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. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Who Owns the Copyright for a Tattoo?

As if it were not enough that college athletes are seeking compensation from video game makers for using their names and likeness, now there is a group of tattoo artists suing video game makers who re-create an athlete's image--including their tattoos.  As with several other emerging copyright issues there are two schools of thought.  One is that, once the athlete pays for the tattoo, it belongs to them.  The other is that the tattoo still belongs with the artist, and therefore, any recreation of that tattoo as part of a game is a violation of the artist's copyright rights.

The ensuing litigation has caused the NFL Players Association--which licenses images of the players to EA Sports--began encouraging athletes to obtain licenses to their body art in order to avoid claims by the tattoo artists against EA Sports. 

Generally, a work remains the property of the author who created it (in this case, the tattoo artists).  However, there is an exception for what the Copyright Act deems "works made for hire."  The works made for hire doctrine allows an employer to be the author of a work created by its employee within the course and scope of his/her employment.  It also applies in the context of a commissioned work (i.e. a work specially ordered or commissioned for use in certain circumstances).  This part of the Copyright Act does not explicitly cover tattoos.  But, if the courts find that the tattoos are, indeed, works made for hire, then there must be a written document indicating that it is a work made for hire. Essentially, this writing transfers the copyright rights to the person receiving the tattoo.  Otherwise, the artist maintains the rights. 

Now, I am pretty sure that before this influx of lawsuits, there were no real written agreements between a tattoo artists and their customers.  I would venture a guess that there are more tattoo artists being asked to sign agreements assigning or licensing their copyright rights to their customers. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Leahy Kills Proposed Patent Reform Legislation Targeting Patent Trolls

Patent trolls rejoice! Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy killed the Innovation Act which sought to curb patent trolls.  Patent trolls are firms that obtain (horde) patents and use them primarily to threaten lawsuits.  The Innovation Act sought to impose a loser pays regime in patent lawsuits, protect end-users from being threatened with legal action for using commonly available products, and would have required more detailed descriptions of the alleged damage suffered by the trolls in their initial pleadings.

Not surprisingly, the Innovation Act was popular over a broad spectrum of companies, by persons on both sides of the aisle, and the President. Unfortunately, the trial lawyers and drug manufacturers were not such big fans.  Hmmm.  Leahy claimed that the Innovation Act would have "severe unintended consequences on legitimate patent holders."  So, we should let the illegitimate patent holders keep making profits by way of lawsuit extortion?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Another Group Joins the Call to Change the Copyright Act

If you follow this blog at all, you will know that I am not a big fan of the Copyright Act in its current form.  Well, I can happily say that I am not alone.  A group of academic authors known as the Authors Alliance are seeking changes to the Copyright Act to reflect the reality of publishing in the digital age.  In particular, this group wants the Copyright Act changed to allow librarians, archives, and heritage groups to reproduce and store books digitally.  The Authors Alliance says that in denying these groups the ability to digitize books could mean losing "long-term cultural and intellectual history."

I could not agree more.  Unfortunately, the Authors Guild vehemently disagrees.  The Authors Guild feels that making works easily available and sharable digitally will undermine the literary industry--sort of like music sharing has "undermined" the music industry. 

It appears as if the Authors Guild is doing what the music industry did when faced with the digitization of their works, trying to maintain the status quo.  I said it at the time when I was a fairly fresh-faced intellectual property attorney and the Napster case was wending its way through the court system:  the music industry then should have embraced Napster and worked with it to achieve its goals (maintaining profitability for the artists and allowing the copyright holders the ability to control their songs).  Instead, they fought tooth and nail and are now losing terribly.  The Authors Guild should learn from the music industry's mistake. 

