We Got The Beet: Trademark Claims and Puns

Lettuce Turnip the Beet: When puns are “functional”

In LTTB LLC v. Redbubble, Inc., plaintiff LTTB, an online apparel company, contended its success was “largely due to public fascination with its Lettuce Turnip the Beet trademark,” and alleged that defendant Redbubble’s sale of products featuring the phrase “Lettuce Turnip the Beet” infringed its mark, 18-cv-00509-RS. Redbubble, an online marketplace selling products made by independent artists, argued that LTTB was not entitled to preclude others from using the “Lettuce Turnip the Beet” pun absent any evidence of source confusion. On July 12, 2019, the Northern District of California issued its decision granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Redbubble, finding that LTTB did not have an exclusive right to sell products displaying the pun “Lettuce Turnip the Beet,” and that LTTB therefore did not have a viable trademark infringement claim.

The court’s decision turned on its application of the “aesthetic functionality doctrine,” a controversial trademark law principle unevenly applied by federal courts. See McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition § 7:80 (5th ed.). Under the aesthetic functionality doctrine, when goods are bought largely for their aesthetic value, their features may be functional – if a feature is an important ingredient in the commercial success of the product, the interest in free competition permits its imitation in the absence of a patent or copyright. See Pagliero v. Wallace China Co., 198 F.2d 339 (9th Cir. 1952). The issue in LTTB was whether LTTB had a viable infringement claim where the alleged infringing products merely displayed the pun “Lettuce Turnip the Beet” and did not otherwise include any indication that they were produced by LTTB. In other words, was the pun “Lettuce Turnip the Beet” a functional feature permitting imitation? The LTTB court explained that while the Ninth Circuit’s modern application of the “aesthetic functionality” doctrine has been more limited, the circumstances of the LTTB case “undeniably” called for the application of the aesthetic functionality doctrine.

Continue Reading

Update Required for Youth Esports

Many in the industry are familiar with the following scenario. A young gamer, grinding tirelessly for untold hours perfecting her skill, honing her strategy, finally qualifies for an esports tournament. For that gamer, the true hard work begins after qualification. She now has to try to convince her parents to agree to let her participate, which may include travel (though compensated) to a far off location. In many cases, the first time the parents become aware that their child even entered a tournament (much less won an all-expense paid trip to an esports tournament) is this conversation—after the child has already been offered compensation to travel to and compete in the tournament.

If you are a game publisher, tournament organizer, or otherwise involved in the logistical chain of events described herein, there may be a big problem. The collection and use of data provided by children is regulated in the United States by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). COPPA is designed to protect the privacy of children by establishing certain requirements for websites that market to children. Most notably, COPPA requires website operators to obtain “verifiable parental consent” before collecting personal information from children. The FTC operates under the assumption that if children are the target demographic for a website, the website must assume that the person accessing the website is a child, and proper consent must be obtained. This assumption exists even if the website did not start with children as the target audience.

Continue Reading

FTC Workshop on “Made in USA” Claims

Being able to advertise your product as “Made in the USA” can be a key advantage to marketers and is an attribute that is important to many consumers. Aware of this, the FTC has been on the watch for deceptive Made in the USA claims. Last week, the FTC held a workshop on “Made in the USA” claims to consider consumer perception of these claims and the need for any changes to the existing guidance provided by the FTC.

Current FTC guidance on these claims stems from a 1997 FTC Enforcement Policy Statement in which the FTC concluded consumers are likely to understand an unqualified U.S. origin claim to mean that the advertised product is made in the USA with “all or virtually all” of the components made in the United States.

Continue Reading

#StrikeAPose #CopyrightInfringement

Supermodel Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid was not the first celebrity to be photographed by paparazzi and then to post the resulting photo to social media, nor was she the first to be subsequently sued for copyright infringement for doing so. Other celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez and, most recently, Victoria Beckham, have made news for the same situation.

This trend falls into an interesting intersection of two significant tenets of law: a celebrity’s right of publicity in their own image and a photographer’s right to copyright their artistic work. The district court dismissed the case due to a lack of a copyright registration. In addition to that defense, though, her attorneys also raised the defenses of fair use and implied license. The second may have begun paving the way for future legal challenges to clarify these issues by raising a novel argument—implied license—alongside the more typical defense of fair use.

Continue Reading

An NAD Update

The 2019 National Advertising Division (“NAD”) closed out its Annual Conference with an update from Laura Brett, the Director of the NAD, and Alexander Goldman, an attorney with the NAD. The update focused on three main points: NAD statistics from the past year, NAD practice pointers, and the future of the types of cases being brought at NAD.

Statistics

First, competitor challenges are trending toward a one third growth for 2019 as compared to 2018, while simultaneously decreasing the time to decision on challenges from 113 days on average to 100 days. Needless to say, the NAD is committed to promptly moving cases through the process. Ms. Brett made a point to bestow some well-deserved praise on her team for their hard work throughout the last year.

Major product categories subject to NAD challenges continue to be: appliances/consumer electronics/household products, drugs and dietary supplements, food and beverage, and telecom/entertainment. Whereas some categories are noticeably absent from NAD proceedings including automobiles, clothing and cosmetics, industrial products/office supplies, and travel/lodging. In addition, Mr. Goldman made the point that there remains a noticeable lack of service-based challenges at NAD despite services accounting for a large part of the U.S. economy.

