iphone photoUnbeknownst to most software users, many of the world’s largest software companies have relatively complicated software license terms in the event of a user’s death. This can present an emotional and unnecessary complication at a loved one’s passing.

An illustrative and all too commonplace example of this can be found in the terms and conditions of Apple’s iCloud platform. One section of the terms of service of Apple’s iCloud software (as of the publication date) entitled “No Right of Survivorship” which provides that:

Unless otherwise required by law, You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted. Contact iCloud Support at https://support.apple.com/icloud for further assistance.”

In other words, Apple has a right to terminate an iCloud account and delete all the data stored in that account upon a user’s death. Many companies structure software licenses in this manner in order to avoid potential contractual liability in the event of a dispute over access to a deceased user’s account.

Legal Rights to Access Digital Content


Continue Reading Digital Intellectual Property: What rights does Apple have over digital photos upon death of a user?

Product packaging is a critical part of every manufacturer’s operations (and even that of many wholesalers and retailers). A product’s packaging is often the first thing customers see: and first impressions count. That is why, for example, an entirely new discipline – packaging engineering – has grown over the last several decades and why companies like Starbucks® and Apple® work so hard to have every napkin, cup, box and bag uniformly branded.

Yet despite the obvious commercial and marketing importance of product packaging, many companies fail to protect the intellectual property rights embodied in such packaging – rights which can often be secured under patent, copyright and/or trademark law.

Product packaging is one of those often overlooked areas of intellectual property. Manufacturing clients rightly focus on protecting their products but sometimes forget that consumers usually see their packaging first. Failing to protect such packaging can be a major misstep since competitors often infringe upon both packaging as well as products.

Design Patent

A design patent protects the ornamental design (i.e., the “look and feel”) of an invention. In other words, design patents protect the way an invention (including, potentially, product packaging) looks. When most people think about patents, they think about a “utility patent” – something which protects utilitarian or functional aspects of an invention. But a “design patent” is different – it protects the appearance of an invention. That’s often perfect for packaging. In general, that means that new, useful and non-obvious packaging designs can potentially be protected.

Major companies have been using design patents to protect product packaging for over a century. For example, U.S. D48160 is a design patent issued in 1915 over what we now know as the Coca-Cola® bottle. More recent examples include everything from Chobani’s design patent covering product packaging for yogurt boxes (U.S. D828766S1) and Kraft’s design patent covering a salad dressing bottle (U.S. D659000S1) to Starbucks’ design patents for a coffee cup (U.S. D529762S1) and a coffee cup lid (U.S. D516424).

How should companies decide whether or not to consider seeking design patent rights?


Continue Reading Copyright and patent protection apply to product packaging, too

7041862895_6192f3c764_zLast spring, we discussed Tesla’s problems securing trademark rights in its name in China. See our post here. The moral of the Tesla story was to seek trademark registration in China as early as possible. Now, Apple has lost a trademark battle in China that underscores the importance of the Tesla lesson and gives an additional twist.

Apple’s Battle

In 2002, Apple registered the IPHONE trademark in China for computer hardware and software and mobile telephones. In 2007, Xintong Tiandi, a leather goods maker, sought and obtained registration of the IPHONE trademark for leather goods, including phone cases. Apple, claiming that its IPHONE mark was famous and well known in China, challenged Xintong Tiandi’s IPHONE registration in the China Trade Mark Review and Adjudication Board, where it lost. Apple then took the fight to the courts in China and lost in the lower court. Apple appealed and The Beijing Municipal High People’s Court has ruled against Apple again, stating that Xintong Tiandi registered the IPHONE mark before Apple, thus giving it superior rights, and Apple’s IPHONE trademark was not sufficiently well known in China at the time Xintong Tiandi registered IPHONE for leather goods. As the first user of the mark, Xintong Tiandi had the greatest rights and Apple’s claims failed.


Continue Reading Learn from Apple’s Woes in China: Register Early and Often