We covered some mighty interesting IP cases last year that spanned the worlds of pop culture and sports – and we thought we’d take a few minutes to check in on four of those cases to find out where they are now.
The Led Isn’t Out Yet
Remember back when we told you Led Zeppelin had been sued for copyright infringement over their iconic song “Stairway to Heaven?” Well, the case is moving forward, but not in its original court.
This month, Judge Sanchez ordered transfer of the case from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to the Central District of California. The individual Defendants, all of whom live outside Pennsylvania, moved to dismiss or transfer the case based on lack of personal jurisdiction. They argued that sales of the band’s music in Pennsylvania over time and their appearances in the state in the 1980s were not enough of a connection to Pennsylvania to give the court power over them for this present day copyright case.
The court agreed, but rather than dismiss the case, they chose to transfer it to the Central District of California, where the defendants consented to jurisdiction, presumably because they see some advantage to the law in that district. Because of its location, the Central District has seen a significant number of music copyright litigations. In fact, the Central District of California court is the same one that gave us the “Blurred Lines” verdict earlier this year, in which a jury found that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s song infringed on Marvin Gaye’s copyright.
The defendants may have won the battle to get out of Pennsylvania but that may not lead to them winning the war. As those who followed the Blurred Lines case know, Williams and Thicke won important procedural victories early on that limited the kind of evidence that could be presented in the case, but ultimately, they lost at trial. We’ll keep watching the case as it progresses.
Nil-Nil, But It’s Just The Beginning
We also wrote about Cristian Ronaldo’s efforts to cancel Christopher Renzi’s U.S. Trademark of CR7. As you may recall, Ronaldo brought an action to cancel Renzi’s trademark at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and in response Renzi sued Ronaldo for declaratory judgment in federal court in Rhode Island.
Well, the Trademark Trial & Appeals Board will not hear the cancellation proceeding brought by Ronaldo until the Rhode Island litigation concludes. As of this writing, the case remains pending in the district court, although the death of Renzi’s attorney appears to have slowed proceedings and no answer or motion has been filed by Ronaldo’s legal team. We’ll also be keeping our eye on this one as it progresses.
I Scream, You Scream
Finally, we had a couple of interesting ice cream-related cases last year, too.
In the first case, we wrote about Mister Softee, Inc. when they sued a former franchisee who had started deploying “Master Softee” trucks and selling ice cream in New York.
When last we checked in, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a preliminary injunction in favor of Mister Softee on both trademark infringement and breach of contract grounds, ordering Master Softee to cease operations. When Master Softee failed to comply with the order, Mister Softee moved for sanctions. The court granted the motion and awarded sanctions.
The case proceeded, with Master Softee going through not one but two sets of counsel, ultimately failing to defend the case. On May 8, the court entered default judgment against the defendant and ordered the him to pay Mister Softee’s attorneys’ fees and costs, handing a sweet victory to the trademark holder.
The other ice cream battle from last year appears to have ended more amicably: the battle of the “Amy’s” trademarks.
If you remember, it looked like Amy’s Ice Creams, which has ice cream parlors in Texas, and Amy’s Kitchen, which has frozen foods in grocery stores throughout the United States, were headed to trial over who could use “Amy’s” in connection with frozen desserts. Well, sweet as it would have been for the rest of us to see how a trial would turn out, the parties were able to reach a settlement.
While the settlement agreement does not appear to be public, we can see from Patent and Trademark Office records that the parties have dropped their objections to each others trademarks, and Amy’s Ice Creams has now limited its federal trademark application to cover only ice cream in restaurant service, leaving your grocer’s freezer to Amy’s Kitchen.
A business settlement like this is probably the right result: both parties get to keep their marks in their original intended markets.
We will keep following cases like these four that illustrate important concepts in intellectual property law throughout the year.