Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ebook says it makes trademark law easy to understand

A website called “Trademarkingebook” purports to make trademarks understandable and usable by ordinary people. The site is and the site is called “Trademarking Made Easy.”

It mentions the apparent use by Paris Hilton of “that’s hot” as a trademark, and then explains the four kinds of words that help make a brand distinct. These are (1) arbitrary [strongest] like “Exxon”, (2) suggestive, (3) descriptive, and (4) common or generic. Ordinary words are the least likely to be indicative and unique enough to become credible as a brand and qualify for trademark protection according to the USPTO. In many cases, different organizations in different lines of businesses can use similar or even the same names. For example, no one would confuse “Lowes” home improvement with “Loews” theaters.

The website also discusses the concept of “service mark” as opposed to trademark, and the relationship to the “R” symbol.

The site has a download for the ebook by credit card; I could not find it on Amazon, although maybe I didn’t look right.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Tiffany v. Ebay is a serious test of prospective "secondary" liability under trademark law

There is a serious trademark case Tiffany v. Ebay in the Second Circuit now.

A federal judge rejected Tiffany’s claim that Ebay must screen all products for possible trademark infringement before posting on the site. Ebay does remove jewelry items that Tiffany specifically complains about, but Tiffany wants Ebay to be responsible for the “downstream liability” of allowing the item to appear at all.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Public Citizen have filed a amicus brief urging the Second Circuit to uphold the judge’s ruling. The link for the PDF document is here. It is authored by Fred von Lohmann, Michael Kwun, and Corynne McSherry.

The document mentions several concepts. The Inwood case has to do with “inducing” trademark infringement by continuing to supply objects to an entity that one knows is infringing. But the brief says that the analogy is not valid. The Supreme Court had dealt with contributory infringement in Sony v. Universal in a narrow reading.

However, the was a case in the Seventh Circuit called Hard Rock v. Concession Services, where the concept was extended to “secondary infringement.”

The brief goes on the argue that requiring an intermediary to vet customer placements for possible trademark infringement would have a chilling effect on online commerce, perhaps with other vendors like Amazon, or maybe with self-publishing services. Should a domain name registrar have to vet an application for a domain name for possible trademark infringement? That could make the whole domain business economically impractical, when ICANN already has good-faith mediation procedures in place.

It does sound as thought the “prospective” component of the 2006 Trademark Dilution Revision Act could come into play, however. Other attorneys had speculated after passage that the law could be abused, and Tiffany could represent an attempted abuse.

I wonder how this compares to other areas of intermediary responsibility in Internet law, like Section 230 or the safe harbor provision of the DMCA.

This sounds like a case of a big company with bureaucracy wanting to stifle competition from low-cost entrepreneurs in a difficult economy.

EFF has a Press Release Dec. 4, 2008 “Jewelry Company Quest to Expand Trademark Law Could Quash Internet Commerce: EFF Urges Court to Reject Appeal in Tiffany v. eBay” link here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"History" has two different major websites (with .com, .org), no problem

Here’s a good example of a common word as a domain name used by two different entities for equally legitimate purposes. refers to the History Channel (its official registered workmark is "History made every day!"), a well known cable and satellite television channel owned by A&E, Hearst, and Disney. The channel offers historical documentaries about controversial or snazzy topics, such as the JFK assassination, religious cults, early technology, early warfare, and even UFOs, as well as a new cosmology and astronomy series “The Universe.” A values series has been “Mega Disasters,” about 20 or so episodes over two seasons that outline natural (and some manmade) calamities that could challenge civilization as we know it. refers to Colonial Williamsburg, “The future may learn from the past”, the official site of the private organization that maintains the restored colonial city of Williamsburg, VA, critical to the American Revolution, about 50 miles SE of Richmond VA. And important recent addition is “Revolutionary City”, an outdoor drama that runs except during the winter months. The site also offers gifts, books, videos and DVDs about life in colonial Williamsburg and during the American Revolution, some of which are not commercially available anywhere else.