It is almost that time of year — football season is approaching and with the anticipation of tailgating and touchdowns comes, of course, talk of trademarks. For years, the Washington Redskins have been fighting battles regarding their REDSKINS trademark. The issues have created much controversy due to the purported negative connotation the REDSKINS term gives to Native American groups.

Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act prohibits registration of “disparaging” marks. A number of REDSKINS trademark registrations were challenged on this basis and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has agreed, cancelling several such registrations. In fact, for a while it looked like the Washington Redskins might be forced to lose all trademark rights to REDSKINS and even possibly change the team name.

However, the REDSKINS case raised the question of whether Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act violated the Constitution because it constituted a government restraint of free speech. That is, to what extent can the government pass substantive review on terms that are meant for use in the private sector for commercial purposes?

THE SLANTS, SCOTUS and Disparagement

Simon Tam is a musician and formed a band. About eight years ago he sought trademark registration for the band name, which is not uncommon. Here though, the trademark at issue was THE SLANTS. The mark was refused registration because SLANT was viewed as a disparaging term directed toward Asians. Mr. Tam challenged that refusal and it ultimately found its way to the Supreme Court.

On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Tam finding that Section 2(a) the disparagement clause of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act was unconstitutional because it constituted viewpoint discrimination. Accordingly, the refusal to register THE SLANTS based on the government’s conclusion that the term was disparaging was improper.

The fate of the REDSKINS mark has been somewhat contingent on the outcome reached in Tam because the argument supporting cancellation of the REDSKINS trademarks was based on Section 2(a) in that REDSKINS was disparaging. With that section of the Lanham Act declared unconstitutional, the Washington Redskins have the opportunity to regain protection for the REDSKINS mark.

Thank you to our Summer Associate Madison Allen for her contributions to this post!

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison Under Flickr Creative Commons License

CAK big wheelYeah, that’s me on a Big Wheel at age 6 or 7. Check out that air! Good thing there was grass for soft landing….

Recently, my law partner and I tried a temporary injunction in a complicated business dispute. When I cross-examined the opposing expert, he answered “Yes” to most of my leading questions, as I expected he would. When the opposing expert strayed from deposition testimony, I impeached him to get him back on the straight and narrow.

Near the end, I elicited a pretty good answer. I could have stopped right there. It would have been a good cross-examination. But I thought I could ask one more question on this topic, and really nail him. There was some risk in asking the next question, as he could have tried to put a spin on his previous answers. But if he did, he’d have an awful lot of previous testimony to explain away.

It turned out the next answer was better than I could have hoped for when I was putting my cross-exam together beforehand.

Take-Away

Risk is a constant in business. Don’t avoid it—embrace it, measure it, and use it to guide your next action.

If your business ventures may require you to use the court system, whether as a plaintiff to enforce your contractual rights, or as a defendant to protect against attempts to attack your business, identify the risks and discuss them with your lawyer. He or she should be listening so that you can identify a strategy to come up with a soft landing. Just in case.

pro-basketball-team-1594634_1920(1)While we have written on this topic in the past, because the NCAA Basketball Tournament is an annual event and the NCAA gets more aggressive each year, this information bears repeating. Because businesses sometimes tie promotions to the Tournament and use it as a marketing activity, they should be careful how they do so.

The Problem

Continue Reading Don’t Foul Out with MARCH MADNESS Marketing

Eagles_in_concert_September_2014(To the tune of Hotel California)

Once in Northern Virginia, a trademark was filed
A Mexican company a long list compiled
Cosmetics and phone cases, purses, hair gel and shoes
The list went on for six classes, just what did they have to lose?

During examination, a disclaimer was sought
The applicant gladly complied, any fear of refusal was for naught.

Then the mark was published, but the Eagles they did see
Their lawyers got involved
Said you can’t use this for free

Registering HOTEL CALIFORNIA
Such a lovely try (such a lovely try) Such a lovely cry
Don’t even try to use HOTEL CALIFORNIA
For any goods (for any goods) in our neighborhoods….

What Can That “Song” Possibly Mean?

Continue Reading Litigating it up at the HOTEL CALIFORNIA

Hands Holding Digital Tablet Database Hacked

Guest post by John Miller, Esquire, Stockholder in Henderson Franklin’s Tort & Insurance Litigation Group

Regardless of the economic or political climate, there never seems to be a decline in tort lawsuits. Be it personal injury claims, employment suits, or professional liability cases, 2017 promises to be another busy year for insurance defense litigators.

