political nature of the conduct was both intentional and overwhelmingly apparent."
But the intent and message behind giving a Facebook "thumbs up" to the candidate running against your boss is not overwhelmingly apparent?  
It sure seemed pretty apparent to their boss what it meant, but apparently not to the Court.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The King of Beers' Fitting Legacy: Brawling Over Budweiser

Budweis Today / Wikimedia Commons / Norbert Aepli
This fascinating trademark dispute finds its roots nearly 800 years ago in the Middle Ages, and it never seems to have ended.

In the quaint European town of Budweis (or Böhmisch Budweis, today's České Budějovice), a certain form of beer has been brewed since it was dubbed "Budiwoyz" by King Ottokar II of Bohemia in 1245.

King Ottokar was originally educated for the role of an ecclesiastical administrator. However, after the death in 1247 of Ottokar's older brother and the heir of Bohemia, Ottokar himself became the heir.

Statue of King Ottokar II
According to popular oral tradition, Ottokar was profoundly shocked by his brother's death and did not involve himself in politics, instead becoming focused on hunting and drinking heavily. Ottokar also founded the town of Königsberg, the namesake of yet another beer.  He became, so to speak, the original King of Beers.

Centuries later, in 1876, Adolphus Busch and his friend Carl Conrad, a liquor importer, developed a "Bohemian-style" lager, inspired after a trip to the region, including the now-famous Budweiser.  The name Budweiser is genitive, meaning "of Budweis."

By the end of the 20th Century, American company Anheuser-Busch and Czech company Budejovicky Budvar Narodni, had both sold beer in the United Kingdom under the name "Budweiser" for decades.

In 2000, the UK Court of Appeals held that both Anheuser-Busch and Budvar were permitted to register "Budweiser" as a trademark in the UK because there was "honest concurrent use" of the mark by both companies.  That is, both companies had been simultaneously using the name for a long period of time without any significant adverse effects on the marketplace.

However in 2005, Anheuser-Busch applied for an order under Article 4(1)(a) of EU Directive 89/104 that Budvar's existing registration be rendered invalid and that it be declared the only legitimate source of Budweiser in the United Kingdom. Budvar also apparently declared itself the "original" Budweiser.

The UK Court of Appeals referred a number of questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union, including:

  "Does Article 4(1)(a) apply so as to enable the proprietor of an earlier mark to prevail even where there has been a long period of honest concurrent use of two identical trade marks for identical goods?" The Court of Justice of the European Union found that the circumstances of this dispute were so exceptional as to justify concurrent usage by both companies.

The European Court of Justice said that the proper interpretation of the relevant law means that the owner of an older trademark cannot obtain a declaration that an identical later trademark designating identical goods is invalid in circumstances where there has been a "long period of honest concurrent use of those two trademarks" and that situation has not had (nor is likely to have) an adverse effect on the essential function of the trademark, which is to guarantee the origin of the goods. The Court of Justice dismissed the existence of some documented cases of actual consumer confusion as too marginal to overcome its conclusion.

In the end, it would seem that the original King of Beers' legacy was to encourage a bit of brawling nearly eight centuries after his death.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mars Landing on YouTube Snarled by Erroneous Copyright Complaints

NASA photo
Even cutting-edge technology from outer space can get snarled by intellectual property issues.

While NASA's photographs and videos are freely in the public domain, Motherboard reported that videos of the Mars "Curiousity" rover landing which had been posted by NASA on YouTube were removed for several hours due to erroneous complaints lodged by Scripps Media under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act ("DMCA").

Automated software called "copyright bots" perpetually scour YouTube, looking for videos that contain content that infringe copyrights.

It is not yet known why the bots erroneously assumed that the Mars landing rover footage violated Scripps' copyrights, but it is likely that Scripps had previously copyrighted similar content.

In any event, the takedowns raise broader questions about the legal propriety (and prudence) of using wholly automated bots to make decisions about what content is likely infringing copyright, and what is not.

Typically, a DMCA-takedown demand requires that a human being certify under penalty of perjury that he possesses a good faith belief that a particular use is infringing a copyright.  Fair use can also play a role.

