I am quoted at length in this World Trademark News article on the new rule that foreign applicants for US trademark registrations must be represented by a US attorney starting on August 3. I’d go into more detail but the article hits all the important points, so please do check it out!
Okay, so I saw this group linked to on Twitter:
And I have to say this is really an interesting idea. I’m going to go through some of the posts and see how things are going.
But speaking of posts, I noticed that a few people were doing something that happens ALL THE TIME when people try to discuss trademark registrations online: they were posting TESS links instead of TSDR links. As all trademark attorneys know, that doesn’t work.
*record scratch noise*
Okay, here’s a quick how-to on posting links to trademark registrations from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO, or sometimes just PTO, for short) website so they work for everybody.
(The author of this post is a licensed and experienced intellectual property attorney, but nothing in this post should be construed as specific legal advice. Consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law before making legal decisions.)
“Public domain” is a very slippery term, legally speaking. What it usually refers to is an artistic creation that either predates modern copyright law, or for which the copyright has expired – in other words, there is no applicable legal copyright in the work. Once something is in the public domain, anyone may use it in their own artistic creations. (Though this may create a new, copyrighted work, to the extent that the new creation comprises an original artistic creation beyond the artistic elements of the integrated public domain work.)
There’s no way, under US copyright law, to “release” a copyright before it expires. (This is a conversation I’ve had with other copyright lawyers.) Since neither registration nor notice are now required to create a valid copyright, it’s literally impossible to create a new work and have it NOT be copyrighted. However, one can release an artwork and offer the public an unlimited license to use it. Technically, such an artwork is still under copyright and is not “in the public domain,” in the way lawyers use the phrase, but for practical purposes, it may be thought of as being in the public domain.
That is just a little background for the actual topic of discussion for today, which is a game developed by indie developer Jason Rohrer called “One Hour One Life.” Mr. Rorher has an unusual business model: He “releases” all of his games into the public domain, and makes money from his creations in various ways that don’t involve strict control of the copyright. You can read about his philosophy here: Free Distribution.
Mr. Rohrer makes very good games, and between selling copies of “his” version of the games, donations, and other methods, he makes his living. But of course, you wouldn’t be reading about him on a legal blog if there wasn’t a legal issue.
*ominous music*Read The Rest
The Space Quest Historian, a gaming commentator and streamer with a particular interest in the famous “Space Quest” game franchise, asked me for some comments related to Activision’s ownership and activities in relation to it. I sent him an email discussing the matter generally and he was nice enough to use it in a video. It’s at the bottom of this post.
A few comments:
- This is a great video and he got almost everything right. The parts he was a little iffy on we’ll blame on the lawyer who made them too complicated. 🙂
- I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I am not affiliated with Activision, Sierra On-Line, Codemasters, or Assemble Entertainment. I do not and have never represented any of them or any of the other parties involved in the Leisure Suit Larry franchise. (I have represented parties in dealings with one or more of those entities, and I have nothing bad to say about any of them in that context.) I do NOT know what the licensing/ownership status of the Leisure Suit Larry franchise or any particular part of it is. My hypotheticals were just that – hypothetical. I don’t think SQH said otherwise, but it might not be absolutely clear that this was just me speculating
- His opinion on Activision’s moral and ethical considerations in how they handle the various Sierra On-Line properties is just that – his opinion. I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with it in any particular way, although obviously as an attorney for content creators and rightsholders I have a different perspective.
Anyway, he’s a funny guy and this is an incredibly well-edited video, including projecting relevant bits of my email at the right times. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing that will interest you.
(Note: A little NSFW language.)
The USPTO has retracted its approval to publish and issued a rejection based on failure to function as a trademark. This is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a trademark registration application. It means the mark can’t be registered even on the Supplemental Register or become a potentially registerable mark if it acquires secondary meaning/acquired distinctiveness. The only way to get around this type of rejection is to argue that the finding of failure to function is wrong, and that is not easy to do. Unless the applicant is spoiling for a long, difficult, and expensive fight, the registration application is probably dead.
Back in June, MSE Media, LLC, the management company (I assume) for the rights of bestselling author Michael Scott Earle, filed a trademark registration application for the word mark DRAGON SLAYER. You can see the filing information here:
At the time, there was some controversy, as the author community (especially the Internet/Indie author community) was on High Alert for trademark shenanigans following the “COCKY” word mark lawsuit. However, due to the way trademark registration works, there were a limited number of things that third parties could do at that point. I’ll explain briefly, and then discuss the particulars of the DRAGON SLAYER filing.
Trademarks, as trademark expert Ed Timberlake (of @timberlakelaw and Timberlake Law) is fond of pointing out, are not actually “granted” or “awarded” or “given” by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or its equivalent agencies in other countries. Trademarks are, essentially, earned. And the way you earn them is by forming an association in the minds of consumers between your product or service, and the trademark. (We usually refer to them collectively as trademarks, although linguistically it’s more correct to call the ones associated with a service “service marks.”) Once that happens, the law in most countries automatically starts to protect consumers by proscribing use of the mark by other people in ways that could create a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace.