For the half-year to 30 June 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Alberto Bellan, Darren Meale and Nadia Zegze.

Two of our regular Kats are currently on blogging sabbaticals. They are David Brophy and Catherine Lee.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Letter from AmeriKat I: Good Day Sunshine (TMs and ©)


The AmeriKat has been watching the English public embrace the change of the season this week. On Friday she slinked outside for her midday patrol and perched on a bench in Gray's Inn, with the new Vogue in paw. (picture, left - the AmeriKat taking a much needed lunchtime Kat nap) Like spring flowers, once the temperature rises above a certain level the English bloom onto any stretch of grass available to them. A sea of students, solicitors, lawyers and miscellaneous office workers were scattered about in the sections of Gray's Inn grass that was unspoilt by any appearance of shade. Once modest workwear suits, worn by males and females alike, were stripped of any sweaters, cufflinks and buttons to expose as much square footage of skin as possible, laughter was echoing off the Inn's buildings, people were chatting with their neighbors, and a general feeling of calm settled throughout. The AmeriKat even spied some IP barristers from 11 South Square joining in on the emergence of spring. There is something about warmer weather in England that makes the general public a little less guarded than normal, in both physical appearance and mentality, which can only ever be welcome.


Louboutin sees red with Yves Saint Laurent

Someone who has seemed to let their guard down, in least where trade mark infringement claims are concerned, is Yves Saint Laurent who last Thursday was sued in Manhattan federal court by the one and only Christian Louboutin. Louboutin is famous for his footwear recognizable by the casual observer by its trade mark red sole. The story goes that one of Louboutin's customers was wearing an amazing red nail polish on her nails which Louboutin adored. She had the coveted nail color in her bag, took it out and Louboutin painted his first sole with the red nail polish. The violent red-lacquered sole would later become his signature maker's mark and would be granted a US trade mark in 2008 (picture, right - Louboutin's famous heel).

Louboutin is now alleging that since January Yves Saint Laurent America, a subsidiary of the Gucci Group, is selling their shoes with the same red sole in store throughout Manhattan. Louboutin's complaint argues that Yves Saint Laurent's use of the red sole is "likely to cause and is causing confusion, mistake and deception among the relevant purchasing public." Louboutin is claiming for $1 million in damages and an injunction to stop Yves Saint Laurent (picture, left) from manufacturing the shoes. Interestingly, Louboutin apprenticed with Yves Saint Laurent in the late 1980s before setting up his own brand.

The AmeriKat is curious, as any Kat should be, to know what evidence of actual confusion (as stated by the complaint to be occurring) Louboutin has. Unlike in the UK, under section 1114 of the Lanham Act US trade mark owners have to prove that the defendant's use of their mark confused consumers. In the Second Circuit, which includes New York, the factors for the test for confusion is that as laid down in the Polaroid Corp v Polarad Elecs. Corp (1961) case. The AmeriKat sets out these factors below with some comments in the IPKat's signature comment red:
  1. The strength of the mark, i.e. the red soles - It is somewhat undeniable that Louboutin's red soles have indeed become well-recognized as a trade mark for his shoes in the market.
  2. The degree of similarity between the two marks - Identical - in so far as they are both red outersoles
  3. The proximity of the products and services - Identical - they are both shoes, being sold in the same stores, probably right next to or near each other
  4. The likelihood that the senior user will "bridge the gap" into the junior user's product service line - if there even is a 'gap' it is very likely because they are competitors
  5. Evidence of actual confusion between the marks - Always hard to come by, but perhaps Louboutin has some faithful customers who will be able to attest to some initial interest confusion?
  6. Whether the Yves Saint Laurent adopted the mark in good faith
  7. The quality of the Yves Saint Laurent's products - the AmeriKat would love to see Louboutin allege that YSL's products are of a lesser quality, but the fact that they are not and are side-by-side competitors actually makes it more difficult for YSL to squirm out of this one because there is more chance of there being actual, likely or initial-interest confusion.
  8. The sophistication of the parties customers -If someone is in the market for $400-$4,000 shoes, one would think you would pay particular attention in knowing what shoe and from whom you were buying, however again, initial interest confusion may be the savior in this confusion battle.
Confusion, as any trade mark lawyer knows in the US and the UK, is notoriously difficult to prove. However, in the US and now thanks to Arnold J in the UK, initial interest confusion is probably the saving grace for Louboutin. Given that the price points of parties' products are so high and the sophistication of the intended consumers is so developed, any confusion present regarding the origin of the shoes on behalf of the consumer is likely to be remedied prior to purchase. What do readers think? Is this an easy fight for Louboutin or does Yves Saint Laurent have it in the (Neiman Marcus) bag?

Need for Congress to address issues with Google Books lawsuit, Pallante says

The AmeriKat has been quiet about the Google Books Settlement, which some may find unusual considering how much she followed and wrote about the litigation (see previous reports here). In fact she even predicted when District Judge Denny Chin (picture, left) was going to issue his damning judgment (just ask @garethdickson). There is little she wishes to say right now about Judge Chin's judgment other than, in her opinion, it was the correct determination given that the revised settlement seemed even worse than the first and again did not adequately address the issue of orphan works, and Google could have saved itself a lot of bother had it been an "opt-in" class than an "opt-out" (albeit probably not as profitable). However, the issue spotlighted how important the issue of digitization of works is in copyright, be it literary or artistic.

Maria Pallante (picture, right), acting Register of Copyrights, feels the same. Last week she told an event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce that lawmakers need to address the issue of whether the digitization of literary works should be a benefit for the public or become a profit-making endeavour. As reported by the Dow Jones Newswire, Pallante stated that
"The first issue is really, is mass digitization a national goal that Congress feels legislation is warranted for, and if so, for what beneficiaries."
She also stated that
"It isn't that universal libraries aren't important, but there's a difference between universal libraries and universal bookstores."
With orphan works are back where we started, says the AmeriKat, why can't the US government just once and for all pass a bill like the Shawn Bentley Bill? It would allow for digitization of orphan works, but if and when the owner came forward a reasonable royalty would be payable under statute provided the user undertook a reasonable search. Does it need to be more complicated than this? Of course, the problem encountered is that once that copy is digitized the person who digitized it can arguably exclude other digitized copies of the same book being made - thus some of the arguments against Google in the Google Books case. As long as it is clear that the mere digitization of a literary or artistic orphan work does not mean that the digitizer can exclude others from making their own digitized versions of the work, then such problems should not be encountered. But then again, how can this be done but by legislation?

More in Part II.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Louboutin/YSL story is an interesting one. Looking at the two pictures it is a good example of where a mark that is highly distinctive in Louboutin's picture, particularly given the reputation, is potentially a lot less distinctive in the context of YSL's use.

Since the whole of YSL's shoe is red, it is arguable that the sole wouldn't been seen as a distinctive feature at all, from a EU perspective. In which case, it you could say that it would not constitute use of the 'mark' as a trade mark and therefore not be infringing.

Anonymous said...

On Louboutin / YSL, evidence of actual confusion is not a prerequisite in the U.S. for a finding of trademark infringement, rather the Polaroid factors are cumulative.

Of course if the trademark owner is lucky enough to have evidence of actual confusion (which admittedly is rare) this will typically be viewed as highly probative and may end up being the last nail in the coffin...

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