2023 IP Outlook: What to Watch in Patent, Trademark and Copyright Law

Coming out of 2022, developments around the globe are shaping the intellectual property (IP) landscape in the new year. We are seeing cases at the intersection of IP law and NFTs, the opening of the Unified Patent Court in Europe, and decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affecting innovators and brand owners.

McDermott’s 2023 IP Outlook examines the top trends and decisions in IP law from the past year and shares what you and your business should look out for in the year ahead.

The Latest in SEP Licensing

Amol Parikh

The uncertainty surrounding standard essential patent (SEP) licensing persisted in 2022 and shows little sign of clearing in 2023. SEPs must be licensed to technology implementers on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms. Because there is no formal definition of FRAND terms, however, legal decisions involving FRAND have historically been determined by courts and non-governmental standard-setting organizations (SSOs). Disputes are frequent—especially between patent owners and technology implementers—and are becoming even more so as advanced wireless technologies such as 5G and WiFi 6 proliferate. Read more.

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Improper Inventorship in US Patent Litigations

Mandy H. Kim | Cecilia Choy, Ph.D.

Inventorship issues can have serious implications in patent litigation, leading to invalidation or unenforceability of the patent at issue, as seen in several notable 2022 cases. In the coming year, patent owners should take steps to minimize risks related to improper inventorship challenges. Read more.

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Patent Decisions Affecting Pharma and Biotech Companies

Douglas H. Carsten | Anisa Noorassa

The past year brought many developments in the life sciences patent legal space. Three decisions in particular hold potential ramifications for drug makers and patent holders in 2023. This year, the Supreme Court of the United States is also expected to consider standards patents claiming a genus must meet to withstand a validity challenge under Section 112—a ruling that could have a significant impact on patent holders in the biotech industry. Read more. 

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Trends in the Western District of Texas

Syed K. Fareed | Alexander Piala, Ph.D. | Christian Tatum

Over the past year, two developments infiltrated the Western District of Texas (WDTX) which may decrease the success of venue transfers and keep case volume steady in 2023. These developments could also give plaintiffs more control over where litigation takes place, including more control over having a case tried before Judge Alan Albright in the Waco Division of the WDTX.
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Strings Attached: No Amendment for Trademark Application in Inter Partes Opposition Proceeding

The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) designated as precedential a decision denying a motion to amend and granting partial summary judgment based on a mistaken identification that did not match the goods sold using the trademark. Fender Musical Instruments Corporation v. Win-D-Fender, LLC, Opp. No. 91272326 (TTAB Sept. 22, 2022) (designated precedential Jan. 12, 2023) (Wolfson, Heasley, Cogins, ATJs) (By the Board).

Win-D-Fender applied for a trademark to register the mark EN-D-FENDER for “musical instruments.” Fender opposed this registration on grounds of nonuse, likelihood of confusion and dilution by blurring and filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground of nonuse. Win-D-Fender then filed a motion to amend the identification of goods in its application from “musical instruments” to “musical instrument accessories, namely, an ambient wind foot joint guard for flute family instruments.”

The Board first considered Win-D-Fender’s motion to amend. Under the relevant trademark rules, an application that is subject to an inter partes proceeding may only be amended if the other party consents (Fender did not) and the Board gives approval, or if the Board grants a motion to amend.

Win-D-Fender filed its application via the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). In a TEAS application, only the goods listed in the proper field can be considered for the identification of goods and broadening the scope of the identification is not permitted. In Win-D-Fender’s application, the only goods listed in the “Identification” field were “musical instruments.” Win-D-Fender argued that its application included a miscellaneous statement reading, “For Musical Instrument Accessories namely a wind guard mounted to a flute.” The Board determined, however, that the description was not in the proper field and therefore was not considered in the identified goods. The Board explained that the TEAS Plus instructions warn applicants to not use the TEAS Plus “Identification” field if it does not contain an accurate listing of the goods and services and to instead use the TEAS Standard filing option. The Board noted that although the identification of “musical instruments” may have been a mistake, it is settled that an established identification cannot later be expanded. The Board concluded that Win-D-Fender was limited to amendments that would narrow or clarify the type of “musical instruments.”

Win-D-Fender also argued that musical instrument accessories would fall under the general umbrella of musical instruments. The Board stated that while musical instruments may use accessories, the accessories themselves are not musical instruments and are not encompassed in the “musical instrument” class. The Board, therefore, denied the motion to amend the identification of goods.

