Rescuing Rapunzel: Suffolk Law Professors and students work to keep fairy tale princess in the public domain
United Trademark Holdings Inc. is attempting to trademark Rapunzel (and likely has plans for other fairy tale princess names) for its line of dolls. Law Professors Rebecca Curtin and Loletta Darden of Suffolk University Law School, along with help from Suffolk’s Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic, filed an opposition to United’s trademark registration on May 9, 2018. In their Notice of Opposition, they argue that the name Rapunzel belongs to the public. “No company should ever be able to be the only company that can call their doll Rapunzel, because Rapunzel is already in the public domain,” said Curtin, who specializes in intellectual property law. “Rapunzel already belongs to everyone.”
While existing graffiti may indeed provide a tempting edge for a new marketing campaign, or as the backdrop for a great commercial, companies will need to decide if it is worth the legal or public relations risk. If the original graffiti artist cannot be found, or is unwilling to allow their art to be used, it may end up being less expensive to start from scratch than to manage the fallout from an allegation of stolen artwork, damaged reputation, and a lawyer for the lawsuit that follows.
Every year different groups provide rankings of patent prosecution law firms and a company’s patent count for the year. Patent law firms will tout their rankings based upon the number of filings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or the number of allowances they obtained for clients over the previous year. And companies will boast about their patent prowess based upon the size of their portfolios. But things are changing. Innovative algorithms and even diagnostic methods may be easier and more effectively protected by trade secret. Trade secret protection avoids the uncertainty of compliance with the vague patentability standard set forth by the Supreme Court.
In their supervisory role, partners typically set the tone for, and dictate the parameters of, their interactions with associates. A first partner may approach the partner-associate relationship as one of mutuality. A second similarly situated partner may premise the relationship substantially on advancing his or her own self-interest. Not surprisingly, associates tend to prefer working for the first partner if given the choice.
In 2011, as part of the American Invents Act (“AIA”), Congress significantly restructured the way in which previously issued patents could be challenged. In some cases, existing post-issuance proceedings, like ex parte reexamination and reissue proceedings, were kept intact as such proceedings existed prior to the AIA. In other cases, existing post-issuance proceedings, like inter partes reexamination, were replaced with new proceedings, such as the inter partes review proceedings (“IPRs”). In addition, brand new proceedings were created, such as post-grant review proceedings (“PGRs”), covered business method patent review proceedings (“CBMs”), and supplemental examination proceedings. In each instance, Congress made policy choices as to who could (or could not) bring and/or participate in such proceedings, and who could (or could not) raise challenges to decisions made by the government in such proceedings.
On June 1, 2018, the new patent local rules went into effect in the District of Massachusetts following a substantial overhaul that began over one year ago. In January 2017, the judges in D. Mass. formed a committee which included ten local patent litigators to advise the court on revising its practices specific to patent litigation in the district. The final draft of the proposed rules was released for public comment from December 2017 through February 2018, giving other patent litigators in the district and interested parties a first glimpse of the new rules and the ability to weigh in on their implications. This week the court announced its final version of the rules, which will apply to all cases for which a scheduling order as yet to issue.
Missing for a while at the U.S. competition agencies has been an appreciation for how competition works in the real world — in particular, discounting the vital part intellectual property plays in sparking new competition and growing the economic pie. It can be easy to lock in a static view of the economic world. Or misdefine “competition,” as Robert Bork noted in The Antitrust Paradox. Fortunately, things are looking up. The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is now led by someone steeped both in antitrust and innovation. This breath of fresh air is supplied by U.S. Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim.
The Federal Circuit’s recent venue decisions represent important developments in the interpretation of the patent venue statute. The application of these decisions will have immediate effects on defendants in patent infringement cases, and particularly those who are often subject to suit in popular districts like the Eastern District of Texas and the District of Delaware. While many open questions remain—perhaps most notably the treatment of domestic unincorporated associations—the Federal Circuit continues to delineate the scope of the patent venue statute.
The recent Tinnus opinion further defines the meaning of “regular and established place of business.” See Tinnus Enters. v. Telebrands Corp., Case No. 6:17-CV-00170-RWS (E.D. Tex. May 1, 2018). The opinion provides additional guidance to practitioners defining “residence” under TC Heartland, Micron, and Cray: teleworking employees are not enough, but leased retail space in brick-and-mortar stores might be.
Appellants were generic drug manufacturers who filed Abbreviated New Drug Applications (“ANDAs”), seeking approval for generic versions of Vimpat®. As a result, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ultimate conclusion that the asserted claims were not invalid.
In Vanda, Chief Judge Prost, one of the judges on the CellzDirect panel, dissented from the majority’s decision that found claims patent eligible for not being directed to a judicial exception in step one of the Mayo/Alice test. What differences between the claims in Vanda and those in CellzDirect led Judge Prost to dissent? Can these differences shed further light on the characteristics necessary for a claim to be found not directed to a patent-ineligible concept in step one?
Of the many lingering issues left in TC Heartland’s wake for domestic corporations, a Federal Circuit panel resolved several of them recently. In In re ZTE (USA), No. 2018-113, the court addressed two of the most common issues dogging appeals over the application of § 1400(b): whose law governs burden, and where does that burden lie. In In re Bigcommerce, No. 2018-120, the court addressed the territorial bounds mapped by the phrase “judicial district” in § 1400(b). Judge Linn authored both.
Critics of drug patents often claim that when initial drug patents expire, drug companies stuff their patent portfolios with “trivial” patents that unjustifiably extend their patent monopoly to keep the prices up. This argument perpetuates common myths and misunderstandings that fail on several levels… In the last decade, large molecule biological drugs have come to the fore. They provide dramatic new treatments for some conditions but can be very expensive. It is difficult to develop inexpensive generic-type versions for biological drugs.
In this article, I compute a “three-year grant rate” that shows the probability of obtaining a granted patent within three years of the first office action. This three-year grant rate tells you how difficult an examiner is and when you can expect to be granted a patent. The greatest benefit of the three-year grant rate is that it incorporates information about both the difficulty of the examiner and the length of time to obtain a patent into a single, easy to understand number. If your examiner has a three-year grant rate of 18%, it is easy to explain to your client that they have an 18% chance of getting a patent issued in three years.
Our patent system was also been built upon classical rules and understandings, e.g., earlier patent systems, and the thoughts of Rousseau, Locke and others who influenced our Founders in the creation of our patent system. For over 200 years our patent system has been operating within the paradigm or mindset that innovation should be encouraged by providing a personal incentive to benefit the innovator (in the short term) and Society as a whole (over the long term). This reality, however, is now under question, i.e., the George Washington Interpretation that a patent system is good for the nation.