Remembering The Tragedy At Chicago Law Office Wood, Phillips, Katz, Clark & Mortimer

Sometimes people forget that lawyers are just trying to make a living the best way they can — and that they are just people too! A senseless tragedy in 2006 reminds us of the constant threats that most publicized attorneys must endure on a routine basis. The worst part? The murders may have been committed after a truck driver tried to request a truck toilet patent. 

Any death in Chicago that is wrong receives media attention. But the killing of two patent attorneys and the mailroom clerk was a media sensation due to the harrowing nature of the story. After truck driver Joe Jackson was told that a patent for his proposed truck toilet idea had already been patented by someone else, he came to believe that one of the attorneys at the Wood, Phillips, Katz, Clark & Mortimer law offices took his money to deliver his requested patent to someone else. 

When Jackson tried to uncover more information, his calls were reportedly ignored and he was turned away by the office’s personnel. But he wasn’t done. He came back with a gun, knife, and hammer, and pointed his pistol at a security guard upon reentry. He forced the guard to escort him to the 38th floor, where patent attorney Michael McKenna worked — a man who didn’t even work for the firm. Jackson chained the doors to the office on that floor.

Jackson then shot McKenna, another patent attorney named Allen Hoover (also managing partner for the firm), and mail sorter Paul Goodson. The three men succumbed to their injuries. A paralegal was also shot in the foot, but she survived. Swat officers managed to shoot Jackson from outside the building after the man took hostages. 

Reverend C.L. Sparks had originally urged Jackson to seek legal counsel in order to protect his idea, advice which the man took faithfully. But after several years dealing with McKenna — and $25,000, part of which was provided for a retainer to protect the patent — McKenna told Jackson the idea had already been taken. It isn’t quite clear how or why Jackson decided that McKenna had taken advantage of him, nor is it clear if there was any truth in the allegations. 

Jackson’s son Darrin said that he believes his dad “just snapped.” He added, “I believe he was just frustrated.”

His niece Brenda said that Jackson believed his invention would change his life for the better: “He went to them, he trusted them. He said, ‘This is gonna pay off big.’”

According to authorities, Jackson didn’t even know who his victim, McKenna, actually was. The paralegal who was shot had been ordered to point him out so he could have his vengeance.

Firm managing partner John S. Mortimer said that the attack was “brutal and senseless,” and allowed staff to stay home the following Monday or gather to memorialize the dead. They were also provided with grief counseling.

 

Disney Could Lose Movie Rights After Lawsuit Defeat

The original writers of the 1987 horror-chase film Predator — a cult favorite starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — want the rights to the film back, and they’re suing Disney to win them. The legal battle ahead is expected to be long and arduous, but neither side plans to back down. Before Disney, Fox owned the rights to the movie. But then Fox was purchased by Disney.

Trademark lawyer Daniel Petrocelli and colleagues O’Melveny & Myers LLP filed a ruling that said, “There now exists between parties an actual and justiciable controversy concerning the validity of Notice One and 20th Century’s and defendants’ respective rights.”

Did you catch that?

No, neither did we. But don’t worry, we did the research later. At the time Disney purchased Fox Studios, there was another planned Predator movie in the queue. It never came, because of Section 203(a) of the Copyright Act.

Writers James and John Thomas made a declaratory relief filing in federal court: “In 2016, the Thomas brothers properly availed themselves of their right under Section 203(a) of the Copyright Act to recover the copyright to their literary material by serving and recording with the U.S. Copyright Office within the prescribed statutory window, a notice of termination with an effective termination date of April 17, 2021.”

When the brothers made the filing, they requested a jury trial to sort things out. Disney fought back. The brothers proclaimed: “For four and one-half…years after the Termination Notice was served, Defendants did not object to it in any respect. Then, in early January 2021, Defendants’ counsel unexpectedly contacted Plaintiffs’ counsel, contesting the Termination Notice as supposedly untimely, based on a theory that the 1986 Grant of the Screenplay underlying their Predator films allegedly qualified for the special, delayed termination time ‘window’ in 17 U.S.C. 203(a)(3), intended for ‘book publication’ grants.”

