Biswajit Sarkar Blog Intellectual Property Top 5 Intellectual Property Cases

Top 5 Intellectual Property Cases

Intellectual Property Cases

1. Kellogg Co. v. National Biscuit Co.


In 1893, Henry Perky began making a pillow-shaped cereal and named it Shredded Whole Wheat. John Harvey Kellogg said that eating the cereal was like “eating a whisk broom” and there were several criticisms calling it “shredded doormat”. However, the product was a major hit in the market. After the death of Perky in 1912 and his two patents expired, the Kellogg Company, whistling a different tune began selling a similar cereal. In 1930, National Biscuit Co., a successor of Perky’s company filed a suit against Kellogg Company for its trademark violation and unfair competition. Kellogg Company saw this as an attempt to monopolise the shredded wheat market. When the case was brought to the Supreme Court in 1938, it ruled in favour of Kellogg stating that the term “shredded wheat” was not trademarkable, and its pillow shape was functional and therefore can be copied after the expiry of the patent.

2. Mattel Inc. v. MGA Entertainment Inc.

Mattel Inc. v. MGA Entertainment Inc.

A former employee of Mattel left the company and crafted a serious threat to the Barbie doll, the Bratz dolls. Barbie was 42 years old when the exotic, puffy-lipped Bratz dolls Cloe, Jade, Sasha and Yasmin came into the market in 2001. It was so popular that it swiped away 40 percent of Barbie’s turf in five years. In 2005, MGA Entertainment filed a suit claiming that the “My Scene” Barbies copied the big-headed and slim-bodied appearance of the Bratz dolls. Mattel was not very happy because the designer was still employed with Mattel and felt that it owns the idea and sued the designer.  In July 2008, a jury ruled in favour of Mattel, ordering MGA to pay $100 million and to remove Bratz dolls from the shelves. The injunction lasted for about a year. But the legal battle between the two companies continued. However, in April 2011, Mattel lost to MGA after the it proved that Mattel was actually the one to steal the trade secrets.

3. A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster Inc.

A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster Inc.

In 1999, Shawn Fanning, an 18 year old boy studying computer science at Northeastern University, created Napster, a peer to peer music sharing platform that allowed users to download MP3s for free. Due to this, thousands of users began downloading music for free. A&M Records, part of Universal Music Group as well as other record companies affiliated with the Recording Industry Association of America filed a suit against Napster for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found Napster guilty of both contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. Napster was eventually shut down in 2002. Similarly, Grokster was another music sharing site which also stopped operating after the Supreme Court ruling in MGM v. Grokster in 2005. This case is a major precedent in the copyright law regarding peer to peer file sharing and its impact on original artistic content.

4. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh v. The Random House Group Limited

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh v. The Random House Group Limited

In 2004, Authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh alleged Dan Brown, the author of Da Vinci Code of copyright infringement of their non-fiction work, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The authors alleged that Brown had done “non-literal” copying as he narrated his story in the same way in which historical facts were mentioned in their books. A London court ruled, in 2006, that historical research is fair game for novelists in fictional stories. It held that there was no textual copying or non-textual copying of a substantial part of the authors’ book.

5. Victor Whitmill v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Victor Whitmill v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In the movie, The Hangover Part II , Stu Price, a dentist played by actor Ed Helms wakes up one morning in Bangkok to find a tattoo around his left eye. The tattoo resembles Mike Tyson’s tattoo and alludes to the boxer’s cameo in the 2009 movie The Hangover.

Tyson’s tattoo artist, S. Victor Whitmill filed a suit against Warner Bros. Entertainment before the movie’s opening.   The artist had obtained a copyright for the work “artwork on 3-D” and claimed that the use of his work in the movie was copyright infringement. Warner Bros. Entertainment took the defence of fair use.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri did not grant an injunction but acknowledged that Whitmill had a strong case. Warner Bros. was willing to digitally change the tattoo, if it meant avoiding litigation. However, eventually, both the parties came to an agreement of undisclosed terms.

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