Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Interesting Issues Over Cigar and Rum Brands May Come Up With a Thawing of Relations Between Cuba and the United States

Lifting of the Cuba embargo by the United States could create disputes over rights to the Cohiba brand.  Cohiba is one of the biggest brands for Cuban cigar.  There is another Cohiba brand made in the Dominican Republic which is the one which finds its way to American retailers.  The owner of the Dominican Republic brand is Scandinavian Tobacco Group ("STG").  STG recently won a trademark dispute with the owner of the Cohiba brand in Cuba, Cubatabaco, in the United States.  It took STG 16 years, but it finally succeeded in obtaining the rights to the brand, Cohiba, in the United States.  As a result, the distributor for Cubatabaco (a state tobacco company of Cuba), must sell its "Cohiba" cigars in the United States under other brands.  

A similar issue arises in the rum arena.  Bacardi & Co. ("Bacardi") began as a Cuban company, but left Cuba after the Castro government nationalized its operations.  The rights to the brand in Cuba (and elsewhere) belonged to the Havana Club.  Following its departure from Cuba, Bacardi fought with Cuban and French spirits maker, Pernard Ricard SA over the rum brand owned by Havana Club.  In 1997, Bacardi purchased Havana Club and then obtained a series of rulings in United States courts giving it the rights to the Bacardi brand in the United States.  Pernard Ricard will distribute rum to the United States under a different brand--and will market its new brand as the "genuine" Cuban rum in Cuba for those who visit Cuba and wish to bring some home.  Meanwhile, Bacardi indicated that it may consider a return to Cuba if there is improvement in the relations between Cuba and the United States and an improvement in human rights in Cuba. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Another Dead Trademark Being Revived

If you are my age, you may remember one of the hottest high-end audio brands was Technics.  I remember how DJs coveted a Technics turntable.  Heck, even now, DJs remain attracted to the last turntable carrying the Technics brand--made in 2008.  The owner of the brand, Panasonic, decided to consolidate its corporate brands.  As a result of that consolidation, Technics was put out to pasture, so to speak.

Well, now, Panasonic is reviving the brand.  Panasonic hopes to attract those who are looking for more high-resolution audio since the current most common data formats are compressed (to fit on your music player, smartphone, or other device).  Since Panasonic is seeing the compressed format (which is more affordable) market shrinking, it believes that it is time to bring back Technics and capture a broader market.  Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Anti-Brands Are Taking A Bite Out of Gucci

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how Gucci's brand is suffering.  According to the article, prior consumers of Gucci have decided to purge their Gucci inventories in favor of other logo-less brands (e.g. Bottega Veneta).  The article quoted one customer as indicating that she preferred not to let everyone know who made her bag or how much she paid for it.

I sure hope that these customers can talk to all of the women at my gym who insist on bringing their big, expensive, logo bags into class.  I always wonder why there is such a need for them to make sure everyone sees what label they purchased and are carrying.  Of course, I freely admit to being somewhat of a hypocrite when it comes to my cycling and soccer gear.  While I do not necessarily flaunt my gear, I do prefer certain brands over others.

Anyway, enough about me, back to Gucci.  Part of Gucci's problem is the explosion of other "fresher" labels.  Part of the problem is the general economic downturn.  Another problem is that Gucci put its brand on too many products thereby undercutting the uniqueness of its brand.  In trying to reach more customers, it appears as if Gucci has actually hurt its brand.  Apparently, once there is a feeling that almost anyone can own a Gucci product, then those who like the idea of carrying a brand that most of us "average" citizens cannot have will seek out another, more exclusive brand.  Indeed, if you are purchasing a product for status, you are probably a fickle consumer--always looking for and trying to get the "next great brand."

Now, Gucci is going to have to reverse the trend and rebuild its brand.  It can do so, but let this be a lessen in how one's trademark can lose its lustre.  As you are building and nurturing your own brand, always take stock of the message you wish your trademark to convey and ensure that it does so.  Also, learn from Gucci's mistakes and be sure to protect your trademarks!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sirius XM Loses Lawsuit Based on California Copyright Law

Yes, I know, if you ever were a student of mine and heard me lecture/discuss Copyright law, you read that title and said "wait, Professor McCliman, said that the Federal Copyright Act preempted State copyright laws!"  Well, that is true, except the Federal Copyright Act only applies to sound recordings made after February 15, 1972.  According to the Copyright Act, this carve out expires on February 15, 2067.

So, a recent decision by Judge Gutierrez in a case brought by founding members of the band The Turtles against Sirius XM for playing their songs (which were recorded in the 1960's) found that Sirius XM publicly performed The Turtles' songs without authorization, and therefore, violated California copyright law. What is California's copyright law? I am glad you asked.

