Category Archives: Copyrights

Use caution before taking advantage of extended IP filing deadlines under CARES Act

The newly-enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides patent and trademark applicants the opportunity for temporary relief from certain deadlines as more and more businesses face mandatory shutdowns due to effects of COVID-19.

Patent and trademark extensions

On March 31, 2020, the USPTO issued two notices indicating that it will waive certain patent and trademark filing deadlines under the CARES Act. The notices indicate that certain deadlines that arise between March 27, 2020 and April 30, 2020 will be extended by 30 days if the applicant or patent/trademark registrant can certify that the delay in filing was because the applicant, inventor, patent or trademark registrant, petitioner, or attorney or agent was “personally affected” by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The patent-related deadlines that may be extended include due dates for Office Action responses, maintenance fee payments, issue fees, appeal filings, and certain Patent Trial and Appeals Board filings. The trademark-related deadlines that may be extended include deadlines for Office Action responses, statements of use and affidavits of use, renewal applications, and notices of opposition.

Copyright extensions

The U.S. Copyright Office has extended certain registration timing requirements that typically must be followed in order to seek stautory damages in an infringement claim. In general, a copyright owner is eligible for statutory damages in an infringement action only if the work is registered prior to the infringement or within three months of the work’s first publication. The Copyright Office is extending the three-month window for certain works having a window close date that is between March 13, 2020 and the date that the Acting Register of Copyrights announces an end of the disruption period. However, this extension is only available if the applicant submits evidence that the applicant was “unable to submit a physical deposit of the work and would have done so but for the national emergency.” The extension is not available for works that can be submitted entirely in electronic form.

Cautions before taking advantage of extended deadlines

Patent and trademark applicants and registrants should exercise caution before relying on the USPTO’s extended deadlines under the CARES Act. First and foremost, patent application filing deadlines are not changed. The extended deadlines for patents only apply to granted patents and already-filed applications.

Also, certain of the patent deadline extensions are only available to small entities and micro entities. Notably, only small entities and micro entities may extend maintenance fee payments.

Also, to qualify for any of the USPTO’s extended deadlines the late filing must be accompanied by a statement that the applicant, patent or trademark owner, inventor, attorney or agent, or petitioner was “personally affected” by the COVID-19 outbreak. This means that “the outbreak materially interfered with timely filing or payment.” Patent and trademark applicants, owners and their representatives who contracted COVID-19, or applicants (such as healthcare providers) whose businesses are focused on COVID-19 response can likely state that the outbreak materially interfered with the filing. Patent and trademark applicants, owners and representatives with an affected family member likely also can make the statement. It’s likely that applicants, owners, and representatives who are subject to “stay at home” government mandates and who are caring for family members and/or home-schooling young children could also do so. Further, applicants that are businesses with cash flow concerns due to business distruption should be able to make this statement, especially if the deadline involves payment of a fee.

However, someone who simply chooses to delay may not be able to truthfully say that the outbreak “materially interfered” with timely filing or payment. Thus, patent and trademark applicants, owners, and their representatives should carefully consider whether they qualify for the extended deadlines before relying on them.

Copyright applicants should consider whether they can provide evidence that they were “unable” to file the application within the normal three-month window. If the work is of a type that can be electronically deposited, the applicant must do so within the unextended time period unless the applicant provides evidence that it could not do so, for example by certifying that the applicant had no access to a computer and/or the Internet. If the work is of a type that cannot be electronically deposted, the applicant must certify that it was subject to a government stay-at-home order, or that it was unable to access physical materials due to business closure.

Special thanks to my Fox Rothschild colleagues Flynn Barrison, Dianna El Hioum, and Brienne Terril for their contributions to this post. A version of this article also appears on the Fox Rothschild Coronavirus Resource Center.

U.S. Supreme Court: states are immune from copyright infringement liability

A new Supreme Court decision holds that states are immune from infringement suits under the United States Copyright Act, despite a 1990 law that attempted to remove states’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement cases.

