Friday, 29 June 2018

reply kindly

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reason of the significance of your Nationality, which concerns
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deposit account left by a deceased Boss and Friend for onward
sharing between you and I in a ratio to be agreed.

Kindly get back to me as soon as you receive this email for
complete details as time is of the essence giving that we have
less than 2 month period to achieve this.



Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The essence of a trade mark

The draft agreement I am currently reviewing - I won't disclose more about it - contains a definition of "Corporate Design" which has a nice form of words in it: "[T]he official design of the logo and name of the [redacted] brand by which the brand's personality is brought to life in communication." I wonder why the drafter of the trade marks directive and the regulation on the EU trade mark didn't see fit to put it that way? It's not exactly poetic, being (I think) spoilt by the last couple of words, which don't seem to add anything, but it's much closer to poetry than most EU legislation.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

"Have you not considered Recital 171?"

This week, few lawyers have the luxury of not having to be data protection experts, which is why the subject is intruding into my IP blog. Thank goodness it will all be over on Friday and we can settle down to working with the General Data Protection Regulation, until data protection law is repatriated and instead we have the Data Protection Act 2018 and "the Applied GDPR".

We are all acutely aware that many data controllers are taking the opportunity to refresh consents from the people whose data they publish. It's a great opportunity to do some housekeeping, of course, but not all the consents are necessary, nor do they need to be refreshed. First of all, consent should rarely be the lawful basis of choice for data processors: the legislation offers several other possibilities, of which "legitimate interests" is probably the most useful. The data processor's legitimate interests in processing personal data must, it is true, be balanced against the interests and fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject, which may override them - thus removing the lawful basis: so legitimate interests per se are not a lawful basis. But when will the data subject's interests (etcetera) override them? How long is a piece of string? It's questions like this that make advising on data protection like nailing jelly to a wall.

For data controllers who still feel the need for consent, it's not always necessary to get it afresh at this point, as this article from The Guardian reports. Consent obtained under the old law, provided it meets the conditions of the GDPR, still works. How do we know? Because (apart from common sense) Recital 171 to the Regulation tells us so. And that, I think, tells us a great deal about this almost impenetrable piece of legislation ... (What do you mean, you gave up before you got to Recital 171?)

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Interpretation or truth?

Nex week there will be a Luxury Law summit in London, I discover. The concept of "luxury law" baffles me, but I guess I am looking at it wrongly - the law that applies to the luxury end of the goods and services market, not a particularly soft, comfortable, exclusive and expensive set of rules. Although come to think of it, the law is a luxury beyond the means of most people. The wonderful quote from Anatole France, 'The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread', doesn't quite say what I am getting at here but as it had come to mind I could not resist the temptation to repeat it. Mr Justice Darling's famous dictum, “The law courts of England are open to all men like the doors of the Ritz Hotel”, is more apposite but a bit of a cliché.

In an article on the Internet intended (I guess) to generate interest in the Luxury Law summit, Arrigo Cipriani, described as "one of the the elder statesmen of luxury" (what?), complains that intellectual property law no longer serves the "luxury industry" - an industry, presumably, that produces not luxury cars or clothes or perfumes or hotel accommodation or meals, but just inchoate luxury. The headline is even more alarming: "Interpretation is trumping truth in copyright law, says Arrigo Cipriani."

Mr Cipriani goes on: "The copyright world has become more and more complicated. The people who write the rules should be professors in mathematics problems rather than copyright law writers. There is too much space given to interpretation and very little space for the truth.”

First, what is his beef about copyright law? He's right that it has become more and more complicated, although I'd say that it's the world that became more complicated and copyright law, to do its job of maintaining a balance between the owners and users of copyright had to follow suit. But how does that affect luxury goods and services? Or is somebody getting copyright and trade marks mixed up? And does the criticism extend to patents and designs?

I should not, I suppose, get too excited about what is little more than a marketing puff (Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company [1892] EWCA Civ 1) - an attention-grabbing but legally dubious proposition. Instead, I ask you to consider the point that too much emphasis is placed on interpretation and too little on the truth. (I don't think "space" was a particularly helpful concept in the piece.)

