Pattishall IP Blog

July 25, 2012

Who owns a trademark? Jeremy Lin wins Linsanity, as Anthony Davis fights for his unibrow.

Filed under: Licensing, Right of Publicity, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:38 am

By Paul A. Borovay, Summer Associate

THREE-PEAT is a well-known term that refers to a sports team’s third consecutive championship.[1] Byron Scott, an ex-Los Angeles Laker, coined the term after his team won its second consecutive NBA championship in 1988.[2] Unfortunately, Scott could not profit from licensing the term to apparel companies, advertising agencies, or sports teams. Why? Scott did not try to establish rights in the term THREE-PEAT, either through registration or use. Scott likely did not see the value in trademark licensing at the time, but his coach, Pat Riley, saw an opportunity and obtained a trademark registration for the term in November 1988. Even though Scott coined the term “Three-peat,” Riley is the one that has been earning royalties from use of the trademark.

The arena of sports provides a ripe field for coining catchphrases such as “three-peat,” as well as terms that incorporate the names and likenesses of the superstar athletes themselves. Understanding who owns a trademark that incorporates the name or likeness of one of these individuals requires understanding the basics of two distinct bodies of law: trademark and the right of publicity.

Celebrities can obtain trademark rights for catchphrases associated with them by using the marks in commerce in connection with a specific good or service. Celebrities can also obtain state registrations for their marks, or simply own common law rights without a registration after using the marks in commerce. Filing for a registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is important and will often trump later applications, except for a few exceptions that are discussed later in this article.

Under the protections afforded through state right of publicity statutes, a celebrity is protected against commercial loss caused when someone appropriates their name or likeness. The celebrity does not have to have used the catchphrase in commerce, nor would the celebrity have to use the catchphrase in the future, as the right of publicity protects celebrities’ entire persona from commercial exploitation. For example, Michael Jordan would have a right of publicity claim against a car wash company that used his photograph to promote its business. While the photograph may not be protected under trademark law, the right of publicity prohibits any unauthorized commercial exploitation of a person’s name or likeness.

Two recent trademarks surrounding basketball players Jeremy Lin and Anthony Davis illustrate the delicate balance between trademark law, the right of publicity, and the person who coins the catchphrase’s rights to his or her creation. (more…)

January 5, 2012

Using An Employee’s Personal Social Media Accounts Without Her Authorization To Market Employer May Create Liability Under Trademark And Electronic Privacy Laws

Filed under: Advertising, Litigation, Right of Publicity, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:55 am

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

We’ve all been taught that our work e-mail and social media accounts are owned by our employers, so watch what you say and realize that you have no expectation of privacy in those accounts.  But what happens when an employee uses a personal account to promote her employer?  According to one court, the employer’s use of these accounts without the employee’s authorization can lead to liability under the Lanham Act and the Stored Communications Act. Maremont v. Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd., Case No. 10 C 7811 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 7, 2011).[1]

The plaintiff, Jill Maremont, was the Director of Marketing, Public Relations, and E-commerce for the defendant Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd. (SFDG), a prominent interior design firm based in Chicago.  As part of a social media marketing campaign for SFDG, Maremont created a blog on SFDG’s website.  She also promoted SFDG through her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts., including by linking to the SFDG website and blog.  She entered and stored all account access information, including passwords for her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, on the SFDG server.  She never gave authority to anyone to access her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. Maremont’s compensation was, in part, based on the overall sales of SFDG, so she had every incentive to promote SFDG.

After suffering a serious accident, Maremont could not work for some time and SFDG decided to continue posting to Maremont’s personal accounts to promote SFDG.  Once she found out, Maremont asked SFDG to stop – but SFDG did not.  After some back and forth about Maremont returning to work for SFDG, she went to another company and sued SFDG over the use of her social media accounts.  (more…)

March 31, 2011

Amending a Washington State Statute to Ignore Choice of Law Principles Could Not Gain Jimi Hendrix’s Heirs a Post-Mortem Right of Publicity: Court Rules Amendment Unconstitutional

Filed under: Constitution, Litigation, Right of Publicity — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 2:14 pm

Categories: Constitution, Right of Publicity, Litigation
Tags: Right of Publicity, Federal Litigation, Conflict of Laws, Phillip Barengolts

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

Jimi Hendrix died before his time in a London hotel room in 1970.  His legend lives on.[1] But his right of publicity appears to have died with him.

Right of publicity generally developed out of the right of privacy and is entirely governed by state law, which varies from state to state.  A post-mortem right to publicity is only available in some states.  States with many deceased celebrities or very famous deceased celebrities often want to give their constituents the greatest economic advantage they can in exploiting post-mortem rights, predominantly in the area of merchandising.  Such was the case in Washington state, the birthplace of Hendrix.

Despite the best efforts of his father, the sole heir of Hendrix’s estate, and the company to which Hendrix’s father assigned all of his rights, Experience Hendrix LLC, Hendrix’s right of publicity likely cannot be resurrected because New York – Hendrix’s place of domicile at the time of his death – did not have a post-mortem right of publicity.  See Experience Hendrix, L.L.C. v. The James Marshall Hendrix Foundation, No. C03-3462Z (W.D. Wash., Apr. 15, 2005), aff’d, 240 Fed. Appx. 739 (9th Cir. 2007). (more…)

Blog at WordPress.com.