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July 2018
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Two Georgia Sausage Companies Battle Over Trademarked Logos That Aren't Particularly Similar

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We see a lot of dumb trademark lawsuits here at Techdirt, but the most frustrating of them is always those that assert similarities in trade dress when it's plainly obvious that no such similarities exist. Even when afforded the greatest leeway for interpretation, there are times when one company will complain about the branding of another company that simply leaves you scratching your head.A lawsuit filed by Stripling's General Store against Carroll's Sausage & Country Store is an exmaple of this.

Stripling’s General Store is suing Carroll’s Sausage & Country Store because it was using a “confusingly similar mark” to advertise its goods, according to the complaint filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.The general store also alleges unfair competition, false designation of origin and injury to its reputation.
Look, I could stretch this post out a bit with detailed language of what's involved, but the fact is that Stripling is complaining that its logo and that of Carroll's are too similar so as to mislead the public as to the origin of each's products. Worth noting here is that Stripling fired off multiple C&Ds without receiving a response and that Carroll's has taken no action to change its branding. Also notable is that Stripling is asking for all profits Carroll's received while using this trade dress.And, now, for the branding in quesiton.
It should be obvious just how different these logos are and, more importantly, how little confusion they are likely to create. After all, the only real similarity that is somewhat unique is the use of an image of a pig on each. The counter to that as an argument for uniqueness and confusion is: these are sausage companies. It would be odd if they didn't use images of pigs in their logos. Beyond that, those images are different, as are the color schemes, the verbage, and the names of each source of goods on both logos, which are prominently displayed in both cases. To suggest anyone is going to be confused by any of this is more than a bit crazy.But, with the explosion in permission culture in American business, we've now reached a point where sausage companies are fighting over the right to use the image of a pig in their logos. Great job, everyone!

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Appeals Court Rejects Sketchy Plan To Pretend To Sell Patents To Native American Nation To Avoid Scrutiny

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Some ethically sketchy patent lawyers thought they had come up with a brilliant scam to avoid having awful patents scrutinized by the special review board created by Congress within the Patent Office -- a process known as "inter partes review" or IPR. This Patent and Trademark Appeals Board (PTAB) has been a useful tool in going back and reversing the mistakes made by patent examiners in letting through bad patents. However, back in September, we wrote about a fairly devious plan by the lawyers from the law firm of Shore Chan DePumpo to help their clients avoid a PTAB review. The situation began with a PTAB ruling back in early 2017 in a review of a patent held by the University of Florida. The University claimed sovereign immunity exempted it from the whole PTAB process under the 11th Amendment (universities claiming sovereign immunity in patent cases goes way back) and the PTAB agreed it had no jurisdiction.Sensing an opportunity, the lawyers at Shore Chan DePumpo worked out a neat little scheme in which a pharmaceutical company would "sell" its patents to a Native American nation (in this case, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe). The "sale" was in name only. The pharmaceutical companies retained not just an exclusive license to the patents, but basically all other rights as well. The only thing St. Regis got was a nice little income stream in exchange for having its sovereign status used to shield the pharma companies' patents from scrutiny before the PTAB.I'm sure it seemed like a good idea to someone at the time, but it has been an utter failure. In October, the district court made it clear that this was a scam it didn't intend to allow to go forward. Then, in February, the PTAB itself denied the tribe's motion, pointing out that the PTAB wasn't stupid and totally understood the scam being played:

Upon consideration of the record, and for the reasons discussed below, we determine the Tribe has not established that the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity should be applied to these proceedings. Furthermore, we determine that these proceedings can continue even without the Tribe's participation in view of Allergan's retained ownership interests in the challenged patents. The Tribe's Motion is therefore denied.
And now, just to add one more nail to the coffin of this terrible idea, the Federal Circuit, which traditionally is happy to rubber stamp any scam to keep patent owners happy, has rejected this plan as well. The CAFC ruling doesn't call out this procedure as a scam, but rather focuses in on the procedural questions of whether or not the IPR process is akin to an agency enforcement action (which would not be blocked by sovereign immunity) v. a civil lawsuit (which would be). It goes through a number of factors and decides that it's more of an agency action, and thus the tribe (acting as a front for the pharma companies) can't claim sovereign immunity and avoid having the Patent Office review its patents.I guess the lawyers at Shore Chan DePumpo will just have to go back to sending frivolous takedown notices to bloggers who criticize the firm...

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