However, because of the sheer volume of material available on the Internet, some content owners have delegated this delicate task to bots, leading to occasional problems.

A NASA spokesman reportedly said that these problems have occurred before, and that the space agency has tried to work with YouTube to avoid them from recurring, but to no avail.

Fake "ObamaCare" Insurance Cards

According to ScamBook Weekly (video below), counterfeiters are attempting to capitalize on the ongoing consumer confusion about the practical impact of the US Affordable Health Care Act (dubbed "ObamaCare") which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The fraudsters are apparently contacting individuals by telephone and e-mail and pretending to be government workers asking for social security numbers and credit card information.

They are then offering to sell counterfeit "ObamaCare insurance cards," despite the fact that no such insurance plan exists or is contemplated by the health care law.  

The New York Times reports that such scams have already hit individuals in many states.  There is likely to be a continuing increase in these scams as we near 2014, when the individual mandate kicks into effect.

Scambook points out that the scammers have no regard for politics, they are just looking for an easy score.

US Marine Corps Logo Stripped After Trademark Issue Surfaces

John Brunner, who proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an Infantry Officer and rose to the rank of Captain, is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri as a Republican.

Brunner had apparently placed the U.S. Marine Corps logo on the back of his campaign bus. 

However, the Marine Corp's logo is federally registered as a trademark, and the Corps clearly frowns on the use of the proud logo for unauthorized commercial or political purposes.

Here is an excerpt from the U.S. Marine Corp's Frequently Asked Questions about its licensing program:

I'm running for a political office and am a former Marine. 
Can I use Marine Corps trademarks on my campaign materials?  
No, you may not use the official Marine Corps Seal, Eagle, Globe and Anchor (EGA), or any other USMC insignia or trademark in this manner, since it might create the impression that your candidacy is endorsed by or affiliated with the USMC in some way, or that the USMC has chosen your candidacy over other candidates. 
You are more than welcome, to simply and accurately state that you are a Marine Corps veteran, that's fine, that's a fact. 
But using the EGA which is a trademark of the USMC, and protected by Federal law (please see 10 USC 7881) is something you may not do. 
This is consistent with the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations which clearly states that the wearing of the uniform in a political context is strictly prohibited. Please see Section 11002(1)(a)(2) and (3) of the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations.
The trademark issue had surfaced when local reporters questioned the propriety of Brunner using the logo on his campaign bus under federal laws.
In a statement to local news on Saturday, Brunner's Press Secretary John Sutter said "The campaign believes that the RV does not constitute campaign materials, but we will remove the sticker just to be cautious."

Monday, August 6, 2012

MegaUpload Lawyers Seek Dismissal of Prosecution Case in Virginia

In our blog post on July 7, we declared that the "war to regulate the Internet had only just begun," despite Internet Independence Day celebrations.

On July 20, Kim Dot Com, the founder of MegaUpload who is under house arrest for illegal file sharing in New Zealand, repeated exactly that in a YouTube video.

His defense lawyers have recently filed motions in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, seeking to have the indictments dismissed on the theory that the Defendants could not have been served without a domestic agent representative.  Justice Department officials scoffed at the defense's motion, and District Court Judge Liam O'Grady has taken the motion under advisement.

After search warrants issued in New Zealand were dismissed, commentators have begun to question whether the Justice Department's case against Dot Com and MegaUpload will stick.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

German Attaché Maker Sues Marvel Over Avengers' Blu-Ray DVD Box Set

The Avengers Blu-Ray Box Set on
German luxury attaché case maker Rimowa claims in a recently-filed federal lawsuit in Los Angeles that the packaging for the forthcoming Blu-ray box set of the Marvel Entertainment movie Avengers is an unauthorized knock-off of its Topas attaché case.

The “Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One — Avengers AssembledBox Set” comes in a briefcase that resembles the case used by Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) in the movie.

The German luxury case maker claims that it supplied Marvel with a genuine attaché for the blockbuster movie, but did not grant permission to make plastic replicas for the DVD packaging.

Rimowa claims the plastic briefcases are cheap knockoffs, and amount to trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition in a Los Angeles federal court suit.