In Allen v. Cooper (decided March 23, 2020), the Court considered a case involving videos and photos of a shipwreck that the state of North Carolina published online. The owner of the copyrights sued the state for copyright infringement. The state moved to dismiss the suit on the ground of state sovereign immunity. The copyright holder countered that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA) removed states’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement suits.

In its decision, the Court noted that “a federal court generally may not hear a suit brought by any person against a nonconsenting State.” However, exceptions can be made if (1) Congress enacts “unequivocal statutory language” that takes away states’ immunity in defined situations, and (2) some constitutional provision permits the encroachment on states’ immunity. The Court found that the CRCA met the first test, but not the second test, and thus did not qualify for an exception.

In particular, the Court noted that Article I (the Intellectual Property Clause) of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to secure copyright holders the exclusive right to their discoveries, but the Clause says nothing about abrogating states’ sovereign immunity.

The Court’s decision harmonizes copyright law with patent law. In a 1999 decision (Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. v. College Savings Bank), the Court reached the same conclusion regarding states’ sovereign immunity and the Patent Act.

Operate a website? Don’t miss the 12/31 deadline to update your DMCA notice

If you operate a website that accepts user-generated content, now is the time to contact the Copyright Office.

Many online service providers (OSPs) accept user-generated content. Examples include e-commerce websites that accept product reviews, news sites that publish user comments on posted articles, social media sites that permit users to share photos or videos, and even blogs who post comments from other users.

It can be very difficult for an OSP to determine whether user-generated content was created by the user who posted it, or whether the content infringes someone else’s copyright.

To protect OSPs from being liable for copyright infringement resulting from user-generated content, since 1988 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provided OSP’s a “safe harbor” from liability so long as OSPs follow certain procedures, including:

  • not actually knowing about the infringement;
  • not financially benefiting from the infringement;
  • when gaining knowledge of infringement, acting quickly to remove or disable access to the infringing material; and
  • designating an agent to receive notifications of claimed copyright infringement, and providing the agent’s contact information to the Copyright Office.

In December, 2016, the procedures for designating a DMCA agent have changed. Previously, DMCA agent designation was handled by completing a form and filing the form with the Copyright Office with a required filing fee. This has now changed.

Under the new DMCA agent designation procedure, all DMCA agent designations must be done online. Even OSPs who previously designated an agent must file an online designation to maintain their DMCA designations. Any OSP that previously designated an agent with the Office will have until December 31, 2017 to use the online system to update their agent designation. OSPs must create an account on the Copyright Office website and complete the agent designation form online.

The Copyright Office has published several video tutorials to help OSPs understand how to use the new online designation system. Those tutorials are available on the Copyright Office website.

[Image credit:  Pavel Ignatov]

Supreme Court: useful articles such as clothing can include copyrightable elements

A new Supreme Court decision helps to clarify the extent to which copyright law can protect design elements of a useful article, such as an article of clothing.

The Copyright Act states that “useful articles” are generally not eligible for copyright protection. Because an article of clothing is useful, many courts have limited copyright protection for clothing to elements such as fabric prints. However, in Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., the Court ruled that a design element incorporated into clothing (or another useful article) is eligible for copyright protection if:

  • the element can be perceived as a work of art separate from the useful article; and
  • the element would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic or sculptural work if imagined separately from the article of clothing (or other useful article).

The Star Athletica case involved certain design elements of cheerleader uniforms, such as arrangements of lines, chevrons and colorful shapes. The designs shown above are two examples that the Court considered in the case.

The Court noted that for an element to qualify as a copyrightable work on its own, the element “cannot itself be a useful article.” Looking at the designs shown above, the Court characterized the arrangement of colors, shapes, stripes and chevrons as “surface decorations” that could be applied to another medium such as a painter’s canvas. The Court also discussed the example of “a design etched or painted into the surface of a guitar,” which could be replicated on an album cover and even replicate the shape of a guitar. The Court explained that such a design is eligible for copyright because the album cover would not replicate the guitar as a useful article.