The artists should ultimately have a say in how and what type of protections they want to have for their works. As I've written before, some authors are okay with looser restrictions, others want to maintain a vice grip on their intellectual property.  There has to be a way to modernize the Copyright Act to achieve some middle ground given that digitization is going to happen one way or another.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Google's Attempt to Register "Glass" As a Trademark Stalls

"Google Glass" is already registered as a trademark, but now, Google is having difficulty getting a registration for its "Glass" mark:

Recently, the USPTO rejected the registration citing applications filed prior to Google's application, likelihood of confusion and the mark is descriptive.  In response, Google's attorneys provided almost 2,000 pages of news articles about Google Glass in an attempt to show that there can be no confusion because of all the press.  The argument goes that since Glass has gotten so much press, consumers are not likely to confuse that mark with anything else.  The attorneys, of course, also argue that the term is not descriptive.  

Everything I've ever read (and it has not been 2,000 pages of articles) has used the term "Google Glass," not just "Glass" alone.  Not sure Google can overcome this rejection, but maybe "might makes right" on this one? Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More for the Don't Trust Yelp File

Yelp seemingly provides never-ending fodder for this blog.  As you may recall, when we last left our erstwhile thug (i.e. Yelp), Yelp was suing a law firm for "working" the system by getting associates and employees to post favorable reviews.  Of course, Yelp did not take kindly to being sued and began running competitor's ads on the firm's Yelp page, as well as filtering the reviews to make the less favorable ones more prominent.  This is a common tactic employed by Yelp when a merchant has the audacity to refuse to pay Yelp's advertising fees. 

According to a recent Los Angeles Times article provided a real-life example of Yelp's "mafia-like" tactics.  Apparently, Rick Fonger decided to open a jewelry store after a career in journalism.  To help advertise, Mr. Fonger paid Yelp $ 300 a month.  He got some results, but thought that he could spend his advertising dollars differently to get better results (or, more advertising bang for the buck).  So, he did what any small business owner would do, he canceled his Yelp ad in order to apply his limited advertising budget towards something more fruitful.  The next day, a Yelp representative called Mr. Fonger to inform him that competitor's ads were showing up on his Yelp page and explained that she could make them go away for $ 75 a month.  I agree with the LA Times article that this sounds like extortion.

David Lazarus of the LA Times was not done with Yelp.  He followed up the aforementioned article with another one describing Yelp's extortionist ways.  In that article, Mr. Lazarus describes how Yelp uses bad reviews to strong-arm small businesses to purchase their services.  Indeed, if the small business refuses to "play ball," it is likely that they will find bad reviews featured more prominently. Yelp also demands payment to remove bad reviews and is not very helpful in addressing false claims made by reviewers.  Even more troublesome is the fact that several of the small business owners who spoke to the reporter were afraid to give their names for fear of retaliation by Yelp.  Indeed, one real estate appraiser noted that after he stopped paying Yelp, Yelp apparently reordered the reviews to feature the negative ones more prominently.

Notably, after my last blog post about Yelp, I received several phone messages from someone from Yelp.  Undoubtedly, that person wanted to sell me ad space or have me pay to remove ads of "competitors." 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

First Onions, Now Whiskey

Well, Georgia has their trademarked Vidalia Onion.  Now, Tennessee is in a battle over whiskey.  Specifically, Tennessee whiskey.  Apparently, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law that "Tennessee Whiskey" is that which is made virtually the same way as Jack Daniel's.  Needless to say, JD's closest in state competitor, Dickel, was not amused.  Apparently, JD's has several distinct advantages in making their hooch the way its been doing it since the 1870's.  First, JD's is a huge enterprise.  Second, they also make their own very expensive barrels mandated by the law.

Jack Daniel's frames the law as necessary to insure that Tennessee's "signature" whiskey is not undermined by competitors.  Apparently, JD's is trying to make it harder for its behemoth competitor, Johnnie Walker from entering the Tennessee whiskey fray.  It will be interesting to see if David can slay Goliath in this battle. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Software Patents Headed to Supreme Court

If you've read my patent primer, you know that patents protect inventions, but not abstract ideas.  One wrinkle to this notion is the software patent.  Many in the industry believe that software code should not receive patent protection.  There is also the little matter about a design patent which can translate into trade dress thereby receiving legal protection for longer than the monopoly afforded patents--but, I digress.

