Trademark litigation typically unfolds as a battle between competing sellers who argue over whether the defendant’s conduct is likely to confuse consumers. This is an unfair fight. In the traditional narrative, the plaintiff defends her trademark while simultaneously protecting consumers at risk for confusion. The defendant, relatively speaking, stands alone. The resulting “two-against-one” storyline gives short shrift to the interests of nonconfused consumers who may have a stake in the defendant’s conduct. As a result, courts are too receptive to nontraditional trade- mark claims where the case for consumer harm is questionable. Better outcomes are available by appreciating trademark litigation’s parallel status as a conflict between consumers. This view treats junior and senior trademark users as proxies for different consumer classes and recognizes that remedying likely confusion among one group of consumers may cause harm to others. Focusing on the interests of benefited and harmed consumers also minimizes the excessive weight given to moral rhetoric in adjudicating trademark cases. Consideration of trademark’s consumer-conflict dimension is therefore a useful device for critiquing trademark’s expansion and assessing future doctrinal developments.
Intellectual Property Law
Many critics have noted that patent litigation’s institutional structure is riddled with shortcomings that lead to unjust and inefficient outcomes and decrease public faith in the legal system. This Article relies on theory and empirical data to propose that the patent litigation system can be improved by harnessing patentography—the geography of patent disputes. There are three principal concerns with patent litigation’s institutional structure: widespread forum shopping in district court patent cases, district courts’ typically poor factfinding and lawmaking in these cases, and insufficient deference by the Federal Circuit—the court hearing nearly all patent appeals—to district courts’ factual findings. Harnessing patentography by restricting venue in patent litigation to the principal place of business of one of its defendants will help repair each problem. It will clamp down on forum shopping. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it will also improve district courts’ patent decisionmaking. As industries tend to cluster stably in discrete geographic areas, my proposed rule will tend to cluster patent cases by technology in particular districts, such as software cases in the Northern District of California and pharmaceutical cases in the District of New Jersey. Clustering together large numbers of an industry’s patent cases in a limited number of district courts will develop those courts’ proficiencies in patent law and in the underlying industry-specific facts critical to sound legal determinations. Under my proposal, this clustering will occur in districts in which judges and juries already tend to have background industry knowledge, given the associated industry cluster. An empirical review of patent cases filed in district courts in 2005 confirms that harnessing patentography as I propose would intensify patent litigation clusters. Finally, improving district courts’ decisionmaking ought to encourage the Federal Circuit to defer more appropriately to district courts’ factual findings.
The Trademark Counterfeiting Act (TCA) has been widely applied to cases of postsale confusion, which occurs when someone buys a knock-off luxury item knowing that it is fake. When liability is predicated on post-sale activity, the only people that are confused are the members of the general public who observe someone wearing what looks like a genuine brand item—a Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag for instance—and think it is real when in fact it is not. While every circuit that has dealt with knock-off goods has held that post-sale confusion is criminalized by the TCA, this Note argues that this conclusion relies on an improper reading of the statute. The TCA was only designed to make criminal those actions that were clearly actionable civilly in 1984, when it was enacted. This Note will show that post-sale confusion was far from uniformly accepted civilly in 1984 and argue that, therefore, it should not be read into the TCA. Furthermore, this Note argues that the harms of post-sale confusion are identical to the harms of dilution, which was not covered in the Lanham Act until 1996 and was never included in the TCA. The Note then examines the statutory scheme to argue that Congress had only point-of-sale confusion in mind when it enacted the TCA. The statute unambiguously fails to cover more typical dilutive sales, which is strong evidence that, contrary to the courts’ collective reasoning, Congress did not have the harms of dilution in mind when it added criminal penalties to trademark law. Finally, this Note argues that, from a policy perspective, post-sale confusion should not be criminalized. The harms are small, and companies have had a great deal of success combatting knock-offs with civil actions. There is no need to impose severe fines and long prison terms for selling knock-offs. This Note concludes by stating that there are serious harms from counterfeits that create point-of-sale confusion, but the public does not take these seriously because they think only of knock-offs when they think about counterfeits. The decriminalization of the sale of knock-offs will allow the public to be more willing to accept the true dangers of “real” counterfeits and to become more vigilant in the marketplace.
