Friday, 24 April 2015

Reposting from NIPC Law: Damages for Infringement of Database Rights: Inter...

NIPC Law: Damages for Infringement of Database Rights: Inter...: Jane Lambert The first claimant.  Intercity Telecom Limited ( "Intercity" ) , is one of the largest independent com...

We Can't Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership | WIRED

According to this story in WIRED (hat-tip to Warwick Rothnie for posting it on Facebook) John Deere and General Motors are trying to change the very idea of ownership, of tractors and cars at any rate. Actually, personal leasing plans in the motor sector (and, no doubt, similar arrangements in the agricultural machinery sector) have already years ago changed the ownership equation, but in a rather different and direct way than what is described here.

The simple fact is that, because vehicles rely increasingly on software to operate them, the owner of the hardware is beholden to the owner of the copyright in the software running on it. As with computers, so with tractors and cars. To characterise this as the manufacturer retaining ownership of the hardware is at best hyperbole, at worst downright wrong. But it nevertheless appears to pose problems for owners in the USA.

Would it happen here? I think not. First, an owner deprived of the ability to repair his or her car or tractor (or anything else) would be able to refer to the House of Lords decision in that great case, British Leyland Motor Corp & Ors v Armstrong Patents Company Ltd & Ors [1986] UKHL 7 (27 February 1986) where their Lordships (or at least a majority of them) held that the owner of a motor car had the right to repair it as economically as possible, and that to use intellectual property rights to thwart the owner was a derogation from grant which the courts would refuse to uphold. And since 1986, the software directive has introduced several provisions (in particular section 50A and 50C of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) to permit "reverse engineering" of software and the fixing of problems with it. So, between those two pieces of law, one judge-made and the other statutory, I don't see much to worry about: except, of course, for the fact that if a large multinational leans on an individual car-owner or farmer there is a good chance that they will prevail regardless of the merits of their legal case.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Green Party sustains gunshot wound to foot over copyright, of all things

Who would have imagined that the biggest policy gaffe of the election would be over the duration of copyright? Well, go back a few years and it could have been "New" Labour swallowing the "Cliff's Law" argument hook, line and sinker, but actually this goes completely the other way. The Green Party, which had already ensured that it would not be getting my vote* by accepting the endorsement of the dreadful Russell Brand, announced that if elected ("if" being a very important word here, as the Greens had a single MP, their first, in the last Parliament) they would take us back to 1709 or 1710 (it always depends on whose calendar you use) and reduce copyright to 14 years. From creation or publication, it was not entirely clear, but certainly not PMA which might have been a bit more comprehensible.
It transpires - allegedly - that 14 years came from a Cambridge University postgrad student. Isn't that how the Iraq war started, too? To be fair to the Green Party (and of all the political parties they are the only one to which one should have any reason to be fair) this is mentioned in the same breath as their "Citizen's Income" idea, although the two policies seem to be associated because the latter would ensure people had time to devote to cultural activities which would (they imply) somehow justify reducing the term of copyright protection (the total volume of copyright, works multiplied by years protected, would remain much the same, on my reading of the policy). Had they said that because everyone will have the Citizen's Income there will be less need for people to earn money from copyright, it might have made a little sense: but as it is there is no logic underlying it at all, except for Mr (or presumably Dr now, as his work seems to date back to 2007) Pollock's thesis.
I have found myself participating in a couple of discussions on Facebook about this crazy idea, and it is clear that the Greens have upset a lot of creative people who might otherwise be more-than-averagely likely to favour them. And in addition to the damage they have done to their own support, how do they imagine it could be achieved? 14 years would not comply with the Berne Convention, so the UK would have to denounce (I think that's the right verb) that, and other international instruments. TRIPS probably isn't the Greens' favourite international agreement anyway, and certainly it has plenty of questionable things about it, but this is surely not the issue on which to challenge it. What about the directive? Copyright duration would be an odd reason for a Brexit. Then there would be inevitable claims under the European Convention on Human Rights, that copyright owners had suffered the loss of property. At least Cliff's Law would be a thing of the past.
There is plenty wrong with copyright, but anyone proposing to reform it would do best to consider its breadth rather than its depth. It is the omniverous nature of copyright, the indiscriminate way in which it confers protection on works with minimal originality, permitting big businesses to bully small users and reap super-normal profits, that should be addressed, and to my mind the way to do that is to reconsider the originality requirement (along with the notion of what constitutes a copy of an earlier work, in the case of sound recordings and films: given that "original" means, basically, "not copied", this amounts to the same thing). But I don't think that presses the right buttons in a general election.
The Greens also propose to legalise peer-to-peer filesharing where it is not commercial, and to "liberalise" the rules about fair use (which of course are absent from our copyright law entirely at present - "fair dealing" being rather different, a distinction which seems to have escaped the Greens). They claim they want it to apply outside academia, which - correct me if I am wrong - I thought was one of the places where fair dealing didn't run very far anyway. Still, we needn't worry too much: few people will vote Green just because of these policies, and they aren't within sight of even holding the balance of power in Parliament (are they?).