Those who say "down with software patents" may see their demise in the form of a Supreme Court opinion in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank.  Apparently, the founder of Alice obtained a patent for a software program which calculates the obligations of parties entereing into a currency exchange transaction.  However, the Federal Circuit in a circuitous and fractured opinion invalidated the patent.  Because of the Federal Circuit's muddled opinion, it appears the Supreme Court will now need to take up this case to provide clarification about the viability of software patents.  In one of the many opinions of the Federal Circuit, Judge Moore provided an inkling at what was at stake:
And let's be clear: If all of these claims, including the system claims, are not patent-eligible, this case is the death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business-method, financial-system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents.
In other words, money is at stake.  Patents (or any other IP) generally equates to money.  They are property after all.  For example, Twitter just paid $ 36 million to avoid a lawsuit and to purchase 900 patents from IBM.  Undoubtedly, most, if not all, of these patents are software patents.  That is a lot of money for a portfolio of patents which the Supreme Court invalidates in a few months.  With so much at stake, it will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court has to say in this case. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

More Copyright Act Bashing

A recent case involving the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes character was mercifully rejected by Chicago Federal Judge.  However, the case is further proof that the Copyright Act is misused, abused, and outdated.  In the case, the estate of author Arthur Conan Doyle sought to protect the Sherlock Holmes character from being part of a TV Series "Sherlock."  Now, I know, you are wondering how Sherlock Holmes can still be under the protection of the Copyright laws when he first appeared in works published in 1887 and his creator passed away over 83 years ago.  One would think that Sherlock Holmes was clearly in the public domain by now, right? Well, the Doyle estate disagreed. 

If you read earlier posts  of this blog, you would know that copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years.  Let's see, doing the math, 83 years is more than 70 years, and therefore, the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle are in the public domain.  However, the Doyle estate argued that protection remained until the rights expire on the last few stories in which the characters appeared.  According to the Doyle estate, this meant that Sherlock Holmes was copyrighted until sometime in 2022 or 2023.  You have to give it to the Doyle estate, they make a creative argument not based in anything in the Copyright Act.  I digress.

A little history:  the 1909 Copyright Act provided protection for 28 years with a renewal period for another 28 years; the 1976 Copyright Act lengthened the term of protection to life of the author, plus 70 years.  Given that commercial exploitation of copyrighted works is much shorter than 70 years after the author expires.  Indeed, as we move more and more towards consumers with shorter and shorter attention spans (thanks to TiVo, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), it seems as if the commercialization of copyrighted works should also get shorter.  Information travels so fast and becomes old news so fast that it makes sense to have Copyright laws which recognize this change. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Blogging and Defamation

Last summer, I successfully obtained a summary judgment against a defamation claim involving a blog post.  With the proliferation of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter postings, defamation lawsuits are undoubtedly going to rise.  In my case, the Court agreed with me that the blog post was not actionable defamation because the comments were opinions protected by the First Amendment.

Recently, Courtney Love obtained a jury verdict rejecting a defamation claim involving a tweet by Ms. Love which stated that one of her attorneys had been "bought off."  Needless to say, the attorney took issue with the posting and sued Ms. Love for defamation.  Ultimately, the jury found that while the statement was defamatory (because it was false), Love was not liable for the defamation because she did not know the statement was false at the time she tweeted.  In other words, the statement was an opinion which is not actionable. 

Defamation requires a publication that is false, defamatory, unprivileged, and has a
tendency to injure or cause special damage. Pure opinions – “those that do not imply facts capable of being proved true or false” – are protected by the First Amendment. Assertions of fact and statements that “may imply a false assertion of fact, however, are not protected.”  In my case last summer, the Court examined the context of the blog entries, including examined the purpose of a blog and how readers would understand the statements made.  The Court found that in the context of a blog, readers are smart enough to understand that the statements made on a blog are more likely to be one of opinion rather one of fact.  In particular, the Court wrote: readers of the blog entry "would realize that [Defendant] wrote it from its own perspective to paint itself in a better light, and would not understand it to be 'statements of fact rather than the predictable opinion . . . of one side about the other's motives.'"

