Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down Ridiculously Overbroad Trademark Law

from the getting-it-right dept

Ima Fish writes “The Supreme Court in Pennsylvania struck down a state trademark law (pdf) which essentially criminalized any use of a trademark without permission of the trademark holder. There were no exceptions at all, including free speech rights.

The Opinion noted “that the use of the word ‘Nike’ on a sign at a protest rally, such as ‘Nike uses sweatshop labor’ would fall within the reach of the Trademark Counterfeiting Statute because the activity would involve the unauthorized use of a word or term used by another to identify goods or services.”

The Court went farther and stated, “Taken to the extreme, even our use of the words ‘Nike’ and ‘Penn State’ in this opinion without the permission of the company or the university would fall under the current definition of a counterfeit mark. Clearly, the statute prohibits a substantial amount of protected speech.”

It’s nice to see courts get it right every so often. I wish it happened more.

There was also a concurring opinion and two separate dissenting opinions (all pdfs, of course). Definitely great to see the court get this right, but it makes you wonder what legislators were thinking when they put such a law in place.

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Comments on “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down Ridiculously Overbroad Trademark Law”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Legislator don’t think, there is no provision in the constitution of any country that I know of that hint at thinking at any level.

For the most part I just think that governments today react, but thinking is long gone.

There is little accountability or ways to measure anything and even when it is measured legislator often ignore their own findings in favor of some self interest.

Anonymous1 says:

@Ima Fish: LOL.

You know the decision is correct when they can’t even muster
a good dissenting opinion. If you read the link,
it’s something to the effect of “I actually totally agree
with you on the facts here, I just disagree with your inconsistent logic you used between this case and another”.
In other words the dissenting justice was actually engaged
in school yard tactics,IMO, than a true dissent, which is awesome all on its own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is fairly common for judges to dissent when agreeing with the end result. The only reason for such dissents is that the dissenting judges typically believe a different law should have been applied or should also have been applied. Sometimes the dissent matters since other judges may use the dissent in future rulings. In any case, the end result remains the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually you’re right. Good point.

Basically a judge who agrees with the ruling may dissent with regards to the reason. They may believe the court may the correct decision but for the wrong reasons.

Now you may be asking yourself why is this important? It is important because if the judge dissents in this manner they maybe trying to help specify in what circumstances, for what reasons, the current ruling should apply. This could affect how a law is applied in the future and in what circumstances.

For instance say judge A says a contract clause is not enforceable because a law makes it unenforceable. Say judge B says the same clause is not enforceable because of a misspelling in the clause. Both judges agree that the clause is not enforceable. But both judges dissent on the reason. There is a huge difference here and one can see how this can easily affect future cases.

Anonymous Coward says:

“a state trademark law (pdf) which essentially criminalized any use of a trademark without permission of the trademark holder. There were no exceptions at all, including free speech rights.”

Just goes to show the mentality of intellectual property maximists and their true motives. Their motives have nothing to do with helping society and everything to do with controlling others.

adele pace (user link) says:

trade marks and free speech

The Garrity case is bordering on ludicrous especially the following finding “Although our focus is upon the criminalization of political speech, the trial court observed that the statute would also criminalize children painting “Penn State” on their tree house, football fans painting “Penn State” on their faces, a gardener spelling out “Penn
State” with flowers, and concert promoters printing t-shirts with Penn State to denote the location of a concert”

Use of a trademark, to denote origin, isn’t trade mark use, despite the analysis of the wording of the Statute and the dissenting opinions. To say otherwise violates the entire concept of common law trade mark. But we are drifting further away from it.

D.Koss Uber (profile) says:

Trademark ruling

If corporations get their way we would have to speak in code to criticize companies while exercising our right to free speech. This has some relevance to a current WIPO case.

Glenn Beck is trying to shut down a web site that’s named GlennBeckRapeandMurderaYoungGirlin1990 dot com because he says his name is trademarked and the site infringes upon it. Apparently his name is not trademarked, thank God, because I used it here and would be infringing on his mark.

It is amazing that Glenn Beck thinks he can get on TV and exercise his right to free speech and stop anyone uttering his name in opposition. I think I’ll go trademark the word ‘THE’ so anyone using the word ‘THE’ will be infringing on my mark.

I will be printing out this page and making some Xerox’s, opps, some photocopies.

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