The Board next considered Fender’s motion for summary judgment on the ground of nonuse. An application based on use of the mark in commerce is void if the mark was not used in commerce in connection with the goods identified in the application. As the Board had already decided, Win-D-Fender’s mark was limited to musical instruments and did not include accessories. Fender specifically pointed to an interrogatory response in which Win-D-Fender stated that the products sold under the [...]

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“Open Sesame” Without Translation Won’t Open Door to Trademark Registration

The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) addressed, for the first time, whether an applicant is required to submit an English translation for a word that is created by spelling out the pronunciation of Chinese characters using Latin characters. The Board concluded that the mark required an English translation and upheld the examining attorney’s refusal to register the mark because there was no translation submitted. In re Advanced New Technologies Co., Ltd., Application No. 86832288 (TTAB Jan. 12, 2023) (Bergsman, Taylor, Heasley, ATJs).

Advanced New Technologies sought to register the mark ZHIMA for several goods and services classes. Advanced has a co-pending application for a mark using Chinese characters, where Advanced stated that “[t]he non-Latin characters in the mark translate to ‘ZHIMA’ and this means ‘SESAME’ in English.” According to Advanced, “the Chinese characters [] pronounced ZHIMA mean ‘sesame,’ but ‘Zhima’ itself has no meaning.” The application for ZHIMA was assigned to Advanced by Alibaba Group Holding Limited. Ali Baba is the hero of an Arabian Nights story who opens the door to a thieves’ den using the magical phrase “open sesame.” The use of the Chinese word for “sesame” on goods thus creates an impression that these goods and services bring customers access to something previously unattainable.

Under 37 C.F.R. § 2.32(a)(9), a trademark application must contain an English translation when the mark includes non-English wording. To determine whether a mark includes non-English wording and its meaning, the examining attorney may use dictionaries and search engines. If the examining attorney discovers that the mark contains non-English wording, the applicant must submit a translation. Following this statutory framework, the examining attorney in this case relied on the Chinese English Pinyin Dictionary, which translates “zhi ma” as “sesame” in English and required Advanced to submit a translation that “ZHI MA” means “sesame” in English.

Advanced argued that individuals fluent in English and Chinese would not transliterate “ZHI MA” back into its Chinese character counterparts, which actually do translate to “sesame.” In response, the examining attorney provided at least eight dictionary definitions where “zhima” was defined as “sesame.” Advanced then argued that the dictionaries were defining the Chinese characters, not the English transliteration because “ZHIMA” itself has no meaning in English.

The examining attorney modified the required translation statement to state that “ZHIMA is a transliteration of Chinese characters that means ‘sesame’ in English.” However, Advanced still refused to submit a translation, claiming that it was not required because there are no Chinese characters in the ZHIMA mark and the meaning of the Chinese characters cannot attach to a mark without them. The examining attorney provided information from many news articles where “zhima” was translated as “sesame.” For example, in articles referencing a Chinese version of Sesame Street, “Sesame” was translated as “Zhima.” The examining attorney also produced multiple websites discussing “zhima” products, all of which were sesame products.

The Board found that the many examples where “zhima” was translated as “sesame” by third parties demonstrated that ZHIMA was not an original [...]

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Your Gang Did What!? No Matter—No Forfeiture of IP

In a unique case blending intellectual property and criminal law, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that a district court properly exercised jurisdiction over a motorcycle club and upheld the lower court’s finding that the club did not have to forfeit its collective membership marks. United States v. Mongol Nation, Case Nos. 19-50176; -50190 (9th Cir. Jan. 6, 2023) (Ikuta, Forrest, Thomas, JJ.)

Mongol Nation is an unincorporated association comprised of Mongols Gang members and, per the district court, is “a violent, drug trafficking organization.” After a jury found Mongol Nation guilty of both substantive and conspiracy violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the US government sought forfeiture of Mongol Nation’s rights in its collective membership marks—a category of “intellectual property used to designate membership in an association or other organization”—and specific property displaying those marks. A jury granted both forfeiture requests, but the district court granted forfeiture only of specific tangible property, not the marks themselves. The district court cited the First and Eighth Amendments: The First protected Mongol members’ rights to display their marks, and the Eighth prohibited the disproportionate remedy of forfeiture of marks that have “immense tangible” value to Mongol members. The government then filed another forfeiture application proposing that Mongol Nation forfeit its exclusive rights in the marks, meaning that Mongol Nation could not prevent others from using them, even in commerce, but that they would not transfer to or vest in the United States. The district court again denied this motion on First and Eighth Amendment grounds.

