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European Commission Fines Qualcomm EUR 242 Mio. for Predatory Pricing

By Maria E. Sturm

On July 18, 2019, the EU Commission, the European antitrust supervisory body, fined Qualcomm Inc. for using predatory prices between 2009 and 2011. The EU Commission argued as follows:

  1. It explained that Qualcomm had a dominant position in the world market. This dominance is based on:
  2. Its market share of 60% and
  3. The high entry barriers: competitors are confronted with significant initial investments for research and development in this sector, as well as with obstacles regarding intellectual property rights.
  4. While it is not illegal to hold a dominant position, the EU Commission accuses Qualcomm of abusing such a position by using predatory prices for UMTS-chip sets. To prove this, the EU Commission used a price-cost test for the chipsets in question. In addition, it claimed to have qualitative evidence for anti-competitive behavior. Qualcomm used this problematic pricing policy when its strongest competitor, Icera, tried to expand on the market in an effort to hinder Icera from building up its market presence.
  5. Finally, the EU Commission argues that Qualcomm’s behavior could not be justified by potential efficiency gains.

 

History

This Commission decision is the latest, but presumably not the final point of a long case history. Already in 2015, the Commission has initiated a formal investigation and issued Statements of Objections against Qualcomm. In 2017, the Commission requested further information from Qualcomm. As Qualcomm did not respond to this request, the Commission made a formal decision which Qualcomm claimed to be void. Qualcomm filed for annulment of the decision and an application for interim measures. The latter was dismissed on July 12, 2017.  Art. 278 TFEU establishes the principle that EU actions do not have a suspensory effect, because acts of EU institutions are presumed to be lawful. Thus, an order of suspension or interim measures is only issued in exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to avoid serious and irreparable harm to the applicant’s interests in relation to the competing interests. The cumulative requirements are:

  1. The applicant must state the subject matter of the proceedings.
  2. The circumstances must give rise to urgency.
  3. The pleas of fact and law must establish a prima facie case for the interim measures.

Qualcomm mainly brought forward two arguments for the urgency of the matter:

  1. The amount of work and cost for answering the questions would be too burdensome. In response, the Court stated that the damage would be only of a pecuniary nature. Such damage normally is not irreparable, because it can be restored afterwards. Qualcomm did not argue that its financial viability would be jeopardized before the final judgment would be issued, that its market share would be affected substantially, or that it was impossible to seek compensation.
  2. The enormous amount of work for the employees of the financial department would make it impossible for them to perform their regular tasks. However, Qualcomm mentioned itself that the burden would weigh particularly heavily on a limited number of employees in the financial department only. The Court held that if only some employees of only one department would be affected, the argument is not strong enough to justify urgency.

 

Latest decision

The latest decision in this case was issued on April 9, 2019, about Qualcomm’s claim for annulment. Qualcomm brought forward six pleas against the EU Commission, but all of them were dismissed:

 

  1. Infringement of the obligation to state reasons.

According to relevant case law, statements of reasons must be appropriate to the measure at issue and must disclose the reasons clearly and unequivocally. The Commission must show that the request is justified. The undertakings concerned must be able to assess the scope of their duty to cooperate and their right to defense must be safeguarded. However, the EU Commission is not obliged to communicate all information at its disposal, as long as it clearly indicates the suspicions. Since the Commission clearly indicated the products and the customers involved, as well as the suspicions of infringement, it fulfilled its obligation to state reasons.

 

  1. Infringement of the principle of necessity.

There must be a correlation between the request for information and the presumed infringement and the Commission must presume reasonably that the information will help determine whether the alleged infringement has taken place. Qualcomm accused the Commission of having expanded the scope of the investigation and contended that the required information was not necessary. Concerning the first point, Qualcomm mainly referred to the Statement of Objections and said the Commission must terminate its preliminary investigations before issuing such a document. However, according to the Court, the Statement of Objections is only procedural and preliminary, the Commission is thus free to continue with fact-finding afterwards. Concerning the second point, the Court grants the Commission broad powers of investigation, including the assessment of whether information is necessary or not. In particular, the Commission needed the information required from Qualcomm to avoid factual errors in calculating the price-cost test. The Commission had to request the information to keep up with its obligation to examine carefully and impartially.

 

  1. Infringement of the principle of proportionality.

Qualcomm argued that the information requested was disproportionate, because it was not legally obliged to keep documents for longer than three and a half years and that they did not organize their documents systematically. Here, the Court said that at least from the moment when Qualcomm learned about the Commission’s investigation, it should have been more careful and should have kept documents. Moreover, undertakings who keep their documents in an organized and systematic order cannot be penalized for that. Therefore, the unsystematic organization falls under Qualcomm’s responsibility. Furthermore, a significant workload is not per se disproportionate. One must consider it in relation to the investigated infringement. An alleged predatory pricing requires complex analyses of a large amount of data and is not disproportionate because of its nature.

 

  1. Reversal of the burden of proof.

This plea is, according to the Court, based on a misreading. Qualcomm was asked to neither audit financial accounts nor prove that they have conducted their business in accordance with the law.  Rather, it was only asked to issue information for the Commission to conduct the price-cost test and internal documents pertaining to the relevant period.

 

  1. Infringement of the right to avoid self-incrimination.

Qualcomm claims that the Commission’s requests were beyond the scope of simply providing information. According to Regulation No 1/2003, undertakings cannot be forced to admit that they have committed an infringement, but they are obliged to answer factual questions and to provide documents, even if this information may be used to establish against them. Therefore, they do not have an absolute right of silence. On the contrary, in order to ensure the effectiveness of Regulation No 1/2003, the Commission is entitled to request all necessary information concerning relevant facts to prove the existence of anticompetitive conduct.

 

  1. Infringement of the principle of good administration.

Qualcomm claimed the required information was excessive and that the Commission abused its investigative power by prolonging a flawed investigation. According to the relevant case law, the principle of good administration requires EU institutions to observe the good guarantees afforded by the legal order. Those guarantees include the duty to examine carefully and impartially all the relevant aspects of the individual case. Here, the Court held that the Commission requested the information in question precisely to comply with its duty to examine carefully and impartially the arguments put forward by Qualcomm regarding the Statement of Objections.

On June 18, 2019, Qualcomm lodged an appeal for the annulment of the General Court’s judgment. The case is to be continued.

U.S. Copyright Office Publishes Report on Moral Rights

By Marie-Andrée Weiss

The U.S. Copyright Office published on 23 April 2019 a report on moral rights entitled Authors, Attribution, and Integrity: Examining Moral Rights in the United States. Karyn Temple, the Office Director, wrote in her introduction that the report focuses “on the personal rights of individual authors and artists, who have often been excluded in broader conversations about copyright legal reforms.”

This concern echoes the philosophy behind laws in European countries which are called “author’s rights” (droit d’auteur) and protect a work as being the imprint of the author’s personality. As it has been explained, for instance, by the European Court of Justice in Infopaq, a literary work is composed by words “which, considered in isolation, are not as such an intellectual creation of the author who employs them. It is only through the choice, sequence and combination of those words that the author may express his creativity in an original manner and achieve a result which is an intellectual creation.”

Since a work expresses the personality of the author, he or she must then be provided moral rights to protect the integrity of the work, as well as his or her right to be presented as the author.  Moral rights are often presented as the main difference between copyright and author’s rights.

Are there moral rights in the U.S.?

Moral rights can be provided by contracts and licenses, which “have been at the forefront of protecting moral rights in the United States for many years and are commonly used in creative industries for that purpose” (p. 39 and p. 127). But what about the law?

The U.S. only acceded to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1988, in which article 6bis provides for moral rights, independently of the author’s economic rights. The author has “the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.”

As this right seems to provide authors a way to prevent fair use of their work, including the creation of derivative works, which are protected by the First Amendment, it is not surprising that the U.S. has not embraced the doctrine of moral rights. The report deals with the tensions between the First Amendment and moral rights (p.28), and calls the fair use doctrine “a vital First Amendment safeguard” (p. 30).

Indeed, no seminal moral right law was enacted after the U.S. joined the Berne Convention, as Congress determined, maybe a little bit hastily, that the United States already provided sufficient protection for the rights of attribution and integrity “through an existing patchwork of laws,” including the Lanham Act and some provisions of the Copyright Act (p. 7, p. 24 and p. 36).