So, is there too much emphasis on interpretation? I think not. How can the need to interpret the law (or, for that matter, patent claims) be avoided? Copyright law, perhaps more than any other type of law, needs to develop, and it cannot keep pace with technology unless judges interpret it. In the common law system for certain, and in the civil law system to a lesser extent I guess, the law proceeds by a process of judicial interpretation. It is not the place to look for truth (unless, as I remarked elsewhere, you are reading the law in Exodus or the equivalent in another religion - perhaps a better example is the Golden Rule, found in much the same form in all major religions: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" could be a satisfactory replacement for the whole of intellectual property law, although it would probably not remove the need for interpretation).

I hesitate to suggest that Mr Cipriani might have been influenced by his family's defeat in Hotel Cipriani Srl & Ors v Cipriani (Grosvenor Street) Ltd & Ors [2010] EWCA Civ 110 (24 February 2010). But that case turned on the court's conservative interpretation of the "own name" defence in trade mark law, and also of the protection by passing of a foreign reputation. It is hopeless to state that the law should not be interpreted, but applied as immutable truth: in the Cipriani case, it seems to me that a bit more in the way of interpretation would have helped the defendants - and perhaps made the decision accord a little better with commercial reality.

On the other hand, the case arose from dealings with names and trade marks which had effectively given a multinational corporation the right to use the family name. In the modern world, that's not uncommon, but isn't it a bit weird? An example, perhaps, of the sort of changing commercial practice that IP law has to keep up with.

Has the difficulty of ascertaining freedom to operate led to a patents arms race?

Reading Boldrin and Levine's "Against Intellectual Monopoly" (Cambidge University Press, 2008, and here), I am struck by a thought that isn't directly related to the authors' arguments against the patent and copyright systems (I expect they will get round to trade marks in due course, although that will have to be on a different basis). Perhaps it is such a banal thought, it isn't even worth putting out here, but I don't recall it being expressed in these terms before so maybe I have something original to say ...

There are so many granted patents in existence (why on earth did I waste time typing "granted"? There are so many patents in existence ...) that "freedom to operate" searches must be little more than a lottery. This may explain why patent owners (in some fields at least) now put their efforts into collecting extensive portfolios so that when (not if) a competitor sues them for infringement they will be able to find a patent which the competitor is infringing in their own portfolio. Then the problem can be dealt with by cross-licensing rather than fighting out the infringement claim in court.

There must also be a problem with unpublished applications (not quite submarine patents but similar) which form an undiscoverable part of the state of the art - they would not show up in "freedom to operate" searches but could prove fatally damaging. The accelerating pace of technological change must make these a bigger and bigger problem, which in turn makes freedom to operate searches even less reliable, and gives further encouragement to alternative defence mechanisms.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Abbreviations, acronyms, and their plurals

Creating a slide show this morning, a task that demands brevity and therefore frequent recourse to abbreviations, I wrote "TMs" for "trade marks". Autocorrect didn't like it, but that was no surprise and I overrode it. Then I wondered whether the correct way to form the plural of an abbreviation wasn't just to add an "s" - should I be adding another "M" (or "m", perhaps)? After all the plural of "p" for page is "pp", and of "op" for work (opus) is "opp". (The use of full points turns out to be another contentious matter.)

In fact The Economist Pocket Style Book (Economist journalists must have bigger-than-average pockets) tells me that the right way to set out an abbreviation is in small capitals, and to use a lower case "s" for plurals. I suppose that in the name of a case (e.g. "Re Le Mans TM") the phrase would have capital initials by virtue of forming part of the title - "title case" is in fact the correct expression for that, I think. And actually the words of the trade mark should be in upper case: Re LE MANS Trade Mark (BL O-012-05, a decision of Richard Arnold QC as he then was). But of course the heading of the decision is in block capitals, although in the body of the decision it is in upper case. None of the three IP textbooks at my right hand have it in the table of cases, so no guidance from there. I could have scanned them for another such decision but life is too short, especially when I can reach up to the top shelf and take down a dusty copy of the 12th edition of Kerly - in which I look up the Perfection case (Crosfield [1910] 1 Ch. 118; 26 R.P.C. 561) and find the trade mark rendered just like that - a capital initial only.

