Archive for April, 2012

IP Issues in Corporate-Commercial Transactions

 

My article on “Intellectual Property Issues in Corporate-Commercial Transactions” is published in the Field Law newsletter The Medium.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Judgement Against Gucci Counterfeits

Courtesy of GucciFor intellectual property lawyers, sting operations against counterfeiters of luxury handbags is what dreams are made of. An undercover sting – complete with a clandestine meeting at a Toronto gas station, undercover agents and hidden cameras – resulted in a trade-mark infringement award against a reseller of copycat merchandise such as Gucci handbags, Louis Vuitton and Hugo Boss items. In Guccio Gucci S.p.A. v. Mazzei, 2012 FC 404 (CanLII)  the counterfeiter was slapped with an $85,000 damage award. 

This was based on the rough math of infringement in Canada: damages of $3,625 per infringement against flea market vendors and “itinerant sellers”; $7,250 where the infringer is operating from a “fixed retail establishment”; and $24,000 against importers, distributors and manufacturers.

 

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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The Cloud: What goes up must come down

 

A recent Gmail outage reminds us that the cloud is not always up. What goes up must come down. Servers crash. Companies go bankrupt. When a cloud service provider fails or the technology falters, what happens to the servers that house the data?  Think of where your cloud-based data is hosted… and then try to imagine what it would take to get that data back. In these cases, questions of jurisdiction and bankruptcy law quickly come to the fore.

In the ongoing case involving Megaupload, a court battle is being fought over the servers: who will take conduct of them and what’s to be done with the data on those servers?

The Canadian case of Stanford International Bank Ltd. (Syndic de), 2009 QCCS 4106 (CanLII), also involved a dispute over servers of a bankrupt company. In the Stanford International case, the bankrupt company was offshore. A liquidator acting for receivers based in Antigua sought an order from a Canadian court to confirm the winding-up order. However, the court objected when it discovered that the servers, located in Canada, had been erased by the Antiguan receivers, the data had been copied, and the copies were stored in Antigua. Essentially, the Antiguan receivers removed all the electronic data from the Canadian servers to Antigua, thus removing the data from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts and regulatory authorities.

The number of servers in that case was small enough to permit copying; compare that to the Megaupload case which involves some 1100 servers. No-one wants to incur the cost to house and maintain such a large number of servers, so they are in legal limbo until the court makes a ruling.  

In some cases, the data sits on identifiable servers – you could in theory (if you know where the server farm is located) point to a box and say, that’s where my data is stored. In other cases, such as Amazon’s “Elastic Compute Cloud” Service, high levels of redundancy mean the same data may appear in multiple instances across multiple servers, located in multiple geographical areas. It would be impossible even in theory to determine where the data is physically located. When negotiating mission-critical cloud-computing agreements, take time to consider the issues of what happens when the cloud comes down, and get proper advice for a soft landing.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Who owns postal codes in Canada?

 

Yes, only lawyers ask such questions. But now that the question has been asked…. A recent lawsuit has framed this question in copyright terms. In Canada Post Corporation v. Geolytica Inc. c.o.b. Geocoder.ca (Federal Court, No. T-519-12), Canada Post has sued Geocoder for breach of copyright in postal codes. According to the Statement of Claim, a compilation of Canadian postal codes within a database is the property of Canada Post, and a production or reproduction of that database constitutes an infringement of the copyright held by Canada Post. Geocoder, for its part, has responded by claiming in its Statement of Defence that its “Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Dataset” was independently authored through a “crowdsourcing” effort over several years. “Geolytica created this database without ever accessing or copying any database of postal codes of the Canada Post Corporation.” 

The first question is whether postal codes are even eligible for copyright protection? Second, if they are protectable by copyright, but no direct copying occurred, can there be an infringement? What about indirect copying? Perhaps the closest case on record is Ital-Press Ltd. v. Sicoli, 1999 CanLII 8048 (FC), where the court considered telephone listings and indicated the following: telephone listings that are “…garden-variety white pages director[ies], devoid of even the slightest trace of creativity” cannot be eligible for copyright protection (citing the famous US case of Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc…. famous for copyright lawyers that is).