However, in 1990 Congress enacted the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”), section 106A of the Copyright Act, which provides authors of narrowly defined “work[s]of visual art” the right “to claim or disclaim authorship in the work, as well as a limited right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification of a work that is of recognized stature.”

In 1996 and 1997, the U.S. ratified the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, article 5 of which provides a moral right to performers who interpret works of art. Congress also considered in this instance that this right was already protected in the U.S. by the existing patchwork of laws, and that there was thus no need to enact a specific law (p. 26).

Congress however did enact in 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which added section 1202 to the Copyright Act. Section 1202 prohibits, in some instances, removing, altering, or providing false copyright management information (“CMI”).

Article 5 of the 2012 WIPO Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances gives performers a moral right in their live performances. While the U.S. signed the Treaty in 2012, it has not ratified it yet, and neither have any of the G6’s members.

Finally, some states have their own moral right statutes, for instance, the California Art Preservation Act of 1979 (p.120).

 

No need for a blanket moral right statute 

In its just-released report, the Copyright Office found no need to introduce a blanket moral rights statute at this time (p.9). Instead, it suggested amending the Lanham Act and the Copyright Act, as it “believes that updates to individual pieces of the patchwork may be advisable to account for the evolution of technology and the corresponding changes within certain business practices” (p. 39).

The Office also suggested that Congress could amend VARA. The federal statute only applies to “works of visual art,” which are narrowly defined by Section 101 of the Copyright Act as works existing in a single copy or a limited edition. The report noted several cases denied VARA protection because “the work was considered promotional or advertising material” (p.66). The Office recommended, however, that only commercial art created pursuant to a contract and intended for commercial use be excluded from VARA’s scope (p.68).

The Office also suggested that Congress consider narrowly amending section 43(a) of the Lanham Act so that its unfair competition protections would include false representations of the authorship of expressive works. Section 43(a) applies to “false designation[s] of origin, false or misleading description[s] of fact, or false or misleading representation[s] of fact.” The Supreme Court had put a stop in 2003 to the use of Section 43(a) as a substitute for moral right, finding in Dastar Corp. v. 20th Century Fox Films that the section should not be recognized as a “cause of action for misrepresentation of authorship of noncopyrighted works.”

This Supreme Court decision “resulted in the fraying of one square of the moral rights patchwork as originally envisioned by Congress” (p. 54). At stake in this case was the right of attribution of a work in the public domain, which had been commercialized by a third party without indicating the original author. Right of attribution is one of the standard moral rights.

The Office also suggested that Congress add a new cause of action in a new section 1202A of Title 17, so that the author of a work could recover civil damages if he or she can prove that the defendant knowingly removed or altered CMI with the intent to conceal the author’s attribution information.  Indeed, it “is common practice in the digital world for CMI to be stripped from works, disconnecting a work from its authorship and ownership information” (p.86).

 

Moral Rights and Right of Publicity

The Office recommended that Congress adopt a federal right of publicity law in order to reduce the uncertainty and ambiguity created by the diversity of state right of publicity laws. Almost all of the U.S. states have a right of publicity, whether at via common law, statutory law, or both, but they differ in the length and scope of protection. “As a result, there is significant variability among the protections available to an author depending upon where he or she chooses to live, and the specter of federal copyright preemption looms over many right of publicity claims” (p.117).

The report noted that “the right of publicity had provided authors with causes of action for misattribution of authorship, material alterations to the author’s work, and distribution of the author’s work in connection with inferior packaging and artwork” (p.111).  However, as this right protects the name and likeness of the author or performer, it “cannot address situations where the author’s name or likeness is absent. Thus, the right of publicity can stand as a proxy for the right of attribution against violations resulting from misattribution, but has little to say in cases where the author is not credited at all” (p.113).  It cannot protect the integrity of the work either.

The report briefly noted that “the increasingly accessible video editing technology behind “deepfake” software can not only fundamentally alter the content of an author’s work, but can also lead to social and moral harm for the artists and the subject of the video through malicious use” (p.8). This new technology is likely to trigger new right of publicity laws. For example, New York tried unsuccessfully to enact a new right of publicity statute that specifically addressed the issue of deep fakes.