Thus, the Court distinguished the work of art from the medium to which it is applied. With respect to uniforms, the Court noted that “the only feature of the cheerleading uniform eligible for a copyright in this case is the two-dimensional work of art fixed in the tangible medium of the uniform fabric.” In contrast, the Court explained that copyright does not “prohibit any person from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform of identical shape, cut and dimensions.” In other words, copyright protects a “surface design” but may not protect the surface on which the design is placed.

It’s December 1: time to update your DMCA agent designation

14240670 - copyright

14240670 – copyright

If you operate a website that accepts user-generated content, it’s time to contact the Copyright Office.

Many online service providers (OSPs) accept user-generated content. Examples include e-commerce websites that accept product reviews, news sites that publish user comments on posted articles, social media sites that permit users to share photos or videos, and even blogs who post comments from other users.

It can be very difficult for an OSP to determine whether user-generated content was created by the user who posted it, or whether the content infringes someone else’s copyright.

To protect OSPs from being liable for copyright infringement resulting from user-generated content, since 1988 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provided OSP’s a “safe harbor” from liability so long as OSPs follow certain procedures, including:

  • not actually knowing about the infringement;
  • not financially benefiting from the infringement;
  • when gaining knowledge of infringement, acting quickly to remove or disable access to the infringing material; and
  • designating an agent to receive notifications of claimed copyright infringement, and providing the agent’s contact information to the Copyright Office.

Effective December 1, 2016, the procedures for designating a DMCA agent have changed. Previously, DMCA agent designation was handled by completing a form and filing the form with the Copyright Office with a required filing fee. This has now changed.

Under the new DMCA agent designation procedure, all DMCA agent designations must be done online. Even OSPs who previously designated an agent must file an online designation to maintain their DMCA designations. Any OSP that previously designated an agent with the Office will have until December 31, 2017 to use the online system to update their agent designation. OSPs must create an account on the Copyright Office website and complete the agent designation form online.

The Copyright Office has published several video tutorials to help OSPs understand how to use the new online designation system. Those tutorials are available on the Copyright Office website.

[Image credit:  Pavel Ignatov]

Supreme Court to address two intellectual property issues in fall 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review two cases that involve important IP questions in the Court’s fall 2016 session. One case will consider whether to modify or do away with the long-standing defense of laches in patent infringement cases. The other case will address the extent to which apparel can be protected by copyright.

The doctrine of laches is a defense to patent infringement that protects accused infringers if (1) the patent holder unreasonably delayed in filing the infringement lawsuit, and (2) the accused infringer was materially prejudiced by the delay. If a patentee delays bringing suit for more than six years after the date the patentee knew or should have known of the alleged infringer’s activity, laches may be presumed. In SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, et al. (Fed. Cir. Sept. 18, 2015), the accused infringer argued that a 2014 Supreme Court decision that abolished laches as a defense in copyright cases should also apply to patent cases. The Federal Circuit disagreed and held that the defense of laches is still available in patent infringement cases. The Supreme Court will now resolve this dispute and determine whether the reasoning of its previous decision under copyright law equally applies to patents.

In the second case, the Court will address the extent to which copyright law covers apparel designs. In Varsity Brands Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC (Sixth Cir. 2015), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that several copyright registrations on cheerleader uniform designs were valid. The designs included various stripes and chevrons, and the Sixth Circuit rejected an argument that those designs were functional and found that the designs were “’pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works’ and not uncopyrightable ‘useful articles.’” The Supreme Court will now address the question: “What is the appropriate test to determine when a feature of a useful article is protectable under § 101 of the Copyright Act?”

However, the Supreme Court also denied petitions in several other IP-related cases. Notably, so far the Court has denied at least seven petitions asking for clarity of the boundaries of patent-eligibility in view of the Court’s previous decisions in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc..  Each of those decisions addressed the scope of Section 101 of the Patent Act, and each decision has resulted in confusion and inconsistency in lower court decisions and USPTO actions that have attempted to apply those decision.

 

Can I patent my recipe?

The New Food Economy answers that question (and hints:  “no one likes the answer”) in a new article published this week, linked here.  While the answer isn’t always “no,” in most cases it’s either difficult or too late.

How about recipes and other areas of intellectual property law (specifically, copyright)?  I answer that question in a post linked here.