Thursday, 3 October 2019

Contempt and failure to comply with court order

Price and others v Flitcraft Ltd and others [2019] EWHC 2476 (Pat) is a straightforward (though rare - at least until recently, because just a few months ago we had Juul Labs, Inc & Anor v Quickjuul Ltd & Ors [2019] EWHC 1281 (Ch) (21 May 2019)) case of a defendant failing to do what the court ordered to repair infringements of patent and copyright, and being held in contempt as a result. There seems to be no new or startling legal principles involved but its subject-matter demands attention.

The defendants were found by the court to have breached the injunction by distributing a brochure. It showed the infringing product, and also contained matter that infringed the copyright.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

No implied duty of confidence in standards-setting body

A European Patents Office board of appeal has decided, on the face of it surprisingly, that there is no implied obligation of confidence on members of a standards-setting committee. Because there was no implied duty, the claimed invention was anticipated by documents available to the committee and therefore (within the broad definition in the Convention) available to the public. The invention therefore lacked novelty so could not be protected by a patent.

The consequences clearly follow the board's finding that there was no implied duty (and no express duty either, of course - one lesson from the decision must be that more use needs to be made of appropriate confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements). But why was there no implied duty?

The answer is that the process of devising standards is a collaborative one, involving extensive consultation among interested parties. At least, that's what the board said, and it sounds convincing. 'The evidence points to a system designed to guarantee a certain "privacy" of its data while at the same time being sufficiently pragmatic and flexible to allow consultation with other parties in order for it satisfactorily to fulfil its mission', it stated. Whether a document or other carrier of information be confidential or no is relative, to some extent, and 'a certain "privacy'" does not amount to confidentiality.

So the lesson is that if you are involved in standards-setting, you need to make use of appropriate agreements and undertakings. They might make the standards-setting harder work, but they will preserve the possibility of gaining patent protection. ALthough you could always file the application earlier.

T 2239/15T MPEG INPUT DOCUMENTS/Fraunhofer – Dolby 

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Transfers from IPEC to the Patents Court

Just a glance at the title will tell you that Kwikbolt Ltd v Airbus Operations Ltd [2019] EWHC 2450 (IPEC) (31 July 2019) (not yet on Bailii, only reported by PLC, whose brief report I gratefully acnknowledge, so there is a great deal more to know about this) must be a David and Goliath contest. No matter how large the claimant might be, the defendant is pretty sure to be much bigger. On the face of it, even without considering the nature of the dispute, it is likely to be exactly the sort of claim that IPEC (and the Patents County Court before it) was designed for.

Nor will it come as a surprise that the defendant should have applied to transfer the case to to the Patents Court. Litigation is driven almost entirely by cost considerations, and if you can make your opponent worried that they will run out of money in the Patents Court instead of enjoying the cost caps that apply in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court it would be unrealistic to expect any litigator, seeking to do their best for their client, not to try to transfer it.

The question for the court hearing such an application is whether the case is complex enough to justify transfer. Does it need days of court time with loads of expert witnesses - the very opposite of the speedy operation of IPEC? HHJ Hacon thought not. With proper management, the case could be heard in two or three days.

Obviously, the defendant was much better able to afford the expense of the Patents Court than was the claimant - which was exactly why David has chosen to sue Goliath in IPEC to start with. In IPEC you accept that your damages are going to be capped at £250,000 if you win (and costs at £50,000). But that's only part of the story: an injunction might be worth a lot more to David, and cost Goliath much more dearly, so the financial cap gives a slightly misleading impression. Anyway, the damages cap is not intended to keep high-value claims out of IPEC altogether, it just means that the full value might not be realised in damages.

An injunction would, of course, be damaging to Goliath, but that did not mean that the case had to go to the Patents Court. If that court granted the injunction, it would be just as damaging. The only reason for transferring the case because of the injunction issue would be if there were a realistic risk that Goliath would be unable fully to argue against it in IPEC. The idea of making an application to a judge which basically says "we don't think your court can hear this case properly" strikes me as fundamentally unattractive, and HHJ Hacon certainly took the view that IPEC was perfectly able to deal with it so no transfer was going to happen.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Online EU trade mark infringement actionable where advertising directed

Infringement proceedings involving an EU trade mark must generally be brought before the courts of the member state in which a defendant is domiciled (Regulation 207/2009/EC, Article 97(1)). They can also be brought before the courts of the Member State “in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened” (Article 97(5)). What happens when the defendants are a Spanish company and a Spanish individual, and the trade mark owners are British (and the exclusive licensee is an English company)? Obviously an action could be brought in Spain, but could the claimant sue in the UK on the basis of Article 97(5)??