Now, before you begin tweeting, posting, or blogging all kinds of nasty things about a competitor, be mindful that the line between opinion and a statement of fact (defamation) is very thin.  Generally, when making a statement, it is best to provide the facts upon which you base your opinion in order to allow a reader to accept or reject your opinion by reviewing your facts. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

With Mobile Fitness Exploding, Two Heavyweights Fight Over Patents

Adidas recently sued Under Armour ("UA") and UA's subsidiary, MapMyFitness, for infringing its mobile fitness related patents.  Adidas claims that UA's performance tracking products and the suite of mobile fitness apps/websites of MapMyFitness (which UA acquired in November) utilizes Adidas' patented miCoach technology.

The miCoach fitness training devices provide audible coaching (in real time) and a web application to help optimize your workout sessions.  MapMyFitness offers users with the ability to map, record, and share their workouts.  It does this by using GPS and other technologies.  Adidas claims that UA's and MapMyFitness' products infringe on several of its patents relating to the following technologies:  a location-aware fitness training device that supports real-time interactive communication and automated route generation, systems and methods for presenting characteristics associated with a physical activity route, methods and computer program products for providing information about a user during a physical activity, and a mobile device that receives information from a server about a user’s movement.

Adidas' lawsuit specifically targets Under Armour’s Armour39 system, which includes an Armour39 module that can be attached to a chest strap (sold together); a mobile app that tracks heart rate, calories, and intensity; and a display watch that Under Armour says is an alternative to the mobile app, but sold separately.  Adidas included MapMyFitness in the lawsuit because the company offers methods for detecting, evaluating, or analyzing movement of a body or determining performance information in its apps MapMyFitness, MapMyWalk, MapMyHike, MapMyRun, MapMyRide, and MapMyDogwalk, which also can connect to the MapMyFitness Heart Rate Monitor.

What's more, Adidas claims that both UA and MapMyFitness knew of Adidas' patents, and therefore, "willfully" infringed upon them.  This allegation of willfulness stems from UA's hiring of Adidas' former senior innovation engineering manager.  If true, UA and MapMyFitness could be subjected to three times the amount of Adidas' damages and attorneys' fees.  Attorneys' fees for patent litigation are usually in excess of $ 1 million dollars.

Interestingly, it appears as if Adidas and UA are heading down the contentious path blazed by Samsung and Apple.  That is, using patent litigation as revenge for competition in the market.  In particular, UA recently signed a 10-year deal with Notre Dame which had a relationship with Adidas for 17 years.  

Clearly, this is a market which is heating up and competition is beginning to become fierce.  Both Samsung (no stranger to patent litigation all over the world) and FitBit are making forays into this market.  This will definitely be an area to keep an eye on in the future. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

When an Onion is More than an Onion

Georgia's most valuable crop, the Vidalia Onion, is the centerpiece of a boiling trademark dispute.  The Vidalia Onion claims Federal trademark protection, as well as state protections.  Georgia decreed that an onion that grows up on the right side of the tracks (aka within a certain 20 county area) may make something of itself--it may become a Vidalia.  On the other side of the tracks, it would just be an "onion." 

Now, apparently, growers are harvesting these "Vidalia's" too early, and as such, is harming the Vidalia brand.  After all, a Vidalia harvested before its prime is most certainly not as sweet or as long lasting.  Well, Georgia can't have that happen.  So, in an effort to protect its most valuable vegetable crop and its brand, Georgia has issued a new regulation setting a date before which no onion may be harvested (the date is in April).  The regulation provides an extra 10-15 days for these young onions to further mature into Vidalias.

As you may imagine, this has caused a ruckus among the growers and between some growers and the good state of Georgia.  Many growers complain that an arbitrary harvest date is unreasonable and violates their "freedom to farm" as it were.  Others claim that the imposition of a harvest date does not take into account soil, weather, and other conditions which play a part in an onion's growth from mere "onion" to "Vidalia." 

This dispute is simply one more example of the importance of a brand or trademark and the lengths some will go to in protecting it.  Should be interesting to see if the regulation brings back the flagging Vidalia brand.  Stay tuned.