Both parties appealed, presenting two issues to the Ninth Circuit. Mongol Nation challenged the district court’s jurisdiction to hear the case because Mongol Nation is not a “person” under RICO. The government challenged the district court’s denial of forfeiture of the marks.

The Ninth Circuit summarily dealt with the first issue, noting that Mongol Nation did not properly raise this argument at the district court. The Court was not persuaded by Mongol Nation’s three-part argument that RICO defines an entity to be a “person” only if the entity has a legal interest in property, California only allows unincorporated associations to hold property if the association has a “lawful” purpose, and the indictment describes Mongol Nation as existing for an “unlawful purpose.” The Court found that the association misstated the indictment allegations, which said Mongol Nation’s purposes were “not limited to” the enumerated unlawful ones. Thus, because this argument was not properly preserved and because the RICO “person” definition did in fact encompass Mongol Nation, the Court found that the district court properly exercised jurisdiction.

The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the district court on the forfeiture issue, albeit for different reasons. Without reaching the district court’s First or Eighth Amendment logic, the Ninth Circuit stated that “RICO’s plain text” made the government’s forfeiture request “a legal impossibility.” The Court explained that, following a criminal conviction, a statute must enable property forfeiture. RICO does have such a penalty provision that encompasses [...]

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Deleting Goods from Registration Subject to Cancellation During Audit May Result in Adverse Judgment

The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) addressed, for the first time, whether the deletion of goods and services as a result of a post-registration audit during a cancellation proceeding triggers Trademark Rule 2.134 and found that it does. The Board required the respondent to show cause as to why its deletion of certain goods from the challenged registration should not result in an adverse judgment. Ruifei (Shenzhen) Smart Technology Co., Ltd. v. Shenzhen Chengyan Science and Technology Co., Ltd., Cancellation No. 92077931 (TTAB Jan. 12, 2023) (Lykos, Lynch, Larkin, ATJ)

Ruifei (Shenzhen) Smart Technology petitioned to cancel a trademark that was registered to Shenzhen Chengyan Science and Technology Co., Ltd. (Chengyan) based on abandonment and fraud. Ruifei thereafter filed a motion for leave to amend its pleadings and concurrently filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Finding that Chengyan did not contest the motion for leave to amend, the Board granted Ruifei’s motion and accepted the proposed amended petition to cancel. The summary judgment motion, however, was deferred, pending Chengyan’s response to the instant order.

After the cancellation proceeding was initiated, Chengyan filed a Section 8 Declaration of Use in connection with the contested registration and received a post-registration office action audit. In response to the audit, Chengyan deleted some of the goods from the contested registration’s identification.

Ruifei mentioned the amendment to the contested registration in its motion for partial summary judgment. The Board, having been made aware of the deletion of goods, held that the amendment raised new issues requiring Chengyan’s input before it could consider the motion for partial summary judgment.

Without the written consent of a petitioner, a respondent’s deletion of goods or services from a registration subject to a pending cancellation action typically would result in judgment against the respondent under Trademark Rule 2.134. The purpose of this rule is to prevent respondents in cancellation proceedings from avoiding judgment by cancelling certain goods or services to render the cancellation action moot.

Trademark Rule 2.134(b) provides respondents with the opportunity to explain why certain goods or services were cancelled under Section 8 to avoid judgment being entered against them:

After the commencement of a cancellation proceeding, if it comes to the attention of the . . . Board that the respondent has permitted its involved registration to be cancelled under section 8 . . . an order may be issued allowing respondent . . . to show cause why such cancellation . . . should not be deemed to be the equivalent of a cancellation by request of respondent without the consent of the adverse party and should not result in entry of judgment against respondent.

The Board had not previously considered a situation in which goods or services were deleted as a result of a post-registration audit but held that the “same concerns . . . and [] policies underlying Trademark Rule 2.134(b) apply.” Accordingly, the Board granted Chengyan 20 days to file a response showing why its deletion of certain goods should not [...]

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