Like Predator? Don’t expect to see another one for many years, or at least while this courtroom debacle is ongoing.

Nintendo Lawsuit Targets Bowser: Yes, You Read That Correctly

A new Nintendo lawsuit seeks to recoup damages after a man named Gary Bowser allegedly violated its copyrights by creating hacks using Nintendo games, and then selling them for profit. Bowser leads the Nintendo Switch Team Xecuter, which is responsible for making these new games using Nintendo’s digital content, and was arrested in autumn of 2020. Nintendo decided the punishment wasn’t harsh enough. The civil case is meant to remedy that. 

Most people know all about media pirating of popular TV shows and movies, but game pirating is a problem for game makers as well. Older systems can be emulated easily, and the data from an individual game can be pulled from a cartridge, compressed, and then uploaded to the Internet as a ROM that anyone can download. Voila! An easy way to play old games. But newer systems can be emulated as well. It’s just not as simple.

And once hackers have a firm hold on this digitized information, they can alter it to make anything they want using the source material. Hackers have even created easy-to-use software programs that anyone can download to toy around with the data. For example, a popular program for the old-school Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) game Final Fantasy VI (originally released as Final Fantasy III in the United States) allows users to alter character and enemy stats, equipment parameters, and even entire tilesets to create an entirely new world.

Needless to say, game developers don’t like it when hackers do this on the assumption it costs them money (although the hackers themselves contend that the increased publicity and new content only makes the original games even more popular and that game makers should get on board). 

Nintendo’s lawsuit would effectively gut all Xecuter operations, while forcing Bowser (the man) to pay a whopping $2,500 for each piece of hacked hardware he sold and an additional $150,000 for each copyright infringement charge. That means there’s no way that Bowser would ever be able to remain financially viable moving forward — bankruptcy is the almost assured outcome. 

Many people pirate video game media to “rent” games freely with the intention of purchasing real copies later — sometimes It’s What We Do to justify illegal activity. But it’s worth noting that Nintendo is a company that hasn’t retained its once-dominant hold on the video gaming industry. Rivals like Sony and Microsoft have gobbled up an even bigger piece of the pie since Nintendo’s Wii U release disaster ( a console no one wanted). This makes software sales very important to Nintendo.

These lawsuits have been growing in force over the last few years, and it’s clear that Nintendo is feeling squeezed by shifting gaming habits regardless of financial viability. For instance, more gamers are turning to smartphone gaming — and Nintendo has yet to really capture a very big audience or release any very popular games to compete with its biggest rivals.

 

Libera Asserts Massive Economic Loss Because Of Online Piracy

It’s hard to argue that online piracy affects the bottom line in the United States — after all, we have the highest GDP in the world (even though China is on track to be our successor, they’re not there yet). But for smaller countries with a fraction of our GDP, online piracy is even more pervasive — and therefore an even bigger problem. Liberia recently asserted that at least $2 million is lost annually through online piracy. 

The Copyright Society of Liberia (COSOL) wants to crack down on these pirates, and has launched an inspection into the scope of the problem with the goal of enforcing piracy laws (which are rarely enforced anywhere). 

COSOL began the hunt on February 17, 2021. The investigations are targeting businesses first to ensure compliance with intellectual property laws as they relate to artistic works like art, music, and TV or movies. COSOL also wants to properly enforce the Hologram Stamps Law, which mandates a majority of content come from Liberia itself. The cap on foreign-made content is currently set at 40 percent.

Clifford B. Robinson is the LIPO Deputy Director-General for Copyright. He said, “Pirate copies of artistic workers threaten artists and authors’ livelihoods by robbing them of their due percentage of profits and royalties. By working in partnership with the National Collective Societies of Liberia, the government is driving anti-piracy efforts through intelligence gatherings, and educations to combat the illegal trade of piracy from further flourishing, while protecting the creative industries.”

Hon. Robertson said, “The dramatic decline in revenues for content creators is the direct result of piracy — and the government is not taking this threat lightly. Piracy put innovation, creativity, and investment at risk much to the detriment of the content creators.”