*I plan to support whoever is most opposed to the desecration of the North Wessex Downs AONB by massive housing developments, as per the draft Local Plan which the Conservative Group on our District Council voted through without demur. Unless that's the Greens, who won't get my support because of this copyright gaffe and the Brand thing. My local MP also alienated me by "cutting" me at the All Party Writers' Group winter party in December, and lost any possibility of getting my vote. Just so you know.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Art and Artifice: The dirty side of artistic copyright: septic tank ...

Art and Artifice reports on a case in the Privy Council, not something we come across every day, or even every decade: apart from Lego and Opportunity Knocks, which are now almost ancient history, I can't remember any in my time as a lawyer.

This is Gold Rock Corp Ltd & Anor v Hylton (The Bahamas) [2015] UKPC 17 (20 April 2015), a case which demonstrates (if the point needed demonstrating) that design protection often involves some rather unpleasant subject-matter - pig fenders (not too bad), slurry separators (a great deal more distasteful), and now septic tanks. Although we are in the realm of copyright here, so we are not considering septic tanks but rather designs for them, which is a much cleaner and more pleasant proposition.

Bahamian copyright law, in the form of the Copyright Act 1998 (amended in 2004, though not in a way material to the present case) bears some similarities to our law in the way it treats copyright in designs, but the wording is significantly different and as far as I can see there is no unregistered design protection, only a registered design system (under the Industrial Property Act 1965) which borrows heavily from the Registered Designs Act 1949 v1, allowing applicants to request a grant of "design copyright" (remember that?) and imposing an eye-appeal test. Oh, those were the days!

As for copyright protection, technical drawings are expressly included in the definition of artistic works, which is one significant difference from our law (though perhaps a difference of words only). The Bahamian Act then goes on (in section 2(3)) to restrict copyright in a design for a useful article:

the design of a useful article ... shall
be considered an artistic work only if, and only to the extent that,
such design incorporates artistic features that can be identified
separately from and are capable of existing independently of, the
utilitarian aspects of the article.
That seems, on the face of it, to be intended to deny copyright protection for designs for utilitarian things. Back in the heyday of copyright protection for designs, we might have expected an interesting debate about septic tanks in various fanciful and artful shapes, as I remember discussing the possibilities of conrods cast in the shape of the female human form: in each case a completely pointless exercise, because no-one in their right minds would think to copy the crazy design. Here, though, we get an extraordinarily narrow interpretation of those words, turning on a distinction between design (abstraction) and technical drawing (piece of paper: I almost wrote "concrete", in contradistinction to abstract, but concrete is precisely what the septic tanks were, so I would have confused the issue no end). The Board (well, Sir Kim Lewington, at any rate, speaking for all of them) said:

A “useful article” is ... a three-dimensional physical artefact. A technical drawing which gives instructions about how to make such an artefact is not itself a “useful article”; not least because its function is merely to convey information about how to make it. In the Board’s view the “design” of a useful article is a reference to the physical aspects of the article itself, rather than a technical drawing conveying instructions about how to make it. Any other interpretation would mean that it was almost impossible for any technical drawing to be protected by copyright, even though technical drawings are specifically included in the primary definition of “artistic works.”
So the drawings remained protected, and the PC advised Her Majesty that the appeal should be allowed, and no doubt she will take that advice rather then try to work out whether a better solution might be available. I find it hard to believe that this is the result the draftsman intended, although it is no doubt a correct reading of the words (especially in the light of all the experience we have of copyright and designs): but if the draftsman's intentions have been thwarted, we can all console ourselves by remembering that this whole area of law developed quite by accident, mostly as a result of the law of unintended consequences (the same law which I imagine will make the repeal of section 52 a disaster - but I digress ...).

Monday, 20 April 2015

Intel bullies home improvement company into name change

Intel trademark letter prompts UK business re-brand,  World Intellectual Property Review reports. The UK business, which seems to be the division of the Intelligent Home Improvement Group that deals in windows, had the temerity to use the now name, Intell Windows. Well, Intel had to stop that, didn't they? The window company complains that it cost £1,800 just for lawyers to send a letter back to Intel (either someone is being economical with the truth or a lawyer is having a laugh) and rebranding cost £15,000.