It remains to be seen if Congress will heed the report’s suggestions. Whether it does or not, the debate on moral rights is likely to continue.

The Controversial European Union Directive on Digital Copyright

By Marie-Andrée Weiss

The EU Directive 2019/790 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market was approved by the EU Parliament on 17 April 2019 and was published on 17 May 2019.  It concludes a long and hard-fought lobbying campaign where authors, internet companies, and the general public fiercely debated the most controversial issues of the Directive, the new related rights of press publishers (Article 15) and the new responsibility regime for online platforms (Article 17).

The Directive also addressed how works in the public domain or out-of-commerce could be used by “cultural heritage institutions,” that is, a library or a museum, and how research organizations could reproduce protected works for scientific research.

 

Facilitating use of content in the public domain: Article 14

Not all of the provisions of the Directive are controversial. For instance, Article 14 provides that reproductions of works in the public domain cannot be protected by copyright, unless this reproduction is original enough to be itself protected by copyright.

This means that museums and other institutions will no longer be able to claim a copyright on reproductions of works in the public domain which are in their collections. It remains to be seen if some of them will claim that the reproductions are original enough to be protected. Museums may change the way they photograph their works, although it would be difficult to claim that a mere reproduction of a painting is original enough to be protected. It could be, however, possible to claim so for the reproduction of a sculpture, a building, or a garment (clothes can be protected by copyright in the EU).

Cultural heritage institutions are, however, granted by Article 6 the right “to make copies of any works or other subject matter that are permanently in their collections, in any format of medium, for purposes of preservation…or other subject matter.” They are thus given the fair use right to entirely reproduce a work, for preservation purposes only, and even for profit. The museum stores will be well stocked.

 

“Out-of-commerce works” Article 8

Collective management organizations which are “sufficiently representative of [relevant] rightholders” will have the right to conclude with cultural heritage institutions a non-exclusive non-commercial license for the use of “out-of-commerce works.” This will, for instance, allow books which are no longer published to be copied and distributed by libraries, and orphan works to be featured in museums. Authors will, however, have the right at any time to exclude their works from this scheme.

 

Data mining

Articles 3 to 5 provide for a copyright exception “for reproductions and extractions made by research organizations and cultural heritage institutions in order to carry out, for the purposes of scientific research, text and data mining of works or other subject matter to which they have lawful access.”

The organizations will have to implement “an appropriate level of security” when storing the works. The rightholder will be able to expressly reserve their rights “in an appropriate manner, such as machine-readable means,” if the work is made available online. It is thus not an opt-in scheme, but an opt-out one, and an author failing to constrain such use by digital marking, or any other method, may not have much recourse.

 

Digital teaching

Article 5 of the Directive provides for a copyright exception for works used for teaching, when provided by an educational establishment, either on-site or online, through “a secure electronic environment accessible only by the educational establishment’s pupils or students and teaching staff.” This definition encompasses MOOCs, but not blogs, even if the sole purpose of the blogger is to provide information about a particular topic.

The two most controversial articles in the Directive are Article 15, which provides a related right to press publishers, and Article 17, which makes platforms liable for content protected by copyright which are illegally shared online.

 

Article 15 (formerly Article 11):  a related right for press publishers

Article 15 provides press publishers established in the EU the exclusive right, for two years, to reproduce the works they publish and to make them available to the public, a right which has been named by some of its detractors “ancillary copyright.” Authors retain, however, the right to independently exploit their works.

Recital 54 of the Directive explains that the wide availability of online news is a key element of the business models of news aggregators and media monitoring services, and a major source of profit for them. However, this makes licensing their publications more difficult for publishers, and thus it is “more difficult for them to recoup their investments.”

Not surprisingly, this proposal was fiercely debated, by news aggregators, of course, but also by non-profit organizations that viewed this new right as a threat to free exchange of information on the Web. The rights provided by Article 15 do not apply, however, “to private or non-commercial uses of press publications by individual users.”

Article 15 does not apply to either “very short extracts of a press publication” or to “individual words,” an exception which can hardly be described as a fair use exception. It is nice to know, though, that one has the right to reproduce a single word without having to pay a fee.

 

Article 17 (formerly article 13):  Towards an EU “DMCA”?