And the problem has only gotten worse during the months of suspended production due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Do Intellectual Property Laws Get It Wrong On Disability?

IP law affects virtually every facet of life on earth — and while that might sound a wee bit of an exaggeration, we say it for a reason: information technology is becoming increasingly abundant, finding its way into our vehicles, kitchen appliances, even the very clothes we wear everyday. But there’s a glaring problem with IP law: inclusion. We often fail to recognize minority opinions on the legalities we rule upon all the time, and many industry analysts say that’s how we get so much wrong on a routine basis. 

One disability advocates group, IP Ability, is a community under the larger umbrella or IP Inclusive, and supports those who are both disabled and IP prodigies. The stigma of disability remains common in the United States, but IP Ability hopes to diminish that stigma over time by inviting underrepresented folks to join the team and find jobs related to intellectual property.

There’s good news, though. A recent law passed by former president Donald Trump helps reduce the waiting time for certain categories of disabled folks to receive benefits, which could help them jump back into job hunting (if able) faster. It was called the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act.

And The House recently passed the Equality Act, which is a landmark decision for LGBTQ+ rights (although it could still fall well short of the threshold needed to pass in the Senate). 

These implementations make it easier for underrepresented Americans to move on in industries that have made it difficult for them to get jobs. The Council for Disability Awareness is a nonprofit organization that helps the disabled find other means of work when traditional jobs fail them — and one of those alternative tasks includes intellectual property. Some of these jobs include specialists, docketing, client coordinators, managers, legal counselors, software developers, licensers, etc. Many of these positions can be coordinated from home.

Most people are underprepared and don’t realize that disability can happen at any time. Joshua said, “Being in my twenties at the time of the accident, protecting myself from disability was not on my mind.”

Joshua had been working a mechanical job when a 700-pound dumbwaiter fell on him, paralyzing him from the waist down. He said, “You never know from one day to the next what will happen…Protecting yourself from a disability should be on everyone’s mind, regardless of age.”

The CDA provides funds to initiatives aimed at educating the disabled — and the rest of the country about the capabilities of the disabled. The goal is to increase overall public awareness, but also to reduce financial hardship and increase planning ahead in the general population.

It’s not necessarily that IP laws themselves are designed to take advantage of the disabled. It’s that the disabled fall into a category that lawmakers rarely feel obligated to take seriously. That why disabled people have less access to jobs in the industry and reduced earning potential even if they make it through the door.

New Deal Reached Between King Saud University And Saudi Authority For Intellectual Property

A new deal between King Saud University (KSU) and the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) might lead to new research and new legislation relating to intellectual property (IP) after it was co-signed by KSU President Dr. Badran bin Abdulrahman Al-Omar and SAIP head Dr. Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Al-Suwailem. The purpose of the deal is to open up both entities to the routine exchange of IP-related data and should provide a legal blanket for projects authorized by either organization.

The two organizations determined that the Arab world has fallen behind other developed nations, which makes it far more difficult to keep up with the fast pace of technology development. Holding onto trade secrets stolen by everyone else is even harder. The agreement should help the two strengthen existing training in the field while guaranteeing the design of new courses. 

KSU is known for supporting IP rights in Arab states. It also has nearly 1,500 patents of its own, which has resulted in a high ranking for overall number of patents in universities around the world. And it’s certainly the highest ranked university for patents among Arab nations. 

SAIP has around 450 patents as well, all of which should be protected by this agreement.

The agreement could also strengthen other organizations’ hold on their own property in the Arab world. The Arab Society for Intellectual Property (ASIP) is based in Munich, but its leaders understand the benefits of the new deal. And that’s great, since the point of their own organization was to establish an Arab entity in order to keep the IP profession organized. 

ASIP has been running since 1987, and has made strides in advancing IP protections not just in Arab nations but around the world. It also cooperates with international entities and governments around the world in order to do this more successfully.