According to Marvel’s marketing materials, the Blu-Ray version of the movie are packaged in a plastic “exclusive replica of Nick Fury’s iconic briefcase.”

The Rimowa Topas attaché
“Images of the replica briefcase on Marvel’s advertising materials, and fan video from Marvel’s product display at this year’s ComicCon convention, show the plastic ‘replica case’ to be a close copy of Rimowa’s Topas attaché case in every respect but quality — from the proportions and coloring, to the style of the handle and latches, and, of course, in the use of the trademarked parallel ridges around the body of the case,” the German company claims in its lawsuit.

The attaché “was the repository for Nick Fury’s dossiers on the various superheroes who ultimately constituted the Avengers team,” according to the the suit.

Amazonis offering the Blu-Ray DVD box set for sale for about $140. The product is scheduled to be released September 25, 2012.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Lady Gaga Dolls On Hold for the Holidays

Wikimedia Commons / John Robert Charlton
Lady Gaga (a/k/a Stephanie Germanotta) and her management company were sued by MGA Entertainment Inc., the maker of Bratz toys, over allegedly failing to approve a line of dolls in the singer’s likeness.

MGA is asserting claim for breach of contract in New York State Supreme Court, and is seeking more than $10 million in damages from Lady Gaga, her management company,  California-based Atom Factory, and Los Angeles-based Bravado International Group, a merchandising company.

MGA Entertainment alleges that it agreed to produce dolls in Lady Gaga’s image in December 2011 and paid the company a $1 million fee in anticipation of shipping the products to retailers this summer in time for the holiday selling season.

In April of this year, Bravado Chief Executive Officer Tom Bennett, allegedly told MGA’s chief executive officer Issac Larian that Lady Gaga wanted to delay production and shipping of the dolls until her new album is released in 2013. 

MGA claims that the defendants have continued to withhold final approval in order to delay marketing the dolls until next year and instead sell a licensed Lady Gaga perfume called “Fame.”

“The Defendants’ conduct is egregious, in bad faith and is pretextual, especially in light of the fact that MGA has, among other things, paid Bravado a $1,000,000 advance, agreed to an excessively generous royalty rate, invested millions in the preproduction of the Lady Gaga dolls and put its reputation and goodwill on the line in order to secure distributors and retail shelf space,” MGA Entertainment asserts in the complaint.

Excuse Me...Who Does This "Lost Dog" Belong To?

The Lost Dog Coffee Shop in Shepherdstown, West Virginia (population 1,734) recently received a formal cease and desist letter from an attorney representing "The Lost Dog Cafe," a restaurant located in Arlington, Virginia, sending shockwaves throughout the small West Virginia town.

Hundreds of town residents have signed an online petition, but the Arlington-based cafe is not backing down from its threats.

On January 3, 2000, Shepherdstown, West Virginia was the unlikely site of the Peace Talks between Israel and Syria where both sides were urged to make the hard choices needed to end a half-century of conflict.

Those negotiations didn't quite work out like everyone had hoped, and it doesn't seem that this dispute will end anytime soon, either.  

The owner of the Lost Dog Coffee Shop has indicated that he has no intention of acquiescing to the Lost Dog Cafe's "trademark bullying."

Someone should remind the parties that there is always a bigger dog on the block:  The Lost Dog Cafe located in downtown Binghamton, New York, has a concurrent use right recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office senior to everyone.