Continue Reading

The FTC Gets Real About Fake “Organic” Claims

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a $1.76 million settlement with Truly Organic, Inc. and its founder and CEO Maxx Harley Appelman regarding false “organic” claims. This is the first time the FTC has obtained monetary relief for deceptive “organic” claims, and the buzz around this settlement signals it may not be the last. The Commissioners’ vote was unanimous, and Commissioner Rohit Chopra released a statement in support of the settlement calling for the FTC to issue a Policy Statement setting forth the Commission’s approach to enforcement in cases involving dishonesty or fraud.

Truly Organic is a bath and beauty retailer that makes and sells a variety of personal care products, including hair care products, body washes, lotions, baby products, and cleaning products. As the brand name suggests, Truly Organic markets its products as wholly organic or certified organic in compliance with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program (NOP), the program that enforces national standards for organically produced agricultural products. Truly Organic conveyed the organic theme through a variety of claims, including “100% organic,” “truly organic,” “certified organic,” and “USDA certified organic.” The company also claimed its products were “vegan.”

Continue Reading

Mr. Smith Goes to New York: Takeaways from the Keynote Address of the FTC’s Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the NAD Annual Conference

The National Advertising Division (“NAD”) held its Annual Conference in New York yesterday. Andrew Smith, the head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection for the FTC, delivered the keynote address and provided attendees with an excellent overview of the past year’s landmark decisions in FTC jurisprudence. For those who frequent this blog, it comes as no surprise that the hottest discussions focused on the recent trend among courts to question the FTC’s broad interpretation of its enforcement authority under Section 13(b), concentrating on rulings in the Shire ViroPharma decision from the Third Circuit, the LabMD decision from the Eleventh Circuit, and the recent Seventh Circuit decision in Credit Bureau Center.

In Shire ViroPharma, the Third Circuit ruled that, pursuant to the plain language of Section 13(b), to obtain an injunction under Section 13(b), the FTC must plead facts sufficient to show that a defendant “is” violating or “is about to” violate the law. Essentially, the Shire decision means that the FTC cannot use Section 13(b) to address wholly concluded past harm—a profound finding that could dramatically affect how the FTC pursues cases. For more analysis, see our past blogs on both the district court‘s and Third Circuit’s opinions. The FTC chose not to seek Supreme Court review of the Shire ViroPharma decision and instead appears to be trying to limit that case to its facts.

Continue Reading

A Morning Cup of COPPA From the NAD Annual Conference

The National Advertising Division Annual Conference kicked off with Andrew Smith, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, as the keynote speaker. Near the close of his remarks, Director Smith announced that the FTC will hold a workshop on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). For a refresher, COPPA is designed to protect the privacy of children by establishing certain requirements for websites that market to children. The FTC operates under the assumption that if children are the target demographic for a website, the website must assume that the person accessing the website is a child, and proper consent must be obtained. This assumption exists even if the website did not start with children as the target audience.

To illustrate this point, Director Smith discussed TikTok, a social media app that allows users to create and share short-form videos, which purchased Musical.ly, an app that allowed its users to post videos of themselves lip synching to songs. Musical.ly originally marketed to adults. However, as the website grew in popularity, it became clear that children used the website and that Musical.ly knew that children used the website. On February 27, 2019, the FTC brought a Complaint against Musical.ly alleging that Musical.ly collected information about children, but did not obtain the required parental consent to collect that information. In fact, child predators began using the website to obtain the location of children, though luckily, no child was hurt. As a result, TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle the FTC allegations.

Continue Reading

Alzheimer’s and Cancer? FTC Announcement Shows That FDA Is Not the Only Agency That Is “Serious”

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission issued a press release announcing that it had issued warning letters to three unnamed sellers of cannabidiol (CBD) products who marketed everything from gummies to creams with bold claims that the products could treat a wide variety of the most serious diseases known to man. This follows an earlier wave of letters that it issued jointly with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last March, which warned other CBD marketers of misbranding and introducing an unapproved new drug without prior approval, and of making unsupported claims about their CBD products’ ability to treat and cure serious diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, among other medical conditions.

In the latest press release, the FTC reaffirms its interest in monitoring health-related advertising claims in the budding CBD industry. The FTC did not disclose the recipients of the warning letters, but the Commission quoted several problematic claims made by the undisclosed CBD companies. Examples of claims that the FTC appears focused on include 1) assertions that CBD products have been “clinically proven” to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or other serious medical diseases; 2) claims that CBD products are effective in relieving various types of pain; and 3) references to the amount of research companies have acquired to support these claims.

Continue Reading

Of Specificity and Shotgun Pleadings: Southern District of New York and Southern District of Florida Toss Claims Lacking Sufficient Specificity and Clarity

In two recent decisions, federal district courts have dismissed at least some of the claims brought by federal and state authorities, finding the complaints insufficiently specific in alleging that a defendant’s conduct met the relevant statutory requirements and/or insufficiently clear regarding their allegations as a whole. These rulings may provide a useful roadmap for future challenges to complaints brought by federal and state regulatory agencies and/or attorneys general.

Federal Trade Commission and People of the State of New York, by James, v. Quincy

We’ve blogged previously about the FTC and State of New York’s challenge to the advertising for cognitive supplement Prevagen. If your memory is good, you will recall that Judge Stanton dismissed the case, but the Second Circuit reversed on the issue of whether the studies Prevagen mentions in its ads support the claims in its ads. In addition to the product manufacturer and marketer, Quincy Bioscience, LLC, Prevagen, Inc., and Quincy Bioscience Manufacturing, LLC, the government also named as defendants Quincy’s co-founders and two largest shareholders, Mark Underwood and Michael Beaman.

Continue Reading

LexBlog