The claimants issued proceedings for infringement in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, on the basis that the defendants' online activities amounted to advertising or offering counterfeit goods for sale in the UK. IPEC refused to accept jurisdiction under Article 97(5), taking the view that only the courts in Spain, where steps had been taken to put the offending sign on a website, or decision to that effect had taken place, had jurisdiction under that provision. The claimants appealed, and the Court of Appeal sent the matter on an expedition to Luxembourg.

The Court of Justice ruled that Article 97(5) allowed the trade mark owner to bring infringement proceedings before an EUTM court of the Member State where the consumers or traders to whom online advertising and offers for sale were directed were located. It made no difference that took decisions and steps necessary to bring about the electronic display in another Member State.

The Court reasoned that, if Article 97(5) were interpreted otherwise, a defendant could deprive Article 97(5) of any effect by making sure that the territory where they set up their website and activated the display of their advertising and offers for sale was the same as that in which it was established.

The Court of Appeal has to decide whether the advertising and offers for sale on the website and platforms in issue were in fact targeted at UK consumers or traders. It must do so on the basis of factors such as the details about the geographical areas where the products were to be delivered.
AMS Neve Ltd and others v Heritage Audio SL and others (Case C-172/18) EU:C:2019:674

Originality requirement is the same for all works – including applied art

In a case involving the design of jeans and tee shirts, referred by the Portuguese Supreme Court, the Court of Justice has extended the scope of its Infopaq decision and held that the Euro-originality test, that a copyright work be its author’s own intellectual creation, applies to all types of copyright work including works of applied art. It is not open to Member States to protect works of applied art on the basis that they have some aesthetic appeal in addition to their utilitarian appeal.

Clothing designs will perhaps rarely pass the higher originality test. In the UK this would not be a problem, as copyright is not the most apt way to protect them: they are more properly protected by design right, and in any case s.51 should exclude the use of copyright to protect the designs except where the item of clothing is itself an artistic work – which means it only works if the garment is a work of artistic craftsmanship, which it often will be but not if it is a tee shirt, or probably a pair of jeans. But the case raises the interesting question for the UK, does the Euro-originality test apply now to design right? The courts were always clear that they were not going to invent a new originality test for design right when they could just adopt the well-established copyright one, but that was before the Court of Justice drive a coach and horses through that test in Infopaq.

The judgment, which is not yet in English, raises other important questions about EU copyright law – which almost with each passing day seems to be the way we now have to regard copyright, as based on EU directives. How the activist Court of Justice brought us to this position, developing the Information Society directive into a comprehensive harmonisation of copyright law, is another story on which a lot has already been said and much remains to say.

Case C-683/17, Cofemel – Sociedade de Vestuário SA v G Star Raw CV EU:C:2019:721 (12 September) (in French – other language versions are available)

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Copying music without knowing

The Guardian this morning reports another case in which a piece of music was held to infringe copyright in an earlier piece. It happens more and more often, it seems - as the twin evils, long identified in the trade marks world, of depletion and foreclosure insinuate themselves into copyright, albeit with changes to their form to take account of the very different subject-matter of trade mark protection.

The case in the papers today was decided in the United States, and by a jury, which means that the same will not happen here, not by the same route anyway. Katy Perry's song Dark Horse was found to have a similar beat to a piece called Joyful Noise by Flame, a Christian rapper (a new genre to me). It seems that several others were accused of infringing, too.

For copyright infringement to happen, in the USA as well as in this country (and every other country that has a copyright law, which I think is every country although in some of them the situation is a bit unclear), there has to be a nexus between the copyright work and what an infringer has produced (you can't say the infringer created it, because the whole point is that he or she hasn't, nor can you call it a work because it doesn't represent work, just appropriation). If an alleged infringer has no knowledge of the copyright work in question, there is no infringement: there is a second, similar or identical, copyright work, created independently by the defendant.

Many copyright owners don't like this situation, of course. They would rather their copyright was a true monopoly right. But copyright law is not patent law, and quite right too. Copyright doesn't protect the piece of music (or the book, or the painting) per se, but the effort that the creator put into it. So the owner of copyright in a piece of music has to show that the defendant had heard that piece. The case law tells us that it isn't necessary to show that the defendant has to recall the piece - if that were the case, a little selective amnesia would be enough to defeat any infringement claim - but merely that they have been exposed to it.