Neither Fowler's Modern English Usage nor The Oxford Style Manual offer any assistance in their entries on abbreviations. The King's English doesn't even have an entry in its index for the topic. The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar is however more helpful: it tells me that the initial letters of the (main) words of a phrase should appear in upper case, so BBC and OTT get the same treatment, which is not what The Economist prescribed. It goes on to say that "[t]here are a few special written conventions for plurals", of which it gives three: "pp", which is from where I embarked on this little voyage through English grammar, MSS which I was also thinking about, and "ff" for "following pages". Elsewhere, I read that "p" stands not for "page" but for its Latin equivalent, "pagina", and "pp" ("paginae") is an example of a special rule for Latin words or expressions in English usage. ("Op" and "opp" presumably follow the same rule.)

Finally, since it seems that uppercase or small capitals is correct, and an added "s" rather than a doubled last letter is right, should there be an apostrophe? I can see a reason why there should be a difference in the treatment of contractions (e.g. Dr) and true abbreviations, where there is something missing between the initial letter in the abbreviation and the plural "s". But The Oxford Style Guide says just add the "s", so TMs would be correct, and I could have saved myself half an hour or so on this interesting diversion. Maybe some helpful reader will be able to guide me further, but unless I hear otherwise I'll go with TMs.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Interpreting patent claims: Actavis v Eli Lilley

It's now 13 years since Lord Hoffmann told us definitively how to interpret patents claims, in his opinion in Kirin Amgen v Hoechst Marion Roussel [2005] 1 All ER 667. The courts had spent a lot of time pondering how to do what should have been a pretty simple task: judges have always been in the business of finding the meaning of legal documents, and patent claims should never have been much different. Or should they? For many years the courts have eschewed (nice word) a literal interpretation and chosen instead to look at the claims as practical documents written for practical readers.
I have never bought into that view (but who cares what I think?). Patent claims are usually written by highly skilled and trained patent attorneys for other patent attorneys, members of the patent bar and ultimately specialist judges to read. Why should it be necessary to adopt a different rule about interpretation from that which governs the interpretation of, say, conveyances?
I suppose that, centuries ago, when patents for inventions first came before the courts, the judges were able to say "we know how to interpret documents like this: we look at the wording." Only later did the fiction arise that the claims were anything other than highly specialised documents written by and for experts. The idea that patent claims are addressed to some hypothetical individual skilled in the art strikes me as nonsense: what ordinary person, however skilled they might be in the art, ever reads patent claims?
The courts pursued this strange idea through a series of cases, tying themselves in more and more knots. Catnic, for one, should probably have been a professional negligence case - which is not to say that the patent agent who write the claims was necessarily negligent, but it would have been helpful if the courts had considered the point. Then in the Improver case Hoffmann J formulated a series of questions for the judge to ask, which turned into the Protocol Questions when the Protocol on Interpretation of Article 69 (of the EPC), originally dating from 1973, became recognised as the governing document, and in due course Lord Hoffmann put his own Improver Questions out of their misery.
In Activis UK Ltd v Eli Lilley & Co [2017] UKSC 48 (12 July 2017) the claim in issue was a Swiss-style claim for pemetrexed disodium, with vitamin B12, used in the manufacture of a medicament for treating cancer. Actavis sought a declaration that it would not infringe by marketing drugs containing other pemetrexed compounds (for example, with potassium instead of sodium). Arnold J at first instance gave the declaration, and the Court of Appeal upheld him, both following (as they pretty well had to) Kirin Amgen. The Supreme Court, however, allowed Actavis's appeal.
Lord Neuberger (who, remember, is a Oxford chemistry graduate) held that when a court has to consider a possible infringement by a variant, there are two questions that it must ask:

  • First, does the variant infringe the claim at issue as a matter of interpretation? If it does, that's all the court has to do.
  • If not, ask whether the variant infringes because it varies only in a way, or in ways, which are not material. Put another way, is the variant equivalent to the claimed invention?