The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act effectively repealed aspects of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by creating a new statutory section governing joinder of accused infringers and consolidation of actions for trial in most patent infringement cases. This new law codifies a substantial barrier to joinder and consolidation for trial. In so doing, it frustrates the promotion of liberal standards both for evaluating the sufficiency of pleadings and for evaluating the propriety of joinder of parties—two of the primary policies embraced by the drafters of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Remarkably, Congress adopted the new statutory section despite the absence of any detailed scholarly analysis prior to its enactment regarding these issues, sparse legislative history analyzing perceived problems with the relevant Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the lack of any consideration of the new statutory section by the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Civil Rules. This Article provides a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for the enactment of the new statutory section, the competing policies animating the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the appropriate interpretation and application of the new law. Such analyses have, to date, been absent from the legal conversation.
Research on the statutory license for certain types of copyright-protected content has revealed an unlikely symbiosis between uncertainty and efficiency. Contrary to received wisdom, which tells us that in order to increase efficiency, we must increase stability, this Article suggests that uncertainty can actually be used to increase efficiency in the marketplace. In the music industry, the battle over terrestrial performance rights—that is, the right of a copyright holder to collect royalties for plays of a sound recording on terrestrial radio—has raged for decades. In June 2012, in a deal that circumvented the statutory license for sound recordings for the first time ever, broadcasting giant Clear Channel granted an elusive terrestrial performance right to a small, independent record label named Big Machine and agreed to pay royalties where no such legal obligation exists. This result not only improves upon many of the statutory license’s inefficiencies but is also the opposite of what we would expect given both the tumultuous history surrounding the rights at issue and the respective parties’ bargaining positions. It suggests an underexplored mechanism at play: uncertainty. Using the statutory license for sound recordings and the Clear Channel–Big Machine deal to motivate the analysis, this Article argues that bounded uncertainty—such as uncertainty about the future legal status of terrestrial performance rights and uncertainty about future digital business models—converts a statutory license into a “penalty default license.” Just as penalty default rules encourage more efficient information exchange between asymmetrical parties, penalty default licenses encourage more efficient licensing among otherwise divergent parties by motivating them to circumvent an inefficient statutory license in favor of private ordering. While not without its drawbacks, which previous work identified and ameliorated, private ordering improves upon the statutory approach, resulting in greater efficiency not only for the parties involved but for society overall. Recognition of the role that uncertainty plays in converting an inefficient statutory license into a penalty default license that improves market efficiency while mitigating inequality has implications beyond the statutory licensing context. It suggests a revision in the way we view the relationship between uncertainty and efficiency. Specifically, it shows that when coupled with a penalty default, uncertainty can bring greater efficiency to the marketplace by encouraging private ordering—with its tailored terms and responsiveness to rapid legal and technological change—while mitigating concerns about inequality and gamesmanship.
Things are valuable because they are scarce. The more abundant they become, the cheaper they become. But a series of technological changes is underway that promises to end scarcity as we know it for a wide variety of goods. The Internet is the most obvious example, because the change there is furthest along. The Internet has reduced the cost of production and distribution of informational content effectively to zero. More recently, new technologies promise to do for a variety of physical goods and even services what the Internet has already done for information. The role of intellectual property (IP) in such a world is both controverted and critically important. Efforts to use IP to lock down the Internet have so far failed to stem the unauthorized distribution of content. But contrary to the predictions of IP theory, the result of that failure has not been a decline in creativity. To the contrary, creativity is flourishing on the Internet as never before despite the absence of effective IP enforcement. That is a problem for IP theory, which may not be the main driver of creativity in a world where creation, reproduction, and distribution are cheap. That is increasingly the world in which we will live.
