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

Maryland became the first U.S. state to create a digital advertising tax on February 12, 2021. The Digital Advertising Gross Revenue Tax (DAGRT) was originally passed in March of 2020, but subsequently vetoed by Maryland Governor, Larry Hogan. Maryland’s legislature voted to override the Governor’s veto, however. The contentious journey for DAGRT passage is likely to be overshadowed by a litigious future.

DAGRT (full text here) imposes a progressive tax on the sale of digital advertising services’ gross revenue within the state. DAGRT focuses on large providers of digital advertising services; entities with revenue exceeding $100 million. The rate of the tax imposed, based on global revenue, is 2.5% for annual global gross receipts of $100 million to $1 billion, 5% for gross receipts of $1 billion to $5 billion, 7.5% for gross receipts of $5 billion to $15 billion, and 10% for gross receipts exceeding $15 billion. The rate then applies to digital advertising services’ gross revenue in Maryland. However, DAGRT does require all entities with an annual gross revenue derived from digital advertising services within the state over $1 million to file a specialized tax return. DAGRT’s focus on large providers of digital advertising services might incentivize these providers to find avenues to avoid the tax by changing their digital advertising strategies. For example, more companies may offer advertisement-free subscription options. It’s also possible that the companies faced with paying the tax may simply pass the cost on to the smaller businesses purchasing the advertisements and to consumers.
Continue Reading Maryland’s Digital Advertising Tax: A Contentious Start, and an Uncertain Future

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

On Monday, May 20, 2019 the Supreme Court settled a decades-long circuit split regarding a licensee’s ongoing trademark usage rights following the rejection of a trademark license agreement under the U.S. bankruptcy code. In an eight to one decision, the Court found that “rejection breaches a contract but does not rescind it. And that means

These boots were made for walkin’– no not your ugg boots, my UGG® boots.

On May 10, 2019, an eight-person jury in Illinois federal court found Sydney-based company Australian Leather Ltd. and owner Adnan Oygur liable for willful infringement of the “UGG” trademark (U.S. Reg. No. 3,050,925), registered to Deckers Outdoor Corporation since 2005.

In

Over the past couple of years there have been several important conversations regarding intellectual property issues in the beauty industry. This industry faces a persistent issue of copycat beauty looks that are not credited to the original inspiration. For example, earlier this year Instagram account Diet Prada called out two editorial beauty looks worn

On July 27, 2017, Crowell & Moring will be presenting a webinar hosted by the United States Fashion Industry Association on the hottest IP Supreme Court decisions from 2017 that will affect the fashion and retail industries.  Anne Li and Preetha Chakrabarti of Crowell will be discussing Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc. and

UPDATE to our September 2015 post

On March 22, 2017, a 6-2 Supreme Court found Varsity Brands’ designs on cheerleading uniforms to be copyrightable, holding that “an artistic feature of the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection if the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated.” See Star Athletica, LLC. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 580 U.S. __ (2017) (No. 15-866), Op. at 1-2.  In doing so, the Court affirmed the Sixth’s Circuit decision below.


Continue Reading A-F-F-I-R-M-E-D! The Supreme Court Upholds Copyright Protection for Cheerleading Uniform Designs

Photo credit: Bernard Spragg (Flickr)
Photo credit: Bernard Spragg (Flickr)

On February 10, 2017, the Federal Bar Association will host a day-long Fashion Law Conference at Parsons School of Design (Starr Foundation Hall in the New School’s University Center) during New York Fashion Week!

Please join Crowell & Moring’s Frances Hadfield and Preetha Chakrabarti, as well