IP Law Year in Review
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2020 IP Law Year in Review: European Issues

Executive Summary

From a German perspective, 2020 saw highly interesting developments that may well have an impact even beyond the borders of Germany. For example, the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) in Sisvel v. Haier handed down a landmark decision on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) law. This decision has already affected many FRAND cases tried before lower instance courts. Generally speaking, the FRAND law judgments issued in Germany in 2020 may have more upsides for standard-essential patent (SEP) holders than for implementers of standardised technologies.

A successful constitutional complaint against the German act to ratify the Unified Patent Court (UPC) Agreement delivered a serious blow to the attempt to establish the UPC. However, German Federal Parliament and Federal Council managed, just before the end of 2020, to pass another UPC ratification act, thereby rectifying the mistake that led to the success of the constitutional complaint. The fate of the UPC project remains somewhat unclear, however, in light of newly filed constitutional complaints.

Finally, 2020 saw the United Kingdom officially withdraw from the European Union on 1 February and become a third-party country after a transitional period that ended on 31 December. This event has multiple consequences for EU intellectual property rights, particularly EU trademarks, depending on whether they were filed or registered as of 1 January 2021.

European Issues

  1. Germany and the UPC
  2. German Federal Court of Justice on FRAND Law: Sisvel v. Haier
  3. How Does Brexit Affect European Trademark Rights?

2021 Outlook

Even though there were major developments in Germany regarding FRAND law and the UPC in 2020, these topics are far from being finally settled.

After the Federal Court of Justice’s Sisvel v. Haier decision led to relatively SEP-holder-friendly decisions by the Munich I District Court and the Mannheim District Court, the Düsseldorf District Court referred several FRAND-related questions to the CJEU in November 2020. The expected CJEU decision has the potential to shape the future of FRAND law not just in Germany, but in the whole European Union.

It will be interesting to follow the further development of the UPC project in the light of new constitutional complaints filed against Germany’s new act to ratify the UPC Agreement. These complaints may put another hold on the UPC undertaking. In any event, Germany is not expected to deposit its instrument of ratification very soon because the UPC still needs time to set up its infrastructure, including the appointment of judges.

The question of whether competitors and consumer associations can issue warning letters for violations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) continued to occupy the courts in 2020, and likely will do so in 2021 as well. According to a decision of the Stuttgart Court of Appeal dated 27 February 2020 (2 U 257/19), competition associations can issue warning letters for violations of the GDPR. The Berlin Court of Appeal previously affirmed this on 20 December 2019 (5 U 9/18) for consumer associations in the [...]

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2020 IP Law Year in Review: Trademarks

Executive Summary

2020 was a year like no other, so you’d be forgiven if the year’s biggest headlines in trademark law didn’t quite catch your attention. In 2020, the US Supreme Court shaped trademark jurisprudence through a trio of notable decisions. A pandemic and shelter-in-place orders pushed more consumers to virtual marketplaces, forcing brand owners, and the courts, to take a renewed look at counterfeiting and online enforcement. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has continued its strict registrability and failure-to-function assessments, and new legislation, rules and fees were directed at cracking down on fraudulent trademark applications and clearing dead weight from the USPTO register to make room for new and growing brands. A COVID-19 stimulus package just so happened to establish the standard for obtaining injunctive relief in litigation under the Lanham Act. And the year saw industry-specific developments with the potential for broader application in the field. This report provides a summary of 2020’s notable moments in trademark law with insights and outlooks for brand owners and practitioners moving into the year ahead.

Trademarks

  1. SCOTUS on Trademarks
  2. Courts on Counterfeits in 2020
  3. More ‘Failure to Function’ Refusals in 2020
  4. Color Me Surprised: Multicolor Marks Can Be Inherently Distinctive
  5. Trademark Law Updates – Fees, Fraud and Injunction Presumptions
  6. 2020 Industry Spotlight: Trademarks in the Alcohol Beverage Market

2021 Outlook

Looking ahead, 2020’s legislation, rules and fees impacting the USPTO and the courts may add some clarity to trademark disputes in 2021, any may also inspire brand owners to examine their approaches to trademark portfolio management, watching and enforcement to maximize budgets, clear the way for brand expansion and more efficiently handle trademark disputes. In 2021, we also expect to see further developments in the fighting of counterfeits, the interplay of trademarks and expressive works and the application of failure to function refusals, especially as we continue to see trademark filings, disputes and market trends associated with an ongoing pandemic, political unrest and overdue social justice movements. Finally, in 2021, we expect to see brands remain at the forefront of representing positivity, innovation, unity and wellness, as we all work together to accelerate out of a challenging year.