To avoid being exposed to others' music, composers will not generally listen to the recordings that they might receive from aspiring composers hoping for an endorsement (or perhaps hoping to contrive a situation in which an infringement action might lie). But in the modern world it becomes much more difficult to avoid exposure to music. When it is playing, unnecessarily, in lifts, shops, restaurants, gyms, and workplaces, it's impossible to get away from. I might have heard Dark Horse and Joyful Noise many times, quite involuntarily, but I certainly don't recall either of them. Were I a songwriter, I might well have incorporated some part of them (one or other of them) in a work of my own. And to some extent that's how music gets written, and always has been.

What strikes me as novel in this case is that sheer numbers of YouTube views seem to have raised a presumption that Katy Perry and her co-authors must have heard it. That's frightening. I might be exposed to a piece of music in the gym, however hard I try to shut it out and concentrate on my workout, and therefore become a prospective infringer.

How can this be addressed? It's right that the copyright owner should get something when another composer appropriates their hard (or even not-so-hard) work. What is needed is a narrower concept of what amounts to actionable appropriation, as well as consideration of what damages should be awarded and whether there ought to be some sort of licensing scheme to cover some types of infringing act. In the Kay Perry/Flame case, the situation is complicated by the fact that a jury made the decision that there had been an infringement, and having a jury decide matters like that doesn't appeal to me as a sound way to deal with them. Perhaps that accounts for why just taking the beat was held to be an infringement. In the name of research I have listened to the two songs on YouTube, and indeed the beats are very similar, although they are also pretty mundane and I wonder where Flame's came from in the first place. A rigorous analysis of the originality of the claimed work would be the starting point for a more rational approach to questions of infringement.

Another important difference between UK and US copyright law is that while the UK law considers the originality of a work as a whole, US copyright law is more inclined to take the work apart and look for originality in its components. Here, it seems to me quite likely that an English judge, asked to consider the two, might remark that the beats sounded similar but that the two songs as a whole were so completely different that the similarities could not be considered substantial. Perhaps it's not a problem that would ever come to court in this country, but the fact is that US copyright casts its shadow over the whole world and we need to take care always to distinguish what goes on there from our own approach.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Commodities, commodification, commoditization and intellectual property laws

In a piece in The Guardian today, Anish Kapoor is quoted as saying: "Only poetry and the more serious classical music seem able to resist becoming commodities." He admits that he has benefitted from "neo-liberalist commodification", and indeed few artists can have done as well as him out of it, but even so he doesn't make it sound like a good thing. Which I guess he doesn't think it is.

Commodification is not a necessary consequence of copyright (or more generally intellectual property) protection. What the world of commerce needs is proprietary rights:
The merchant must have property in the things in which he trades, his rights to that property must be identifiable, When he sells an article he must be able to assure the buyer that the things is his to sell; he must be able to prove his property in it, if he is challenged. (Hicks, A Theory of Economic History, OUP, 1969, p.34).
It is true as much for intangibles as for tangible things. Argubly, a far-reaching law prohibiting unfair competition could do the job of all IP laws, but giving them the status of property rights probably makes them much more useful - much more tradeable, and available for use as security - than a mere right of action against an unfair competitor would be.

So, to make intellectual property tradeable it is commodified - turned into objects of trade. "Commodification" is a term used in Marxist theory, where it denotes the process of giving an economic value to something that it didn't have already, by producing it and presenting it for sale rather than just consuming it oneself. It's different from commoditization, which is a term found in business literature to denote the process by which goods that have economic value and can be distinguished by their attributes - their uniqueness or brand - become simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers. Here, the meaning of "commodities" is somewhat different from the Marxian one: the word denotes goods that have full or substantial fungibility (a great word), meaning that the market doesn't care who produced them, as one person's commodities are much the same as another person's.

So it seems to me that commodification is an essential result, or perhaps a goal, of copyright protection, whereas commoditization is what intellectual property laws (trade marks probably play a more important role here than copyright) are designed to prevent. Kapoor can earn a living (a very good one, I imagine) because his work is commodified, but it would be incorrect to consider his creations as commodities because they are readily distinguishable from the works of other artists. Ineed, I can see an argument for saying that anything that can be labelled a commodity in the second sense mentioned above should not receive any form of protection from intellectual property laws (by which I mean, in the trade marks field, that purely descriptive or non-distinctive trade marks like BREAD for bread must not be registrable, not that bakers should be denied access to the trade marks system altogether).