“Online content-sharing service providers” are defined by article 2(6) of the Directive as “provider[s] of an information society service of which the main or one of the main purposes is to store and give the public access to a large amount of copyright-protected works or other protected subject matter uploaded by its users, which it organizes and promotes for profit-making purposes.”

This long definition refers to digital platforms, such as Google or Facebook. They will have to obtain the authorization of the rightholder, for instance, through a license, in order to have the right to share the protected work with the public.

If they do not have this authorization, that is, in almost all cases, they will be liable for unauthorized acts of communication to the public of works protected by copyright, unless they “acted expeditiously, upon receiving a sufficiently substantiated notice from the rightholders, to disable access to, or to remove from their websites, the… works…and made best efforts to prevent their future upload” (Article 14.4(c)).

The platforms will have to put in place “an effective and expeditious complaint and redress mechanism…available to users of their services in the event of disputes.” This requirement is similar to the one put in place in 1998 by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which provided a safe harbor for online service providers if they “expeditiously” remove or disable access to the infringing material after receiving a DMCA takedown notice.

Several legal scholars, such as Professor Wendy Seltzer and Professor Daphne Keller, have argued that the DMCA is a threat to free speech. Indeed, platforms regularly delete, automatically and zealously, works which are protected by the fair use doctrine upon receiving a DMCA notice. It is likely that the EU scheme will lead to similar overreach.

The Directive is ambiguous as to the way platforms are required to fulfill their new duties. Article 17.8 expressly provides that “application of [Article 15] shall not lead to any general monitoring obligation,” but Article 17.4(b) provides that the platforms must be able to demonstrate that they “made, in accordance with high industry standards of professional diligence, best efforts to ensure the unavailability of [protected] works.” Platforms may be inclined to consider that monitoring content by algorithms is indeed the current “high industry standards of professional diligence.”

 

Next stop: implementation, on a bumpy road

Member States have up to 7 June 2021 to transpose the Directive into their legal systems, since Directives, unlike Regulations, are not directly applicable in the EU.

However, the road to implementation is likely to be a bumpy one. Poland filed in May a complaint to the Court of Justice of the European Union against the EU Parliament and the EU Council, claiming that Article 17 of the Directive would lead to online censorship. The debate over the Directive is likely to continue.

Will the U.S. Supreme Court Find Ban on Scandalous Trademark Registration Unconstitutional?

By Marie-Andrée Weiss

On 4 January 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to rule on whether Section 1052(a) of the Trademark Act, which prohibits the registration of immoral and scandalous marks, is facially invalid under the First Amendment. The case is Iancu v. Brunetti, Docket No. 18-302.

In 2011, Erik Brunetti filed an application to register FUCT as a federal trademark, in connection with a clothing line. The U.S.P.T.O. examining attorney refused to register it, considering it to be the past tense of the verb “to fuck,” a vulgar term. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) affirmed in 2014. Brunetti appealed. While the case was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Matal v. Tam decision, which found that that the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act violated the First Amendment, because it discriminates based on content.

On December 15, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the TTAB’s holding, and held that Section 2(a) is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. The court denied the request for a rehearing in April 2018 and in September 2018, Andrei Iancu, the Director of the U.S.P.T.O., filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which was granted by the Supreme Court.

 

The Lanham Act prohibits registering immoral and scandalous marks

Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act prohibits registration of immoral and scandalous marks, a prohibition which was first codified by Section 5(a) of the Trademark Act of 1905. The U.S.P.T.O. considers that a mark is immoral or scandalous if a substantial composite of the general public would find it shocking to the sense of truth, decency or propriety, in the context of contemporary attitudes and the relevant marketplace (see for instance In re Mavety Media Group Ltd. at 1371).

The government argued unsuccessfully on appeal that Section 2(a) does not implicate the First Amendment because it is either a government subsidy program or a limited public forum and that, alternatively, if it is speech, it is merely commercial speech. Such speech was defined by the Supreme Court in Va. State Bd. Of Pharmacy, as speech which does “no more than propose a commercial transaction.” It warrants the use of the Central Hudson, four-part test, not the strict scrutiny test.

In Tam, the Supreme Court had used a “heightened scrutiny test.” The Federal Circuit applied the strict scrutiny test, and found that the government had failed to prove that Section 2(a) advances the interests it asserts and is narrowly tailored to achieve that objective.

