NFTs (non-fungible tokens) hit the scene in 2017 with CryptoKitties, a game on the Ethereum blockchain for buying, selling, and breeding digital cats. Clearly, CryptoKitties represents a humble start for NFTs, the technology that has since captured astonishing public and media attention. More recent NFTs—like the NFT-based digital artwork by Beeple that sold at Christie’s for $69 million last month—demonstrate the rising importance of these novel digital assets.

Each NFT is a one-of-a-kind digital information file typically associated with a digital image, like an artwork, video, gif, tweet, or even event ticket. At least in theory, NFTs can also be created for physical objects, a possibility just beginning to gain meaningful attention.

Where associated with a digital image, the NFT does not generally contain the image but functions like an integrated smart contract with a link to the image file. This smart contract uses blockchain technology to track changes in ownership and affirm authenticity, much like a digital provenance. NFTs also contain a feature that can disseminate royalties whenever the NFT is sold, exemplifying the design flexibility and diverse functionality of these assets.

NFTs are a new form of non-tangible property with substantial implications in the art, entertainment, fashion, and marketing/advertising realms. Individuals and businesses operating in these spaces should carefully consider the merits of NFT platform or portfolio ownership and should anticipate new applications of and perhaps changes to existing bodies of law, like copyright and false advertising, that will address NFT issues.
Continue Reading NFT Risks and Opportunities in the IP, Advertising, and Brand Management Spaces

On March 4, 2021, the Federal Circuit spoke pointedly on its view of contract interpretation and contract obligations in the context of trademark licensing agreements between private and government actors. In Authentic Apparel Group, LLC v. United States, No. 2020-1412 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 4, 2021), the court upheld the Court of Federal Claims’ decision, on summary judgment, that the Army did not violate its obligations under a trademark licensing agreement with Authentic Apparel Group, LLC (“Authentic”). Authentic, the licensee, claimed that the Army violated the terms of the licensing agreement by refusing to approve certain products and marketing materials bearing Army trademarks. These included a proposed shoe line and an advertisement featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Federal Circuit disagreed.

The Federal Circuit emphasized the plain language of the trademark licensing agreement, which granted the Army “sole and absolute discretion” to approve or deny Authentic’s proposed uses of the Army’s marks. Additionally, an exculpatory clause provided that Authentic would have no cause of action based on the Army’s exercise of this discretion in failing or refusing to grant approval. “Contracting parties,” the court noted, “including parties who contract with the government, are generally held to the terms for which they bargained.” This precept does not change merely because the subject matter of the contract is a trademark.
Continue Reading Deep Sixed: Federal Circuit Boots Trademark Licensee for Meritless Claims Against U.S. Army

On December 18, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!,” a Dr. Seuss and Star Trek mashup illustrated book, is not a fair use exempted from copyright liability. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, the factors courts assess in determining if there is fair use include:

  1. The

On November 30, 2020, New York Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that will allow estates and representatives of deceased individuals to defend their names and likenesses from commercial exploitation, allowing their estates to continue to control and protect their likeness after their death. The new law, which establishes a “Right to Publicity” for deceased individuals who were domiciled in New York at their time of death, allows these individuals to that have commercial value, including their name, picture, voice, or signature, against unauthorized use.

In connection with the new post-mortem right to publicity, Governor Cuomo stated, “In the digital age, deceased individuals can often fall victim to bad actors that seek to capitalize on their death and profit off of their likeness after they pass away – that ends today. This legislation is an important step in protecting the rights of deceased individuals while creating a safer, fairer New York for decades to come.” The new post-mortem right of publicity applies up to 40 years after the death of the deceased personality, and it provides certain exceptions, such as for works of art or political interest, parodies and satires, and the use of names and likenesses in the news.

In enacting this law, New York joins the minority of U.S. states which recognize a post-mortem right of publicity, an area of law that has long been controversial and which has resulted in extensive discussion of choice-of-law rules.
Continue Reading ‘Imagine’ This: John Lennon Would Have Received Post-Mortem Right to Publicity in New York

The Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in a trademark-infringement matter on April 23, 2020, holding that willfulness is not a necessary precondition to an award of profits. The unanimous ruling in Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc. ends years of uncertainty among the lower courts as to whether willfulness is a prerequisite to awarding

Memes, animated GIFs, and other images online are a crucial part of today’s Internet experience and have undoubtedly prompted many Internet users to laugh out loud in front of their screens. In the fashion industry, such images and animated pictures are frequently used to create an experience for the consumer and to evoke an emotion

Our retail multinational clients often ask if there is an effective way of protecting intellectual property rights (“IPR”) in China. While traditional enforcement remedies in China have been ineffective in the past, customs border protection schemes in recent years have provided a cost effective tool to protect the IPR of brand owners in the retail

On September 12, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) handed down yet another ruling on the interpretation of EU copyright law. With its Cofemel-decision (C-683/17), the CJEU harmonized the requirements for utilitarian objects, which might also be protected by a (registered or unregistered) design right, to benefit from copyright protection. Provided

Protecting creative endeavors and designs is a core activity of just about all fashion companies. Fashion items (clothing, accessories, handbags, shoes, etc.) can indeed be protected by copyright and design rights within the European Union.

Lesser known is the ‘unregistered community design’ (or: ‘UCD’) established by the European legislator in 2002 for the protection of