Zynga's The Ville Accused of "Blatant Mimicry" by Sims Social Creators

Electronic Arts ("EA") today announced that it filed a lawsuit on behalf of its Maxis Label against Zynga for infringing EA's copyrights to its Facebook game, The Sims Social.
In the Complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California today, EA claims that in Zynga's recently-released Facebook game The Ville, Zynga willfully and intentionally "copied and misappropriated the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social in a violation of U.S. copyright laws."
The Sims Social, launched in August 2011, brought the distinctive universe of EA's world-renowned franchise, The Sims, to the social gaming audience on Facebook.  An instant hit, The Sims Social rapidly gained tens of millions of users, and maintains a current user base of several million active players on Facebook.
Lucy Bradshaw, General Manager of EA's Maxis Label, commented on the lawsuit in a statement posted to EA's website,
"As outlined in our complaint, when The Ville was introduced in June 2012, the infringement of The Sims Social was unmistakable to those of us at Maxis as well as to players and the industry at large. The similarities go well beyond any superficial resemblance. Zynga's design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social. The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable. Scores of media and bloggers commented on the blatant mimicry.
"This is a case of principle. Maxis isn't the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product. But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it. Infringing a developer's copyright is not an acceptable practice in game development. By calling Zynga out on this illegal practice, we hope to have a secondary effect of protecting the rights of other creative studios who don't have the resources to protect themselves.
"Today, we hope to be taking a stand that helps the industry protect the value of original creative works and those that work tirelessly to create them."

Christian Band "Newsboys" Sues "New Boyz" Rappers for Infringement

The Newsboys, a popular Christian rock band, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against a rising rap duo called the New Boyz.

According to the Complaint, Earl "Ben J" Benjamin and Dominic "Legacy" Thomas are using "New Boyz" which is not only similar to the Christian band's name, but it is also reminiscent of the 1991 Newsboys album, "Boys Will Be Boyz."

The Complaint alleges that there have "been several instances of actual confusion among its customers, prospective customers and other outside observers who mistakenly assume a connection between Plaintiff and Defendant and the respective music they offer."

On Tuesday, the Newsboys announced an extension of their 60-city "God's Not Dead Tour" through this fall.  A video of their music is below.  

Frankly, it seems pretty difficult to believe that ordinarily prudent consumers could ever seriously confuse their brand of Christian rock with the rappers, even if they are each performing music, in the broadest possible sense.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

J.Geils Band Members Torn Apart by Trademark Litigation

The J. Geils Band in Happier Times (1973)
Perhaps taking a page from Live's playbook, John Geils Jr., of the epynomous J.GeilsBand ("Centerfold"), yesterday filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against his former bandmates in Boston.

The lawsuit names a variety of defendants, including Peter Wolf, Seth Justman, Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz and Danny Klein, and alleges that they are "seeking to misappropriate and steal" the name "J.Geils Band." 

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office records show a trademark was first sought in June 2008 by Francesca Records LLC and the Registration issued in 2009.  Francesca Records LLC is affiliated with John Geils, Jr.

In April 2012, Geils Unlimited LLC, made up of Wolf, Salwitz & Klein, sought to cancel the existing registration on a variety of legal grounds including fraud and likelihood of confusion.

The administrative proceeding will now be suspended (or put in a "freeze frame,") pending the outcome of the Boston litigation.

Harley-Davidson Loses Bid to Dismiss Artist's Case Based on Long Delay

Harley-Davidson has lost an early bid to dismiss a Complaint filed against it by a freelance artist who claims the motorcycle maker used his logos outside of the scope of a license.

Wayne Wm. Peterson, a freelance commercial artist, had produced numerous well-known logos for the Harley-Davidson companies between the mid-1970's and the mid-2000's. 

The famous "LIVE TO RIDE, RIDE TO LIVE" eagle was one of Peterson's creations.

The decision explained that the Court could not rule that Peterson's delay, while admittedly long, constituted an unreasonably long delay barring all relief, on its face.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), whenever a Defendant moves to dismiss a Complaint for failure to even state a claim, all the facts specifically plead in the Complaint are assumed to be true, and all reasonable inferences in the Complaint are construed in the Plaintiff's favor.

Harley-Davidson had argued that, even viewed in this favorable light, the Plaintiff's long delay in bringing suit constituted a disabling estoppel by laches, and violated a statute of limitations that should be applied to his copyright claims for conduct occurring before 2009.

However, the District Court stated that any dismissal would not be warranted solely on the basis of the Complaint alone, in the absence of the parties conducting discovery, because laches is an affirmative defense that Harley-Davidson bears the burden of proving.

