Intellectual property (IP) has never been easy to protect, especially in the era of the Internet, which seems to increase the number of disputes on plagiarism or copyright issues. Almost every big brand has been, at least, once, part in an IP lawsuit, either being the plaintiff, or the defendant, but this is what happens when you enter the big world of business, which is nowhere near playing nice.
Intellectual Property Protection usually covers inventions, works of art, symbols, images and names, to help the creators or inventors protect themselves from unfair competition. Usually, there are four types of IP protection: patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and copyrights, and every business needs to be familiar with all four of them, to avoid issues, but also to protect their products.
Throughout the years, many IP disputes made the news, some of them involving notorious brands. For some, it worked as good publicity, but for others, not so much. Below, we will be discussing some of the most notorious IP disputes and what you can learn from them when it comes to protecting your business.
Mattel Inc. v. MGA Entertainment Inc.
Mattel Inc., the creators of the infamous Barbie doll, don’t need much of a presentation, as Barbie became a symbol for children all over the world. On the other hand, MGA Entertainment may not be such a familiar name, but their number one creation, the Bratz dolls, sure are.
Carter Bryant, the one that created the Bratz dolls, was still working at Mattel in August 2000, when he came up with the idea. He drew sketches of the dolls and sold the idea to MGA Entertainment just two weeks before he quit Mattel. But Bryan had signed an intellectual property agreement when working for Mattel, in which was stated that all of Bryant’s creations during the time he worked at Mattel belonged to the company. Thus, Mattel proceeded to sue both MGA Entertainment and Bryant. The case resolved in Mattel’s favor an MGA was ordered to pay $100 million in damages.
Moral of the story? Always make sure that an idea, no matter how rich it may make you, is absolutely original and does not have the potential to drag you in court, especially with a big fish.
Adidas America Inc. v. Payless Shoesource Inc.
The three-stripe mark is already homonymous with the Adidas brand, but back in 1994, Payless Shoesource was selling athletic shoes with a similar esthetic, featuring 2 or 4 stripes. Adidas registered the logo as a trademark back in 1952, so there was no dispute over the fact that they were, in fact, the creators of the logo.
They seemed to reach a settlement, but not for long, as in 2001, Payless again was selling the look-alike shoes. Adidas was fearing that people would associate them with the shoes and demanded a jury trial to sort everything out once and for all.
In a trial that lasted over 7 years, where over 250 pairs of Payless shoes were reviewed, Adidas America Inc. was the winning side, receiving $305 million in damages.
Again, this should be enough to prove that even though you think “it’s not the same, so nothing’s going to happen”, big companies don’t like look-alikes. The best thing you can do is make sure you discuss with some experts in IP legislation before you even think about releasing a product.
Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams v. Marvin Gaye
Many have danced to the beat of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ Blurred Lines, but not so many know that the song was heavily inspired by Marvin Gaye’s song, Go To Give It Up. The artists were sued and had to pay almost $5 million for the similarity with Gaye’s song.
Pharrell stated that, even though the song may have evoked the same mood as Gaye’s song, Blurred Lines is not at all plagiarism. But even though the song was different in melody, rhythm, as well as harmony, Gaye still received compensation.
While it can sometimes be difficult to state if a work of art is, indeed, copied, the best thing an artist can do is be extremely careful where they draw inspiration from, as this was not the only lawsuit where “inspiration” was the key word.
Star Wars vs Battlestar Galactica
One of the most infamous cases of copyright infringement was the one of Battlestar Galactica, who seemed to draw a bit too much inspiration from the more infamous 1977 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope film. Universal Studios, the studio behind Battlestar was sued by 20th Century Fox, for no less than 34 ideas that they seem to have stolen from Star Wars, including the naming of one of their characters, Skyler, who was a bit too close to Skywalker.
Glen Larson, the creator of Battlestar claimed he met with Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars, to discuss terms and that he agreed no to take action. What’s more, the people behind Battlestar countersued, with claims that Star Wars was heavily inspired by other productions as well, including Silent Running and Buck Rogers.
The decision was taken 2 years later, in favor of Battlestar, but the damage was already done, as the initial Battlestar was canceled, and people were already waiting for The Empire Strikes Back.
Apple v. … Everyone?
Any lawsuit that involves Apple makes the first page of the news almost instantly. Throughout the years, the company was involved in no less than 32 lawsuits on trademarks, copyrights, licensing and patent issues. They won some, they lost some, but by taking a look at all of them, one can only learn not to mess with a name as huge as Apple is.
One of the most notorious lawsuits was the one against Apple Corps, the record label founded by no others than The Beatles. In 1978, the label sued Apple Computers for trademark infringements, but the parties settled in 1981, with Apple Computer paying $80,000 to Apple Corps and agreeing to not get involved in the music business. We all know how that turned out, and if not, we can tell you that they only reached a final settlement in 2007, with the full terms being confidential.