At the heart of every issue in intellectual property is the question of legal protection. It’s one thing for you to say you own an idea. It’s quite another for the law to back you up. Without legal support, your idea is a matter of pride. With the right support, it may become a defensible source of income.
As a result, intellectual property owners should always be concerned about how well they can defend their ideas. How strong are their legal protections? What can they do to shore them up? What kind of challenges can people bring against them? How well will their ideas hold up in court?
Goats on a grass roof
Several of these questions were recently brought forward by a strange dispute between a Wisconsin restaurant owner and a New York lawyer. As Bloomberg Law noted, the case had centered on the restaurant’s memorable trade dress, which consisted of a small herd of goats on a grass roof. Fighting what he viewed as offensive treatment, the lawyer had sued to get the goats off the building.
In an earlier blog post, we looked at how the lawsuit highlighted the basics of trade dress. But the restaurant owner’s victory carries some important lessons—and not just about goats:
- To get the goats off the roof, the New York lawyer had tried to cancel the restaurant’s trade dress registration. But the circuit court upheld the dismissal of his petition. It pointed out that the lawyer didn’t have the standing to raise the issue. To have standing, plaintiffs must show they have a stake in the case. Since the lawyer couldn’t show how the goats had damaged him, he had no stake—and no standing.
- The lawyer had tried to argue that the restaurant’s trade dress harmed him because it was “demeaning” to the goats. But the circuit court found that the argument had no merit in the wake of a 2017 Supreme Court opinion. The circuit court wrote that the case of Matal v. Tam “held unconstitutional the prohibition on the registration of disparaging marks under the Lanham Act.”
- Finally, the court held the lawyer responsible for the restaurant’s legal fees, even though the lawyer had appeared on his own behalf.
Together, these lessons highlight the resilience of registered trade dress, plus the importance of hiring a lawyer that knows what he or she is doing.
Good IP guidance can protect your bottom line
When you’re looking to register or enforce your intellectual property, good advice is essential. Bad advice could cost you a case and weaken your business. You could get stuck with your opponent’s legal fees, as well.