Harley-Davidson is now free to develop a full record through discovery to establish the proposition that the Plaintiff's long delay was indeed inexcusable and caused it prejudice.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Intellectual Property: The New Real Estate

Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone Patent
Intellectual property was once viewed as an interesting, quirky but relatively obscure area of legal practice limited to a select few lawyers and academics. Patent lawyers, who were also engineers or chemists, were valued by inventors and companies which had the incentive and ability to pay them to physically navigate the byzantine Patent Office in Washington, D.C., and leaf through musty documents to file patents.

With respect to trademarks, most recognizable household brands were displayed on products stocked on grocery store shelves, and advertised on a few television networks.

Copyrights were valuable to a few writers, musicians and movie studios that were fortunate enough to collect royalty checks from licensing their creative works.

Today, however, intellectual property concepts affect our daily lives in innumerable ways, and obscure legal doctrines such as "exhaustion," "nominative fair use," and "product configuration trade dress" are suddenly controversial.

These concepts affect how we communicatehow we shop, what we read, eat, the games we play and what medicines we take.  They affect our schools, our churches and our children.

Intellectual Property issues are no longer obscure, as they are seen daily in headlines like these:

So why did intellectual property suddenly become so controversial and important to our daily lives?

The primary reason seems to be connected to the exponentially growing technologies that have made ideas and information more valuable than land or gold:  a new form of real estate.

Indeed, as communication technology allows for the freer exchange of ideas, economic value has transitioned away from underlying physical objects and land, and toward abstraction.

By way of a concrete example, a century ago, virtually every one of the 25 largest companies were involved in shipbuilding, steel, coal and railroads. In other words, it was more valuable and important then to move people and things around.

In 2012, the majority of the top 25 most valuable brands in the world and the largest companies in the world, are engaged solely in the transport of ideas and information.  Examples include Apple, IBM, Visa, MasterCard, Google, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, Amazon and Facebook.

Church Pastor Imprisoned in Trademark Case

Photograph of the Accused Church
We have previously discussed how religious symbols and church names can be trademarked under federal law.

These legal issues are not strictly academic.

Indeed, just ask a Church Pastor who is now in prison as a result of them.

Walter "Chick" McGill was apprehended and turned over to San Bernardino County law enforcement on the campus of church-run Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California on July 13.
McGill had used the phrase “Creation Seventh-day Adventist” to name his small church congregation in Guys, Tennessee, seen left.
In 2005, the Adventist world church’s Office of General Counsel claims that it first demanded that McGill cease using the name “Seventh-day Adventist” on his church and on several websites.  One year later, the church filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against McGill, suing him for wrongful use of “Seventh-day Adventist.” 
Photograph of Walter McGill
In May of this year, the U.S. District Court made a finding that McGill was in contempt for not complying with court orders to remove the signs, and issuing a warrant for his arrest.
In April, McGill had told a Tennessee news team that "[w]e really would like to comply with the Court Orders.  We respect the Courts, we respect the law.  But in this case the law is violating our consciences and we must put our consciences before the law."  He also said he planned a hunger strike once imprisoned.
Responding to McGill’s recent arrest, Seventh-day Adventist Church officials have emphasized that McGill was imprisoned strictly for ignoring the court’s orders.  “Mr. McGill is free to engage in any ministry he wants, preach whatever he wants, say whatever he wants,” McFarland said. “What he simply cannot do is falsely associate himself with the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church."
Garrett Caldwell, Adventist world church Public Relations director and church spokesman, added that in cases such as McGill’s, the church is fundamentally protecting its identity.
“People understand what identity theft means on a personal level and how devastating it can be to an individual or a family,” Caldwell said.
“When a congregation that has never had a connection with our denomination, and who does not wish to, because of differing beliefs, wants to simply co-opt our name, we should not overlook this or find this acceptable. To do so would be irresponsible on our part,” he added.
Video of an interview with an Assistant Pastor of the accused Church is below.  He accuses the official Seventh day Adventist Church of lying about the facts, and claims that his church prefers to not be confused with the established Seventh day Adventist church.

In any event, regardless of the merits, as we have previously noted, and as evidenced by the video below, the application of current commercial trademark laws in the context of religious liberty remains an uneasy fit.