Trademark as speech

The Federal Circuit found Section 2(a) regulates speech based on its expressive content, and as such, does not merely regulate commercial speech. Indeed, the Supreme Court had noted in Tam that trademarks “often have an expressive content.” The Federal Circuit Court gave several examples of trademark applications using “FUCK” to further a worthy cause, such as FUCK HEROIN, FUCK CANCER or FUCK RACISM.

Brunetti is using the FUCT mark in connection with clothing featuring, as described by the TTAB, “strong and often explicit, sexual imagery that objectifies woman and offers degrading examples of extreme misogyny.” The Federal Circuit Court judges wrote in conclusion that they found “the use of such marks in commerce discomforting, and are not eager to see a proliferation of such marks in the marketplace.” Yet, it is speech which must be protected by the First Amendment.

 

The Lanham Act does not define what is a scandalous or immoral mark

The Federal Circuit found that there is no “reasonable definition” of what is “scandalous” and “immoral” and thus Section 2(a) is not construed narrowly enough to be found constitutional. Obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court has provided a definition of it in Roth v. United States, “material which deals with sex in a manner appealing to the prurient interest.” In a concurring opinion to Brunetti, Judge Dyk explained that rather than finding Section 2(a) unconstitutional, he would have limited the scope of the clause to obscene marks.

In his Respondent brief, Brunetti added another question for the Supreme Court, whether Section (2)(a) is unconstitutionally vague under both the First and the Fifth Amendment.

 

The Supreme Court is likely to offer a definition of what is an immoral or scandalous mark

The Director of the USPTO argued in its petition to the Supreme Court that Section 2(a) merely prohibits the registration of scandalous marks, such as those using vulgar terms and graphic sexual image. However, what is “vulgar,” or what is “graphic” is not easily agreed upon, especially in a country as big as the U.S., which is home to many different opinions and beliefs. For example, there are no “Do Not Cuss” signs in New York restaurants, but there are still some in the South.

Whether or not the Supreme Court finds Section 2(a) unconstitutional, the court is likely to provide a definition of what is “scandalous” or immoral. ”

Hakuna Matata: Trademarks and Cultural Appropriation

By Marie-Andrée Weiss

Disney Enterprises has owned since March 2003 the HAKUNA MATATA trademark, registered in class 25 for t-shirts. Disney filed the application in August 1994, shortly after the U.S. release of its widely successful “The Lion King” animated movie, which has been adapted as a musical comedy. A live-action reimagining version of the animated movie, using CGI technology, will be released this year.

In the movie and the musical comedy, and, most certainly, in the upcoming film, a character is singing the “Hakuna Matata” song, urging the young Lion King not to worry. Indeed, “Hakuna Matata” means “no problems” or “no worries” in Swahili. An article written by Cathy Mputhia in November 2018 noted that “Hakuna Matata” is “widely used in East Africa.”

Disney now faces backlash over this trademark registration. An online petition published by Shelton Mpala is asking Disney to cancel the HAKUNA MATATA trademark arguing that its decision to register it was “predicated purely on greed and is an insult not only the spirit of the Swahili people but also, Africa as a whole.” The petition has gathered more than 180,000 signatures.

 

Can Hakuna Matata be registered as a trademark?

The online petition claims that “Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent.” If this would be true, thousands and thousands of trademarks would be cancelled.

Indeed, it is not necessary to create a term to able to register it as a trademark; unlike a work protected by copyright, a trademark can be protected even though it is not an original work. What matters is that it is distinctive enough, since the function of a trademark is to identify the source of a product or service. Trademarks which are arbitrary, fanciful, or suggestive can be protected without having to show secondary meaning. Generic trademarks cannot be protected.

Few people in the U.S. knew the “Hakuna Matata” expression before the release of The Lion King in 1994. Indeed, Google Ngram Viewer shows that the word was first used in the English language corpus in the Nineties.  However, as noted by The Guardian, “[t]he phrase was popularised in 1982 by the Kenyan band Them Mushrooms, whose platinum-selling single Jambo Bwana (Hello, Mister) featured the phrase hakuna matata.”