Lord Neuberger said that the Improver or Protocol Questions remain useful in finding an answer to the second question, but needed to be changed slightly. They now require the judge to consider

  1. whether the variant has a material effect on the way the invention works;
  2. whether the notional addressee, on learning what the variant does, would consider it obvious that it would achieve substantially the same result in substantially the same way as the invention; and
  3. whether the notional addressee would have uderstood from the language of the claim that the patentee intended strict compliance with the primary meaning to be an essential requirement of the invention.

The courts had previously set their faces against introducing a doctrine of equivalents into UK patent law, but the amendment to the Protocol which introduced Art.2 made this untenable. Potassium was, in effect, equivalent to sodium for the purposes of the patent and Actavis would infringe if they marketed the products about which they asked in the first place.
The further the courts move away from a literal interpretation of patent claims, the less certainty there is for those, like Actavis, who want to operate in the field but also don't want to infringe. One argument - perhaps the argument - against a literal interpretation is that it prevents a patent claim being read in the light of technological developments. But is it right that a patentee who has chosen to specify a sodium compound rather than using broader language (if, of course, they could get away with it) should receive such an extensive, and flexible, monopoly? Perhaps the correct approach would be to regard the discovery that a potassium or some other compound would do the job as leading to an invention in its own right.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Steve Jobs: Trade marks and personal names

The news that two Italian brothers have registered what turn out to be two EU trade marks, one for the name Steve Jobs and the other for a logo comprising the name with the letter J, missing a bite-shaped piece like another well-known logo, illustrates how difficult it is to accommodate celebrities' personal names within the trade mark system. There was a time, long before EU trade marks arrived on the scene, when the Trade Marks Registry in the UK would not have allowed an application for registration of someone else's personal name as a trade mark to proceed without the consent of the owner of the name.

You might think that is how a trade mark system should work, but these Steve Jobs trade marks show the limitations of the law. First, the story tells us that the brothers were surprised that Apple had not registered Steve Jobs's name as a trade mark. But why should Apple have done so? Actually for the very bad reason that if you don't register a trade mark you run the risk of someone else grabbing it - a possibility since the switch from a use-based trade mark registration system, where the register records what distinctive signs businesses are using, to a registration-based system in which the property right comes into existence through registration. When we made that change in the UK in 1994, it put trade mark law on a very different footing - and incidentally condemned small (and not small) businesses to paying lots of fees and lawyers' bills for trade marks that up until then they never really needed to register.

Although there are many personal names of celebrities on the register, there are also examples of celebrities failing to secure registration. There are significant distinctiveness problems, as the Elvis Presley estate and later Sir Alex Ferguson, the Princess of Wales's executors and Corsair Toileteries Ltd who tried to register Jane Austen as a trade mark, found. Celebrities' names are not necessarily perceived as indications of commercial origin: in the case of deceased celebrities, they might be seen as some sort of commemoration.

Apple apparently tried to prevent the trade marks being registered, but without a trade mark of their own they must have been relying on common law rights - and even if Steve Jobs had used his name in trade and thus accumulated goodwill, which doesn't seem to be the way things happened because he adopted the Apple trade mark for his business, that would have been Mr Jobs's goodwill not Apple's (unless it had been assigned to the company). Would his estate have been better-placed to sue? Yes, probably, but still only if it owned some goodwill. Reputation - of which Mr Jobs had plenty - only becomes goodwill when it is used in trade.

A better argument might, perhaps, have been that the trade marks were not applied for in good faith - and that is an argument that I suppose could yet be deployed to have them declared invalid. But that is a very difficult route to take, the facts being hard to prove and the standard probably quite low. So a situation that most ordinary people (which in this context means "not trade mark lawyers") would imagine the law would not allow to arise, might be something that the perceived rightful owner can do nothing about.


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