The wider issue is one we’ve seen many times over the history of copyright: a traditional business or institution feels threatened by smaller start-ups who innovate to reproduce or replace an established business model. We will monitor developments in this fascinating case.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Cloud Trade-marks

 

imagescawb2rqk.jpgWhen you apply to register a trade-mark in Canada, each trade-mark must be matched with a specific list of wares and services. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has released an updated list of approved descriptions of services, as part of its Wares and Services Manual for the purpose of paragraph 30(a) of the Trade-marks Act. The new descriptions include:

  • Cloud computing provider services for general storage of data
  • Cloud computing enabling file storage of payroll data
  • Cloud computing web hosting services
  • Cloud computing providing software for database management
  • Cloud computing video hosting web sites
  • Cloud computing photo sharing services

Contact the Field Law trade-mark team for advice on registering your trade-marks for cloud computing services.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Changing Online Terms Midstream

 

Cloud service providers often want to change online terms in the middle of the product lifecycle. Amendments are typically required due to changes in the law or changes in product functionality. For example, Apple’s introduction of its iCloud service triggered changes to the iTunes terms of use. If users want access to the new functionality, they must assent to the revised terms. It amounts to a midstream unilateral change to the contract. Do these changes hold up in court? Two recent US cases suggest there is a valid way to effect such changes:

  • In Fineman v. Sony Network Entertainment (N.D. Cal.; Feb. 9, 2012), consumers objected to Sony’s amendments to the online terms governing the Sony PlayStation Network. The changes were challenged and ultimately upheld in court. 
  • In Lebowitz v. Dow Jones & Co., 06 Civ. 2198 (MGC) (S.D.N.Y.; Mar. 12, 2012), a New York court permitted unilateral changes to the terms and pricing for the WSJ Online subscription service. This turned, in part, on the terms of the original contract, which permitted the vendor to make reasonable changes to the terms as long as notice was provided to the user. For further discussion, see Eric Goldman’s post.)
  • In Canada, this issue was addressed in the leading case of Kanitz v. Rogers Cable Inc., 2002 CanLII 49415 (ON SC), in which a Canadian court upheld a change in the online terms imposed on Rogers internet customers.

Note: software vendors and cloud service providers need to be cautious about forcing users to waive class-action rights. Such amendments can conflict with local consumer-protection laws. Unilateral changes need to be managed carefully. Get advice before you attempt to impose unilateral changes to ensure the best outcome. 

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Liability for Online Comments

 

This post by my colleague Dan Carroll provides a great review of the many issues in online defamation, including civil and criminal liability. 

Related Reading:

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Weatherford Patent Decision

 

The Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) released its decision in Weatherford Canada Ltd. v. Corlac Inc.  (2011 FCA 228) in 2011 on the subject of “good faith” prosecution. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada has been refused. See Neil Kathol’s article on the FCA decision.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT   

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Sound Marks in Canada

 

What’s the sound of a trade-marks office changing its tune? The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) reversed its long-standing policy against sound marks by abruptly issuing a new practice notice last week, announcing that it will accept sound marks for registration in Canada. As we argued a few years ago (Time for Sound Marks in Canada?), this change has been debated and anticipated for many years, and no trade-mark owner is more aware than MGM, the applicant that has pursued its iconic lion’s roar sound mark since the application was first filed in October, 1992 (Application No. 714314).  MGM’s lawsuit has resulted in a Federal Court order that paved the way for CIPO’s new policy.

The application for the registration of a trade-mark consisting of a sound should:

  1. state that the application is for the registration of a sound mark;
  2. contain a drawing that graphically represents the sound;
  3. contain a description of the sound; and
  4. contain an electronic recording of the sound.

Calgary – 09:00 MDT

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