When the expression was trademarked in 1994, the U.S. public associated it with the movie, which was a blockbuster, complete with derivative products, some using the “Hakuna Matata” phrase. As such, this combination of words was an efficient trademark, because the general public believed that the phrase had been invented by Disney and thus perceived the trademark as being arbitrary or fanciful.

Disney’s trademark application stated correctly, however, that the two words have a meaning in another language and were not invented. As such, HAKUNA MATATA is a suggestive trademark, a term which “requires imagination, thought and perception to reach a conclusion as to the nature of the goods,” as explained by the Second Circuit in Abercrombie & Fitch Co. v. Hinting World.

Nevertheless, the public in East Africa perceives this trademark as a mere common phrase, and generic terms cannot be registered as trademarks.  Therefore, “Hakuna Matata” cannot be registered as a trademark in East Africa but can be in the U.S. or in other Western countries because the public there does not perceive it as a common expression. Research on WIPO’s Global Brand Database reveals that the term is registered as trademark almost only in Western countries, with a few exceptions such as Egypt, Thailand, and Korea.

Under trademark law, a term can only be registered if it is not commonly used in the country or geographical areas where it is registered. This practice, while legal, can be perceived by the country from which the term originated, however, as cultural appropriation.

 

Trademark and cultural appropriation

Even if it is legal to register “Hakuna Matata,” it may not be advisable. Cultural appropriation is now a well-known concept, but it had just started to be recognized when Disney registered the trademark in 1994, as shown by this Ngram Viewer.

Shelton Mpala told CNN that that he had started the petition “to draw attention to the appropriation of African culture and the importance of protecting our heritage, identity and culture from being exploited for financial gain by third parties.”

This issue is addressed by WIPO, which established in 2000 the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). The Committee’s mandate is to work towards reaching an agreement on one or more intellectual property international legal instruments which would protect traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.

One of the IGC’s background briefs noted that “[t]he current international system for protecting intellectual property was fashioned during the age of enlightenment and industrialization and developed subsequently in line with the perceived needs of technologically advanced societies.”

 

Could a bar to register traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions be in the future?

Can this practice be regulated, and how? Cathy Mputhia suggested in her article that “relevant governments or communities [could] apply for expungement of already granted trademarks,” but noted that “there are certain thresholds that ought to be met for expungement of marks that contain heritage.”

These “expungement thresholds” will probably not be legal, but societal. If such expungement occurs for HAKUNA MATATA, it will be a business decision made by Disney designed to protect the company’s public image by acknowledging that the trademark hurts too many Africans.  In this regard, Shelton Mpala chose a possible viable path towards his desired result.

One can imagine that a party could petition the TTAB to cancel the HAKUNA MATATA trademark registration under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act which prohibits registration of immoral, scandalous, and disparaging marks. However, seems unlikely, as the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2017 in Matal v. Tam  that Section 2(a)’s prohibition to register disparaging marks violates the First Amendment. The Court may soon rule similarly about scandalous and immoral marks, as it has accepted to review the In Re: Brunetti case, after the Federal Circuit held that the First Amendment also protects registration of such marks.

Section 2(b) of the Trademark Act bars the registration of a mark which consists of or comprises the flag or other insignia of the US, or any state, or municipality or foreign nation. Could the law be amended one day to add symbols of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions? This would require a WIPO treaty protecting them, and the very hypothetical U.S. accession to the treaty.

CP(TPP) Entered into Force!

By Pratyush Nath Upreti

A much-awaited mega-regional trade agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which involves eleven countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, entered into force on December 30th of last year. The CPTPP consists of a total of thirty chapters, along with several annexes to the chapters and four annexure to the agreement.[1]

The United States, under the leadership of Obama, was one of the architects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). However, the current US President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the USA from the TPP.[2] Post the US withdrawal, some considered the TPP dead and buried, but it received a new life during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which renamed TPP as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).[3] The new version suspended twenty-two items from the original text, in particular, the IP chapter[4] which had received heavy criticism for transplanting the US style of IP protection. For example, the patent term adjustment for unreasonable granting, authority delays, and curtailment was suspended.[5] It was argued that, despite the professed purpose of the harmonization of patent-granting procedures among the member countries, the main intention of the provision was to extend pharmaceutical monopolies. According to the Report, on average the patent term extensions would give 3.6 further years and may amount to 20% of the pharmaceutical sales in the USA.[6] There are other noticeable differences between TPP and CPTPP.[7] In the last few years, there was an outcry on public forums regarding investors, through dispute settlement, restricting the sovereign right to regulate issues related to public interest or creating the risk of a ‘regulatory chill’.[8] Taking this seriously, CPTPP has reaffirmed and endorsed government’s inherent right to regulate in matters related to the public interest.

