In 2020, the United States Supreme Court will be hearing a number of IP cases. These decisions in all likelihood will have a significant impact on application of US copyright, patent, and trademark laws in the future.
This summary covers the trademark and copyright cases now before the Supreme Court. We will keep you updated on the cases and decisions that are issued.
Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc. – Trademark Litigation
The issues presented here relate to whether a trademark owner must prove infringement was willful under federal trademark law in order to recover the infringer’s profits or if willful infringement is only one factor that should be considered by a district court when reaching that decision.
Determining when and how to recover infringer’s profits has been an issue for many years for litigators and the courts. The Lanham Act has no statutory damages provisions and actual damages can often be difficult to prove.
United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com BV- Trademark Registration
Here the issue is whether, when the Lanham Act states generic terms may not be registered as trademarks, the addition by an online business of a generic top-level domain (“.com”) to an otherwise generic term can create a protectable trademark.
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board refused to register Booking.com’s name, but the Fourth Circuit upheld the trial court’s ruling that the addition of .com could turn a generic word into a source designator for consumers.
Google v. Oracle- Copyright Protection for Software and Fair Use
The principle issues are whether copyright protection extends to a software interface; and whether, the petitioner’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes fair use.
The background is that this is the culmination of a decade’s worth of litigation involving two of large tech companies. Oracle accused Google of stealing copyrighted pieces of Java source code for use in Google’s Android smartphones. Google has argued that the Java software language Oracle accuses it of stealing is: (1) is functional and cannot be protected by copyright law; and (2) any use is subject to copyright’s fair use doctrine.
Allen v. Cooper- Copyright Infringement- State Sovereign Immunity
Here the issue is whether Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity via the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act in providing remedies for authors of original expression whose federal copyrights are infringed by states.
Historically, states have enjoyed broad immunity, but the 1990 Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (the CRCA) purported to abrogate the state’s sovereign immunity and provide an avenue for copyright owners to sue states in federal court for copyright infringement. Lower courts have ruled the CRCA unconstitutional and the Department of Justice no longer enforces it.
The Petitioner is asking the Supreme Court to rule the CRCA constitutional and provide copyright owners a venue to hold states responsible for their copyright infringement.