Access Rights and the DMCA’s Anticircumvention Provision
Traditional media companies, such as newspapers, have struggled to adjust their profit models to the Internet economy. Some newspapers have instituted “paywalls,” digital locks that limit access to online articles with varying degrees of logistical and financial success. As paywalls proliferate to protect digital media, methods for circumventing those paywalls develop and propagate just as quickly. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits circumventing an effective technological means of control that restricts access to a copyrighted work. However, two competing interpretations of the statute have emerged. The more widespread approach, the infringement-nexus interpretation, requires a nexus between circumvention and traditional copyright infringement to prove a violation of the statute. By contrast, the access-right interpretation reads the statute literally as providing a new right of access control to owners of copyrighted works. This Note argues that the access-right interpretation correctly reflects Congress’s intent by recognizing that the right to access a work—not just to copy or distribute it—has real value that deserves protection. However, the DMCA has some inherent problems that prevent it from offering effective, meaningful protection to the right of access. This Note discusses those problems and offers solutions for ensuring more effective protection to this newly recognized and increasingly valuable right.
Many biotechnology products are living organisms that are essentially “made” by a trial and error process of directing evolution in a laboratory. Decades ago, the Supreme Court in Chakrabarty settled the threshold question of patent eligibility for life forms, stating clearly that living things are patentable. Nevertheless, the fact that nature assists inventors so heavily in the process of inventing a useful new organism raises the question of whether such organisms meet patent law’s enablement requirement—that a patent application must teach a person of ordinary skill in the art how to make and use the invention without undue experimentation. This Note argues that the enablement requirement has been overlooked for patents to genetically engineered organisms, and proposes solutions for updating this requirement to properly incentivize the creation of socially beneficial living things, without allowing inventors to bar access to products of nature.
There’s more than one way to copy. The process of copying can be laborious or easy, expensive or cheap, educative or unenriching. But the two intellectual property regimes that make copying an element of liability, copyright and trade secrecy, approach these distinctions differently. Copyright conflates them. Infringement doctrine considers all copying processes equally suspect, asking only whether the resulting product is substantially similar to the protected work. By contrast, trade secrecy asks not only whether but also how the defendant copied. It limits liability to those who appropriate information through means that the law deems improper. This Article argues that copyright doctrine should borrow a page from trade secrecy by factoring the defendant’s copying process into the infringement analysis. To a wide range of actors within the copyright ecosystem, differences in process matter. Innovators face less risk from competitors if imitation is costly than if it is cheap. Consumers may value a work remade from scratch more than they do a digital reproduction. Beginners can learn more technical skills from deliberately tracing an expert’s creative steps than from simply clicking cut and paste. The consequences of copying, in short, often depend on how the copies are made. Fortunately, getting courts to consider process in copyright cases may not be as far-fetched as the doctrine suggests. Black-letter law notwithstanding, courts sometimes subtly invoke the defendant’s process when ostensibly assessing the propriety of the defendant’s product. While these decisions are on the right track, it’s time to bring process out into the open. Copyright doctrine could be both more descriptively transparent and more normatively attractive by expressly looking beyond the face of a copy and asking how it got there.
Assessing the Future IP Landscape of Music’s Cash Cow: What Happens When the Live Concert Goes Virtual
If piracy has been the bane of the music industry, and live performances are a financial buoy, what happens when live performances are ported to a virtual medium that all of a sudden may be subject to piracy again? This Note examines the various intellectual property frameworks through which one can look at the protectable elements of a live show or concert and what happens to the protectability of those elements once the show is ported to virtual reality. Given that technology to date has had a much larger impact on recorded music than on live performances, the introduction of virtual reality technology has serious disruptive potential. This Note argues that one can use existing intellectual property law to weave a complex web of protected elements around less traditional targets of IP like stage, set, and lighting design, background visuals, live performers, and props. This web of intellectual property protection will encourage strong contracting and yield more avenues for resisting piracy in the virtual reality world.