After more than a year since its new abbreviation, CPTPP came into force last month. Clearly, the CPTPP is a massive trade block representing 495 million people and 13.5 percent of global gross domestic product.[9] It is hard to predict whether it will be a success, but it shows huge potential and perhaps offers an alternative for countries in the light of the strains in the multilateral rules-based trading system.

[1] Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership text (Released on 21 February 2018) < https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/trade/free-trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements-in-force/cptpp/comprehensive-and-progressive-agreement-for-trans-pacific-partnership-text#chapters&gt; accessed 15 January 2019.

[2] Presidential Memorandum Regarding Withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Agreement (White House, January 23 2017) <https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-memorandum-regarding-withdrawal-united-states-trans-pacific-partnership-negotiations-agreement/> accessed 14 January 2019.

[3]The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2017 <https://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Leaders-Declarations&gt; accessed 14 January 2019.

[4] For more discussion, see Pratyush Nath Upreti, ‘From TPP to CPTPP: Why intellectual property matters’ (2018) 13(2) Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice 100-101

[5] See CPTPP vs TPP (New Zealand Foreign Affairs & Trade) < https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/trade/free-trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements-in-force/cptpp/understanding-cptpp/tpp-and-cptpp-the-differences-explained/&gt; accessed 13 January 2019.

[6] Charles Clift, ‘The value of patent term extensions to the pharmaceutical industry in the USA’ (2008) 5(3)  Journal of Generic Medicines 201-208.

[7] CPTPP vs TPP  n (3).

[8] See Philip Morris Brands Sarl, Philip Morris Products S.A and Abal Hermanos S.A v. Oriental Republic of Uruguay, ICSID Case No: ARB/07. Also see Philip Morris Asia Limited v. The Commonwealth of Australia, UNCITRAL, PCA Case No. 2012-12

[9] ‘Benefits of the CPTPP for Yukon’ < https://international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/cptpp-ptpgp/regions/YT.aspx?lang=eng&gt; accessed 13 January 2019.

EU Pushes Reform of Investor-State Dispute Settlement

By Gabriel M. Lentner

On 18 January 2019, the EU and its Member States submitted two papers proposing the establishment of a permanent multilateral investment court along with an effective work plan to do so within the UN Working Group under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). This is important because more and more IP-related disputes are litigated in investment arbitration: see   the cases   of Bridgestone v Panama, Philip   Morris   v  Australia and Philip  Morris  v  Uruguay (involving trademarks), Eli Lilly v Canada and a potential case involving the pharmaceutical company Pfizer under the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty involving patents.

 

A Permanent Multilateral Investment Court

The proposal of the EU is part of the ongoing work of the UN Working Group tasked with examining reform of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). ISDS in its current form has been criticized on many grounds (such as the lack of appeal, inconsistency of decisions, excessive costs and duration, and lack of transparency).

For the EU, the establishment of a permanent multilateral investment court (MIC) is the only option that can respond to all these criticisms. The MIC would include an appeal mechanism and instead of ad-hoc arbitrators, full-time adjudicators would be deciding cases.

 

The Way Forward

In the second paper, the EU proposes to proceed in several related steps within the UN Working Group to arrive at developing concrete solutions and text proposals, which then could be adopted or endorsed by the UNCITRAL Commission and, ultimately, the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The EU also welcomes the input of civil society and the Academic Forum and Practitioner’s Group at all stages of the process.

So far it is difficult to assess the viability of the EU’s proposal. It remains to be seen whether the EU can garner the necessary support for a future MIC. What the MIC would mean for IP-related disputes is thus also unclear. In principle, however, a permanent dispute settlement body could ensure more predictability and coherence in an area of law that is still affected by uncertainties.