How Divorce Tends To Sidestep Intellectual Property Laws

A collaborative divorce usually means that a courtroom appearance and judge are to be avoided at all costs. These are separate from uncontested divorces, but generally come with similar consequences because no one’s fighting too hard about who gets which assets (or the kids). And that makes them somewhat unique — because in both types of divorce proceedings, the assets most often overlooked are intellectual in nature.

And that’s exactly how a collaborative divorce or uncontested divorce often sidestep intellectual property laws — no one thinks to enforce them because few people realize they apply. There is too little attorney oversight in cases that occur so quickly. But IP law is still relevant, and divorcing parties should know more about what happens to their IP when they split apart.

First, you need to figure out who owns what. The question to ask is obvious: whose idea was this? But the more important information is how the law views ownership. Who patented, trademarked, or copyrighted the idea? And is that relevant? 

Beverly Hills divorce attorney Emily E. Rubenstein said, “Since our practice is in Los Angeles, we often deal with issues of intellectual property, for example music and film rights. Intellectual property assets tend to be overlooked. Sometimes parties will overlook assets which are held abroad, thinking a U.S. court does not have jurisdiction over such assets.”

But that’s not necessarily the case.

In addition to “who owns it,” you need information about the value of assets, documentation of purchase (if there was a purchase), when and where, etc. Whether or not the asset was purchased using funds in a joint bank account will also interest attorneys on both sides. They’ll want to know if that could factor into who should own it moving forward. 

Keep in mind that community assets aren’t always defined so simply. Tangibility often has nothing to do with what belongs to someone (which is why IP can be overlooked), even though everyone thinks you can only divide that which can be seen. But equity is different from equality, and divorce is about equity. That’s why one person’s divorce might result in financial assets being split down the middle, while another person’s could result in a lopsided split. 

Time and effort are included as intangible assets. Divorcing couples are legally required to disclose information related to the aforementioned IP, copyrights, patents, etc. Although the attorneys will want to look at who created or owns these intangible assets, that doesn’t necessarily mean the creator will keep 100 percent of the IP. They can be divided too.

And therein lies the problem.

According to Judy Burger, “That property’s value can be a problem. A work of art or invention may not be profitable at the time of divorce but could generate future income. Determining whether an ex-spouse receives any future profits from intellectual property is a complicated issue.”

Divorces that result in a split without the division of IP assets are often “reopened” later when one party or the other decides to sue for these future assets.

Could An Intellectual Property Rules Waiver Save People From COVID?

Hundreds of progressive think tanks have requested that President Joe Biden waive the World Trade Organization (WTO) Intellectual property (IP) rules and regulations. Waiving these rules would likely kickstart the production of test kits, treatment regimens, and vaccines. Johnson & Johnson recently provided us with a third highly effective vaccine, but thousands are still dying. These think tanks believe that hundreds of thousands could be saved by waiving the rule.

Right now, the IP rules provide Big Pharma with relative exclusivity in determining how to manufacture and disseminate testing kits and vaccines, which could result in more lives lost.

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) said, “As a global community, we must come together and use every tool at our disposal to stop this pandemic. Unfortunately, we have seen intellectual property rules and corporate greed have disastrous impacts for public health during past epidemics, and we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

There’s a wide disparity between what Big Pharma is allowed to do and what the taxpayers want them to do — which matters more because of how much money the taxpayers give them despite their control over the system they’ve gamed for decades to their own advantage.

Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) gives Big Pharma control over the information tech used to develop medicine.

Senior policy analyst at Health GAP and professor of law for Northeastern University, Brook baker believes that easing these burdens will save lives. She said, “As an expert in intellectual property law and access to life-saving medicines, I can assure the Biden administration that intellectual property barriers are real, and they’re blocking millions of people around the world from accessing life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. By obstructing the TRIPS waiver proposal, President Biden is breaking his promise to share COVID-19 vaccine technologies with the world.”

Biden recently committed to sharing vaccine technology with the world — which is why some people are urging him to uphold his promises to do the right thing.