A humourless spokeswoman for the semiconductor maker is quoted as saying: "As with any other asset, we have an obligation to our shareholders to protect the value of our brand." If that statement could be reduced to a single word, Dr Johnson's definition of patriotism could nicely be applied to it. Unfortunately it explains (even, perhaps, sometimes excuses) a lot of trade mark bullying, but here it looks pathetic: would the shareholders really feel sufficiently threatened to have the company spend their money threatening the window company? There is clearly not the slightest risk of confusion - oh, Intel chips are capable of running Microsoft Windows(R), huh? - and if there is any possibility of dilution, tarnishment or unfair advantage it is vanishingly small. Shareholders might well ask themselves whether the legal bills, let alone the damage to the company's reputation, were worth it. They might be less humourless than the spokeswoman.

Had it been a fish and chip shop, it might have been a different story.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Assos, Asos and the "own name" defence

According to WIPR, Assos (a Swiss clothing manufacturer) is appealing against the Court of Appeal's April Fool's Day judgment (Maier v Asos [2015] EWCA Civ 220) holding that although the marks in suit were similar, and there was a likelihood of confusion and damage to the claimant's mark, Asos (an online retailer) could rely on the "own name" defence under section 11 of the Trade Marks Act. Read the WIPR report: there is no point in my paraphrasing it here, and I cannot direct you to the BAILII report because it is not online yet. At the same time, marvel at the WIPR's author's inability to identify members of the judiciary by their correct titles. What amateurs!
Assos are proposing to appeal to the Supreme Court, according to their solicitors Bird and Bird, and one can see why they might. Surely, despite cases which say otherwise, the "own name" defence was never intended to apply to company names which can so easily be invented to suit a particular purpose. However, that particular point (subject to what I find in the judgments in the Court of Appeal when they are published) seems to have become part of the corpus of trade mark law.
Of course, the defence is subject to the proviso that the use has to be in accordance with honest practices in industrial and commercial matters. That must be the key issue in this case, notwithstanding that Sales J seems to have based his dissenting judgment on logical restrictions on the scope of the defence.

The Washington Post: YouTube’s copyright system has taken Rand Paul’s presidential announcement offline

This report of a spectacular own goal almost made me laugh (but the excesses of modern intellectual property law and practice will never get past that "almost" - they are more likely to make me cry). The headline tells you everything.

I suppose it illustrates the importance of clearing rights for all the uses to which a copyright work might be put in the modern age. Perhaps Senator Paul, or at least his people, had obtained the myriad permissions (or the omnibus permission) needed but YouTube's robots, acting as WMG's agents, took it down anyway.

The reference in the article to huge music companies (the expression "Big Copyright" comes to mind) being able preemptively to apply copyright law encapsulates the problem in a way I have not read before: I will try to file that expression away for future use, although I think it is better called pre-emptive (my dictionary tells me that the hyphen is correct in the adjectival form but not in the adverb) enforcement, not application, which is too imprecise a term for lawyers to use (acceptable, though, for journalists, I think). Maybe it is a synonym for bullying. And read in the context of the Senator's attack on the power of special interests, the story becomes even more powerful.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Jeremy Phillips talks to Law Vox by Oxford Academic (OUP)

I am hugely enjoying this podcast, an interview with Jeremy Phillips produced by the publisher of so many IP books (including many of Jeremy's). It's highly informative and a great explanation of the importance of intellectual property law, although there are some themes that he might have explored such as the immense growth in the power of intellectual property rights ... although he does say that most trade marks are not intellectual property, a very useful proposition. When I have listened to it fully, and perhaps a couple of times, I might post more.
(Actually, is it right to call it a podcast if it cannot be downloaded?)