California Civil Code sections 980, et seq. is California's copyright law.  Section 980(a)(2) provides that the author of a sound recording fixed prior to February 15, 1972 has protection until February 15, 2047.  Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, one of the main issues before Judge Gutierrez was whether the language of the California statute encompassed public performance (i.e. playing the songs on satellite (or any other) radio).  There was no dispute that Sirius XM played the songs, so it had really no choice but to argue that the playing of the songs did not infringe pursuant to California's copyright law.  Judge Gutierrez did an admirable job of setting out how he interpreted the statute and how it is that he determined that the California statute included public performance.  As such, the court found that Sirius XM infringed The Turtles' California copyrights.

While this ruling can have overarching implications with regard to the various other music providers (Pandora comes to mind immediately), keep in mind that these cases invoke state laws, and therefore, are only applicable in those state where there are such laws.  Nevertheless, it is almost certain that the likes of Sirius XM will find themselves having to defend several similar lawsuits in various states across the country. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Google" Has not Become Generic . . . yet

 A long time ago, Xerox created an ad campaign urging consumers not to use "Xerox" to mean "make a copy." The reference to "aspirin" in the advertisement was to another trademark which became the name for the product and no longer served as a trademark.  There is also another advertisement by Xerox with cemetery headstones of several other trademarks which lost their trademark-ability because of genericide (I could not locate that ad quickly, but the ones I can recall are: thermos, escalator, dry ice, cellophane, linoleum, brassiere, just to name a few).  Xerox understood that doing so would make their trademark "Xerox" generic for the term.

The term "Google" seems to be awfully close to genericide.  However, according to at least one Federal Court, the rumors of Google's trademark demise are greatly exaggerated.  The Court stated:  "It cannot be understated that a mark is not rendered generic merely because the mark serves a synecdochian 'dual function' of identifying a particular species of service while at the same time indicating the genus of services to which the species belongs."  Well, that certainly is a mouthful and really a long-winded way to say that Google may become generic in the future. 

Indeed, how many times have you or someone you know said "I Googled it" (or something similar) but still conducted an internet search engine?  Seems to me, that if the term "Google" is becoming understood to identify internet searches no matter which search engine the person conducting the search uses, then it can no longer really act as an indicator of the genus of search engines, namely Google. 

Of course, the Federal Court disagreed based in part on some good evidence that over 90% of persons who "Google" something do so using Google's internet search engine.  So, maybe there is hope for the Google trademark after all.  Now, if the gentlemen announcing the NFL games continue to use the term "iPad" to describe the Surface tablets by Microsoft (Microsoft is a sponsor of the NFL), the trademark "iPad" may become generic.  But alas, that may be a blog for a different day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bring Your Own Devices Bill Signed Into Law by Governor Brown

It has long been thought of a cost-saving measure to allow employees to use their own smartphones or other devices at work.  Makes sense, right?  The company does not have to buy the devices or pay for the cellular plan.  The new law coupled with a recent California Court of Appeal decision makes the bring your own device policy more costly for employers.

First, the law requires all smartphones sold in California to have a "kill switch" allowing someone to remotely disable lost or stolen phones.  Second, the California Court of Appeal ruled that employers need to reimburse employees who use their personal phones for work-related calls (and presumably, e-mails).  Analysts believe that these laws may become the standard across the nation, not just limited to California in the near future. 

I know, you are wondering how these laws make it more costly for companies.  Well, companies need to purchase and maintain software to manage and secure their employees' devices.  The employer would definitely want to ensure that its trade secrets and other confidential/proprietary information could not be obtained by third parties by hacking into an unprotected/lost/stolen device owned by the employee.  It also requires much more IT support than originally anticipated. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Cal State Universities Using Branding to Get Funding

The California State University campuses are turning to slogans, acronyms, and other branding techniques in an effort to raise their ability to market each campus.  The campuses wish to maintain the benefits of being a part of the 23-campus system, while still forging an identity that sets their campus apart.  A few early examples of rebranding, include San Jose State, Sonoma State, and San Diego State.  All of these campuses dropped the "California State University, [enter city name here]" moniker for the easier to remember and shorter "[City Name] State" brand.  Now, it appears that CSU Long Beach wishes to follow suit.  CSU Long Beach is now working to brand itself as Long Beach State and "Beach" for sporting events.  Cal State Northridge adopted the serendipitous acronym "CSUN" for its "new" brand.  "Sea-sun" is so much easier than California State University, Northridge, don't you think? 

One of the main impetuses for this focus on branding was the continued funding cuts by the State.  Those cuts forced these campuses to turn to other ways to raise funds.  One way, would be to create these "new" brands in a way to distinguish themselves from other campuses and schools.  For example, CSU Los Angeles constantly fights confusion with its neighbor, UCLA. 

Hopefully, these CSU campuses will learn from the rebranding effort of UC Berkeley which was a miserable failure.