Celebrities – they’re just like us! Well, not quite in all ways, but celebrities and big companies frequently deal with intellectual property legal matters just like us regular folk. We can learn from high-level IP cases and make better decisions for our own businesses.
Whether your team is considering pursuing IP litigation or is facing IP litigation, these famous cases can provide valuable insights into your case.
- Nike’s Numerous Lawsuits Against Small Businesses
Nike holds a significant portion of the market for athletic footwear – to the tune of nearly 30% of the market. One of the ways the shoe giant has chosen to maintain their place atop the industry is to pursue frequent lawsuits against small businesses that attempt to capitalize on Nike’s popular designs.
We aren’t intending to single out Nike here as a number of large corporations do exactly this as a means of upholding their own intellectual property and protecting profits. In many of these cases, the lawsuit ends with the “little guy” agreeing to cease the use of any Nike designs and undisclosed settlements. For many of these small businesses, lawsuits from larger corporations spell the end of the line.
The lesson: Don’t assume just because you are a small business you can copy the trademarks or designs of large corporations and they won’t notice or respond. In order to uphold their IP protections, they must take action against attempted infringement.
- Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and the “Blurred Lines” in the Musical Industry
When we look at the music industry, we see numerous claims of stolen lyrics, rhythm, hooks, and writing. Many cases, like the recent lawsuit against Childish Gambino for his Grammy-winning single “This is America”, are eventually dismissed due to how difficult it can be to prove willful or even accidental violations.
Laws surrounding covers, remixes, and remakes of music leave plenty of space for writers to get away with using other artists’ works – but in the case of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ “Blurred Lines,” the court awarded $5 million to the family of Marvin Gaye for copyright infringement.
The song gained significant attention and play on tv, radio, and streaming services, but the family of the late Marvin Gaye argued that it stole directly from his song “Got to Give It Up.” In this copyright case, the music industry reacted with shock as, for years, these types of cases fell short of proving the difference between inspiration (which Pharrell’s reps admitted) and actual copyright theft (infringement).
The lesson: Even if precedent generally limits infringement cases in the music industry, writers and artists need to tread carefully when using any one piece of music as the direct inspiration for their own work.
- Don’t Forget About Drai
You’ve probably heard of Dr. Dre, but have you heard of Dr. Drai? While this case has ties to the music industry, the real lesson here is the power of a name. Gynecologist Draion M. Burch here in Pennsylvania sought to trademark his name, “Dr. Drai.” Famous rapper/producer Dr. Dre argued there would be confusion between his very famous artist persona and the doctor if the trademark application was approved.
Turns out, the courts sided with the real doctor here, giving Dr. Drai his trademark because Dre’s side “failed to show that a connection would be presumed in the mind of the consuming public when Applicant’s Dr. Drai marks are used in connection with its applied-for goods and services.” Furthermore, both the courts and Dr. Drai argued that the “misogynistic” lyrics written and rapped by Dr. Dre made it unlikely that anyone would want to directly associate their business with the artist.
The lesson: There is power in a name, but the courts tend to proceed in these cases only if there is a genuine reason that someone would want to associate themselves with and profit off another’s name or brand. In trademark cases, the courts focus heavily on the concept of “confusion” – will allowing both names to coexist (e.g. Dr. Dre and Dr. Drai) create confusion in the market? In this case, they answered “No,” allowing Dr. Drai to register his mark.
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