Monday, 16 March 2015

Intellectual property protection for Russian armaments

The Moscow Times reports that:
The [Russian] Defense Ministry is working on a system to keep track of Russian military innovations at home and abroad in an attempt to wrestle [sic] control of copyrights on Soviet-era equipment away from a global industry of imitators, state news agency RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.
Compared with other events in Russia, that's not really very worrying but it certainly gave me pause for thought. Do they really mean 'copyrights' (or even 'copyright')? Copyright is of course a feeble way to protect industrial designs these days, in the UK and in most other countries too. But patents would be even weaker, because the end of the Soviet era is more than a patent's lifetime ago ... To my surprise, though, I discovered that MT Kalashnikov (who died only in 2013, at the age of 94) was applying for patents with priority dates as recent as 1997 (this one for example - but why did a Chinese patent come up first on Espacenet?) and his son Viktor seems to be keeping up the - er - good work. So perhaps it's the words 'Soviet-era' in that quote that are questionable.
Lieutenant-General Kalashnikov has seemingly been responsible for arming most of the world. His inventions must constitute a large part of the production of the world's second-biggest arms exporter, albeit presumably at the lower end of the price scale: you have to sell a lot of assault rifles to make as much money as you would from a single jet fighter sold to, for example, India. It's probably not the jet fighters the Russians are worried about, though I recall that there were a lot of Chinese reproductions of Soviet aircraft around some time ago (just like the reproductions of various vehicle designs which the Chinese motor industry specialises in these days). Indeed, the Moscow Times story makes clear that the problem the Russians face is that sanctions mean they can't sell AK-47s like they used to, and that production in former Warsaw Pact countries, and China, where fraternal munitions factories were established during the Cold War (the First Cold War, as we might soon be calling it) is filling the gap. A large part of the market is probably in the USA, which is a nice paradox. (The manufacturer's website tells me, interestingly, that its Saiga-12 Mod. 340 sporting shotgun is widely used by law enforcers in the US, which may be a more significant piece of information: and Saiga hunting rifles are apparently very popular in the US too). Maybe Lenin's theory of imperialism could explain Russia's territorial expansionism, creating new markets for weapons among the little green men ...
Let's get back, as quickly as possible, to intellectual property. There might be some relevant patents: there might be some relevant copyright, in some countries: there might be some of the more exotic intellectual property rights like gebrauchsmuster. Design right in the UK would be no help, because it would have expired and in any case the designer was not an EU citizen nor was he habitually resident in the EU, and articles to his designs were not first marketed here. Registered designs are apt to protect the appearance but not the function of an article, so while they could be of some help (the appearance of the AK-47 is certainly important) it will be small - and even if relevant registrations were ever obtained they are likely to have expired long ago. Perhaps, unlikely as it seems, copyright is the manufacturer's strongest suit.
Unless ... what about trade marks? Both the surname of the inventor and the familiar designation of the weapon are highly distinctive. They meet all the requirements here for registration as a trade mark, leaving aside the question of public policy and morality I suppose, although the fact that 'AK' stand for Автома́т Кала́шникова (Kalashnikov automatic) might create a descriptiveness problem, against which 66 years' use might be an effective counterargument. But there's nothing I can find on the UK or EU registers that might assist, which is a rather surprising omission. Of course it is possible that the Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian and Chinese manufacturers referred to in the Moscow News article are not using either trade mark - but I bet the retailers in the US are. Which makes me wonder whether Russian-owned US trademarks can easily be enforced. I think that in the English courts an order for security for costs could put a spanner in the works - is there something similar in the US?
All of this highlights the important point, that it is the activities of foreign undertakings that are worrying the Russians. No point in bringing an infringement case in Syria or Iraq against whoever is supplying ISIL: this is a problem that can only be dealt with at the manufacturer level, and that won't affect the huge second-hand trade. Perhaps the Russians could persuade some of the offending manufacturers to stop, although unless they have a lot more legal protection in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania than they seem to have here they will be hard-pressed. Maybe the Serbs will be more open to the Russians' blandishments. The chances of stopping production in China are, one assumes, at best negligible.
If there were any point in trying to use legal steps to stop this trade in fake firearms in the UK, an action for passing off would seem to be the logical way to go, in the absence of anything better: and it could stand an excellent chance of success. But I don't think the UK is really their main worry, notwithstanding that the manufacturer's website mentions that it exports products to us. Precisely what, I don't know, but Izhmash, the distinctly Soviet-era name of the manufacturer (Izhevsk Machinebuilding Plant, or Ижевский Mашиностроительный Завод) before it merged with Izhmech (don't ask) to become a wonderful double entendre, the Kalashnikov Concern, made motorcycles which were sold here under the Cossack and Neval brands, along with motor vehicles and other mechanical items. The company's motorcycle (dating from 1928), the IZh 1, "owed a little" to contemporary motorcycles made by the German company DKW, according to Andy Thompson's Cars of the Soviet Union (Haynes Publishing, Somerset, UK, 2008), p.180, which rather brings us back to the start of this story: what goes around comes around, or Как ау́кнется — так и откли́кнется. And intellectual property law is not, I submit, the place to look for a solution, even if they do have any useful rights.

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