Of the four class areas of intellectual-property law, we regularly handle copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. To these, we also handle a number of related areas: domain name disputes (including “cybersquatting”), privacy and publicity rights, and laws governing the internet. With patent law, we can only handle the litigation side (and its rare here in Nashville).
What Are The Main Claims Generally Made When It Comes To Trademark Infringement?
Of the types of intellectual property, businesses are most sensitive to trademark because a trademark goes to a business’s relationship with its customers and potential customers. Trademark infringement might legitimately seem like an existential threat to a business. The point of trademark law is to prevent confusion between the two marks, not only for the benefit of the senior mark holder but also for the benefit of consumers. We want consumers to be confident in their purchases, and trademark law helps ensure they get what they think they’re buying. If a business owner starts feeling like their business is being hurt because someone else has chosen a conveniently similar mark, the business will instinctively move to protect itself.
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses have gotten it in their heads that, in the name of “policing” their marks, they must go after even the slightest risk of confusion. This leads to a lot of unnecessary lawsuits.
Trademark law also protects your right to sponsor and have affiliations with others. This can really expand trademark law beyond what people expect. We can all agree that I’ve got a right to control how my marks are used when it comes to sponsoring something that’s not related to my business. We get a lot of claims where the business owner says they’re not worried about losing customers to the other business. They’re worried about people associating them with that other business. It really broadens what can be trademark infringement.
There is another type of trademark case that might be surprising, which is a concept called dilution. Dilution is only supposed to apply to very famous marks, meaning household names to the general public. Coke is one; McDonald’s is one; FedEx is one. Dilution is a much broader concept and any use that tarnishes or otherwise diminishes the other use would be subject to litigation.
Your classic trademark case would be where someone is worried about losing customers to another company with a similar mark. Once the confusion starts, it can be hard to fix. You see a lot of preliminary injunction type actions in trademark law to stop the damage before it can become irreversible. In my experience, trademark cases are much more hard fought because people feel that there’s an existential at stake: the identity of their company, their customer base, and their reputation. That can really get people emotionally invested in the lawsuit.
What Are the Main Claims Generally Made When it Comes to Copyright?
Unlike trademarks, businesses have a wide range of attitudes toward their copyrights. Some are intensely reliant on copyright, of course. Indeed, whole industries are built around copyright protection: film, music, publishing, and so forth. But copyright covers a huge range of expression, not just classic “creative” expression. It covers any original expression, so one is constantly obtaining copyrights just by putting pen to paper or keyboard to computer.
Copyright also covers computer code. Many developers have no idea that they own copyright in their own code. Many of their customers don’t know that they don’t own the copyright in the code they paid money for, but sometimes only have an implied license with vague terms. This can come as a shock down the road, when, for example, they want to sell their business. Worse, what if the developer and the customer have a dispute, often over the scope of work or the functionality of the finished product? Those disputes are all too common, alas.
These days, perhaps the most common type of copyright lawsuit involves law firms that have made a living at bringing copyright claims, often on behalf of photographers. Photographers have been feeling legitimately very put upon these days because their works are so easily copied and used, thanks to the internet and the ease of digital copying. People often think they can use works they find on the internet for free, and it can be a bit of a shock to get a cease and desist letter from one of these firms. Sometimes, their claims are highly legitimate and they’re trying to protect the livelihoods of their clients. Alas, many of these firms over-reach or just go after the wrong people.
What Are the Main Claims Generally Made When it Comes to Trade Secret?
Where you’re most likely to see a trade secret claim is when a competitor hires a knowledgeable ex-employee of a similar business. The plaintiff is going to be concerned that that person is bringing with them a lot of secret proprietary information and that the reason this competitor hired that ex-employee was to get that information. Less common but much more dramatic is classic industrial espionage.
What Are the Main Claims Generally Made When it Comes to Domain Names?
With domain name disputes, a lot of the time, it’s going to be for the same reasons as trademark disputes. However, you also see people grabbing domain names in bad faith in order to sell them to the highest bidder, which is slightly different.
For more information on Intellectual Property Litigation In Tennessee, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (615) 802-9119 today.