This is an aspect of intellectual property law about which I am developing my thoughts, so please excuse any half-bakedness in this posting. Any comments would be gratefully received.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Spare Rib archive threatened by B****t

I was surprised when I read about this today in the Guardian. Why should the British Library's digital archive of the celebrated feminist magazine have any problems arising from the impact on the orphan works directive of B****t?

My first thought was that the Directive (implemented in s.44B and Sched.ZA1 of the 1988 Act) must surely remain part of UK law. But (according to its website) the BL has been advised by the soi-disant Intellecual Property Office that the "legal exception" (properly, permitted act) would no longer apply. Which makes me ask, what is the BL doing taking legal advice from there? Don't they have lawyers (with insurance)? Given the extent to which the BL works with copyright (all the time), I would have thought the advice should have been flowing, if at all, in the opposite direction.

Thanks to Eoin O'Dell's Cearta blog I have now looked at the draft Intellectual Property (Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 (pdf) and their Explanatory Memorandum (pdf). I am astonished to see that the government plans to throw the baby out with the bathwater, repealing (or "omitting", as the legislation says - is that another example of B****t Newspeak?) section 44B which is the permitted act, along with Schedule ZA1 (and I do think that with a title like that it probably deserves something, though I'm not sure repeal is called for).

Is the real problem that the right to issue copies etc across the EU will be lost (and as the archive is online it is available, presumably, EU-wide)? Would geo-blocking help (but if it would, is it acceptable)? The BL won't be able to add anything to the EUIPO database, but if it has published stuff in reliance on the fact that it was in the database then it seems to have complied with para 5 of Sched. ZA1 and I don't see anything to require it to refresh its due diligence. It looks as if Cultural Heritage Institutions in the UK will no longer be able to look at the EUIPO database (which seems a bit miserly) so in future it would be impossible to comply with para 5: but that doesn't have to destroy the legal basis for the Spare Rib archive.

The domestic licensing scheme (s.116A and SI 2014/2863) might help but seems too limited, and expensive, so I am disregarding it as a practical alternative. I will however note that the SI is being amended to remove references to the EU database - which as the Regulations stand is an essential component of a diligent search. Well, of course this has to be done, but why couldn't the same approach be taken to the permitted act?

The answer is, I guess, that there was always a certain amount of tension between the UK's licensing approach and the Directive's permitted act approach - described by Eleonora Rosati in this paper and by the IPKat, 22 November 2013. Eleonora suggested that the UK law was incompatible with the directive, the Infosoc directive, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and even the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is a pretty comprehensive charge sheet. On that basis, I can imagine that the UK government was content to see the back of the EU orphan works scheme: in the orphan works sphere, the UK had been taking back control since 2013. So following B*****t orphan works will be subject to the IPO-operated licensing scheme, and the BL and others (a wider range of others than under the Directive) can pay for the privilege of using orphan works.

Of course we have to respect the will of the so-called majority (including, I am pretty confident, no readers of Spare Rib) who voted to trash all the hard work that has gone into this.

Numbering of "comparable" UK trade marks

The UK-only trade marks that will, if leaving the EU ever becomes a reality, be carved out of existing EU trade marks are being called "comparable" trade marks. It seems like an odd choice of word, but compared with the madness that is Brexit this is a minor quibble. The Patent Office has published a notice about how these will be numbered:
In order to identify comparable UK rights and distinguish them from existing UK trade marks, the number allocated to the comparable mark will be the last 8 digits of the EUTMprefixed with UK009.
The following examples show how comparable UK trade marks will be numbered:
Existing EU trade markComparable UK trade mark
By retaining the EUTM number, we aim to keep the administrative process to a minimum.
Of course the best way to "keep the administrative process to a minimum" (let's read that as if it had the word "burden" in place of "process" - one does not keep processes to a minimum, and in any case it is surely more accurate to say it's as small as possible, not a minimum) would be to stop the nonsense altogether, but our Prime Minister is clearly dead set on it. As a numbering scheme this makes sense and is pretty simple - it reminds me of how when the 1994 Act came into operation the Registry started with number 2,000,000, which meant losing only a few numbers but provided a nice easy way to recognise "new Act" trade marks.

I wonder what will happen to comparable UK trade marks when the country rejoins the EU in a few years' time? Is the government planning for that contingency yet?

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