The Impacts Of Driverless Vehicles On Intellectual Property Law

Industry analysts (in this case: lawyers) believe that there will be an influx of new intellectual property lawsuits in the automotive industry due to new technologies surrounding driverless vehicles. The reason is simple enough. Auto manufacturers aren’t the only ones trying to conceive and adapt these technologies. Ten years ago, that might have been the case. Now you have behemoths like Apple, Google, Microsoft (and basically every other tech giant) in on the game.

Although traditional car manufacturers don’t often sue one another over IP (because they’ve seen the can of worms that can open easily enough from what’s happened in big tech), the introduction of, well, big tech, into their arena could increase the burden on everyone. New legislation is very much needed to figure out what to do about IP relating to automated vehicles in and outside of traditional car manufacturers.

And where have driverless vehicles been tested the most? In that United States, that would be in sunny states like California and Nevada. Basically, wherever the weather cooperates on a nearly daily basis. Socal injury lawyers might have trouble attracting clients who’ve actually been injured if their strategies and the laws underlying them don’t change soon. Driverless vehicles will likely reduce the accident rate by an order of magnitude.

But the good news is that the flood of legislation is coming soon.

Even if lawmakers weren’t interested (they are), there has been an endless stream of new patents for underlying technologies for driverless vehicles. For now, there are plenty of issues relating to technology or IP that need to be sorted out first. These include:

  • A definitive answer to who is liable when an accident occurs due to collision avoidance technologies already on the market. You’ve already seen these technologies in the vehicles you rent or own: blind spot detection, lane control, automatic braking, etc.
  • Determining who controls intellectual properties like automatic parking, automotive engine control circuits, LIDAR, WiFi, etc.
  • Lawmakers should take note of how AI works to pair with machine learning without much human involvement. How will cybersecurity concerns be addressed? We’ve all seen those very imaginative movies by now…

The market for driverless vehicles will likely exceed $42 billion by the year 2025. That’s a hefty sum, and everyone wants their fair share of the pie. 

But there’s good news, too. Our predictions could be completely wrong! Many car manufacturers and tech companies acknowledge the benefits of collaboration to get their vehicles on the market sooner. They realize that the growth of this market will explode, and it’s more money in everyone’s pockets. And they technically don’t have any choice but to collaborate. Where can they find the bright minds capable of tackling the type of algorithms necessary to make this technology a reality? Silicon Valley. And who owns Silicon Valley? …Big tech. 

There have been several high-profile collaborations already, including Google’s agreement with Chrysler to help produce minivans or Ford’s investment in a San Francisco-based company called Pivotal to develop software. These types of arrangements will only become more common as time goes on.

Intellectual Property Lawsuits No One Saw Coming

To say that intellectual property is a difficult concept for people to wrap their heads around is an understatement. Technically, you can’t trademark or patent an “idea.” You can only trademark something tangible. But what does that mean in reference to IP? You could trademark a company name or logo because those fall under IP law. You could trademark an underlying technology. Anyway, the point is that these weird rules have led to some amusing lawsuits. Here are a few you might enjoy hearing about.

The Hershey company sued a number of marijuana dispensaries in Washington and Colorado directly after pot was legalized in those states because the dispensaries were allegedly selling knockoffs with names like “Reefers Peanut Butter Cups.” Hershey didn’t find this nearly as amusing as we do. Sadly, Hershey won the trademark case.

Know who Anna Short Harrington was? Don’t worry — no one does. But one of her descendants has sued Quaker Oats and PepsiCo for a whopping $2 billion. The descendant alleges that Quaker Oats and PepsiCo didn’t properly pay Harrington for using her likeness on Aunt Jemima bottles. The lawsuit questioned Harrington’s legal status as an employee or contractor. The Minnesota judge threw out the case.

You’ll remember that we mentioned in a previous post a court ruling that allows IPR proceedings for those who would like to challenge a patent. Basically, these go directly through the Patent Office, and have become the easiest way to mount a challenge. But bigger companies — like Big Pharma, for example — never expected to be challenged in quite this way. That’s because it’s pretty much just a money grab for the challenger.

But how does that make anyone money? If you answered the stock market, you hit that nail on the head. The challenger would either buy or sell shares of stock depending on whether the IPR would likely harm or help a particular company. Instant money. And really shady.