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2019 IP Law Year in Review: Copyrights

Executive Summary

In many ways, copyright jurisprudence in 2019 was a study in contrasts. While certain cases represented a “back to basics” approach, answering fundamental questions such as “When can a copyright owner sue for copyright infringement?” and “What costs can a prevailing copyright owner recover?,” others addressed thorny issues involving fair use and the first sale doctrine.

In the wake of several pivotal copyright decisions involving the music industry in 2018, such as the watershed “Blurred Lines” verdict, disputes involving music continued to provide fuel for the courts to weigh in on copyright this year. As we look to 2020, all eyes will be on the Supreme Court and its decision in the epic battle between Google and Oracle and the protectability of software. This report provides a summary of 2019’s important copyright decisions with the hopes of assisting those navigating copyright infringement and enforcement issues in the coming year.

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2019 IP Law Year in Review: Patents

Executive Summary

2019 was another important year in intellectual property law that resulted in hundreds of decisions by the courts and Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) that may affect your company’s litigation, patent prosecution or business strategy. This special report on patents discusses some of the most important cases from 2019 from the US Supreme Court, the US Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit and the PTAB.

On January 22, 2019, the Supreme Court addressed in Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v Teva Pharmaceuticals, USA, Inc. the question of whether, under the America Invents Act (AIA), an inventor’s sale of an invention to a third party that is obligated to keep the invention confidential qualifies as prior art for purposes of determining the patentability of the invention. In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court concluded that such a sale qualifies as prior art.

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2019 IP Law Year in Review: European Issues

Executive Summary

The last year of the 2010s has been prolific in terms of important new pieces of legislation and case law within the European Union, and in France and Germany in particular. Indeed, the European Parliament and the EU Council adopted in April 17, 2019, a controversial directive (Directive 2019/790 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market) imposing on online content-sharing service providers—such as YouTube—a new liability system, based on popularity, time and turnover criteria. This directive was created to encourage these service providers to make greater efforts in fighting copyright counterfeiting on their platforms. In France, the PACTE law, which went into force on May 22, 2019, introduced new material changes—namely the strengthening of the French patent office granting procedure (extension of examination scope) and the introduction of patent opposition proceedings before the French patent office. These two legislations greatly influenced EU and French IP law across the year.

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2019 IP Law Year in Review: Trademarks

Executive Summary

Trademark jurisprudence in 2019 may be best summarized in two words: questions and answers. Decisions handed down at the district court level have teed up key questions that are poised to be answered by the United States Supreme Court in the 2020 term—such as the protectability of certain “.com” trademarks, as well as the standard for obtaining particular damages in trademark infringement disputes. For brand owners and trademark practitioners, 2019 will also go down as a year that provided answers to many important questions. For example, on numerous occasions in 2019, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board answered questions as to whether certain designs or designations have the capability to function as a source-identifying trademark. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) answered questions relating to the cannabis industry and how the 2018 Farm Bill would be applied in the review of US trademark applications listing goods or services for CBD products. And, the Supreme Court answered an important question for trademark licensees regarding their rights when a trademark licensor goes bankrupt. This report provides a summary of 2019’s most important questions and answers when it comes to trademark law, and serves as a useful guide for navigating trademark prosecution and enforcement efforts into the year ahead.

Trademarks

  1. Treatment of Generic & Descriptive Marks
  2. Potential Damages Available In Trademark Infringement Cases
  3. Cannabis, CBD, and Trademarks
  4. Trademark Licenses in Bankruptcy

2020 Outlook

As we await further answers to our most pressing trademark questions in 2020, we anticipate that this year will bring unique opportunities to apply traditional tenets of trademark law to modern-day disputes and business considerations. So long as marketing efforts continue to incorporate influencers, short-form and interactive content, artificial intelligence, blockchain technologies, and other initiatives to elevate brand profiles, trademark practitioners and the courts will need to be creative in applying traditional interpretations of relevant trademark laws and policies to trademark protection strategies and infringement disputes. In 2020, the USPTO also will be forced to continue to address the ever-crowded brand space by furthering its crack-down on fraudulent trademark applications, clearing dead weight from the USPTO register, and maintaining its strict registrability and failure-to-function assessments to make room for new and growing brands. Finally, in 2020 and beyond, we expect that trademark considerations will continue to color other legal matters and disputes, including corporate transactions, data ownership and privacy, and bankruptcy and restructuring, thus showing the immense commercial value and power of brands.

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