Data Security – Data Breaches

Continue Reading Tort Trends for 2017: Protect Yourself in the New Year

new-years-day-1926337_1920

Intellectual Property Resolutions: Take Stock of Your IP Assets

Often people resolve in the New Year to take stock of their assets to see where they are in terms of not only protecting what they have but also to implement long-range planning and goals. While businesses may often check their status and progress against things like five-year plans, they should not forget to also take stock of their assets, especially Intellectual Property (“IP”) assets. IP assets can often be the most important assets to a business. Unfortunately, they can also be the most overlooked and under-protected.

With the new year upon us, this is an opportune time for businesses to audit their IP to make sure these important assets are secure by following these three steps:

  1. Identify all of a company’s IP in its various forms such as trademarks, copyright, trade secret and patents.
  2. Review those assets to ensure they are properly protected, including review of registration status, reviewing licenses and contractor agreements or non-disclosure agreements.
  3. Develop internal policies to make sure newly created IP is documented and protected as well as procedures to ensure secrecy of proprietary information.

Our Intellectual Property practice group is available to assist with auditing your IP assets and to devise IP protection plans. For more information, please feel free to contact me at mark.nieds@henlaw.com.

Business Law Resolutions

It’s that time of year when we all make New Year’s Resolutions to improve ourselves. From Henderson Franklin’s Business and Tax Practice, Erin Houck-Toll reminds us that as you make and implement your personal resolutions, don’t forget your business. This is a good time to review your business’ governing documents—bylaws, operating agreements, employment agreements and shareholder agreements—to ensure they still make sense, both in terms of current law and tax strategies, as well as how you are actually operating. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at erin.houck-toll@henlaw.com.

Guest post by Bonita Springs Trust and Probate Litigation Attorney Richard Mancini:

As Clarence famously said in “It’s A Wonderful Life”:

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Many plan for the time when their time on earth is over and plan to distribute their wealth to family and friends. Unfortunately, sometimes the plans aren’t clear or the plans forget an important aspect, which leads to fights and litigation after their passing. As we reflect back on 2016 and look to the future, it is critical to have a complete estate plan, but not just any plan.

Continue Reading Reflecting on Trust and Probate Law with Richard Mancini

For all of 2016, one of the most significant developments in the Intellectual Property field was the implementation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”).

Federal Rights

Before implementation of the DTSA, trade secret protection was a matter of state law. While businesses had federal rights for patents, trademarks and copyrights, trade secret was solely governed at the state level. The DTSA changed this legal landscape to provide legal uniformity and federal protection for trade secrets as well as access to the federal courts to enforce trade secrets.

Under DTSA a “trade secret” is broadly classified as any “form of intellectual property that allow[s] for the legal protection of commercially valuable, proprietary information.”

As noted, under the DTSA, a trade secret owner can sue for misappropriation n the federal courts. This is a significant development because having adjudicated patent infringement matters for decades, the federal courts are prepared to understand complex trade secrets and the technologies behind them.

Continue Reading A Look Back on 2016 in Intellectual Property: Congress Gives a Present to Innovators

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) any website that allows site users to post content, including anything such as comments, reviews or videos is considered a “Service Provider.” A Service Provider is potentially exposed to copyright infringement liability based on content posted by site users. However, the DMCA also offers a Safe Harbor that, under certain conditions, can insulate Service Providers from third-party copyright infringement claims based on such user-generated content.

To qualify for protection under this Safe Harbor, the Service Provider must meet certain conditions:

  1. the Service Provider must not know about or participate in the infringing conduct and cannot benefit from that infringement;
  2. the Service Provider must promptly remove any infringing content once it discovers same, either on its own discovery or by notice from a third-party; and,
  3. to qualify for the Safe Harbor, a Service Provider must designate an agent to receive notice of copyright infringement claims and must register the identity of that agent with the U.S. Copyright Office.

New Law

Continue Reading Important Action All Website Owners Should Take As Soon As Practical

henderson franklin street sign - smaller versionThank you to those readers who attended our C-Suite Seminar Kick-off on September 15, 2016. I posted on September 1 about the topic that my colleague, Mark Nieds, Esq., and I would be presenting. If you did happen to miss us on the 15th, Mark and I explained what to do when a shareholder demands an inspection of the company’s books and records.

To make the discussion more lively, we prepared a mock letter.

While the letter didn’t track the statute, our advice was to respond to the letter promptly, pointing out that the company is ready to comply with a document inspection demand that complies with the statute. This way, the company refuses to comply with a demand outside of the statute, but shows it’s ready to promptly comply with a demand within the statute. This will be useful if the shareholder decides to forego a statutory demand and, instead, files suit under Florida Statute section 607.1604. In that scenario, the company will be well-protected and may have an opportunity to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs for an improper document demand.

The take-away from our presentation? Don’t ignore the demand and get your counsel involved early so that you are ahead of the game on this issue. Click here for a link to the handouts.