The FCC late yesterday released an Order setting the amount of FY2017 Annual Regulatory fees, along with a public notice setting September 26 as the deadline for those fees. Reg fees may be paid now through September 26. If not paid by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on that date, penalties of 25% will be assessed. In addition, applications by any licensee that has not paid its fees may be held by the Commission without action until the fees are paid, and can even end up resulting in a license cancellation in cases where the failure is a long-term unresolved issue.

The public notice also makes clear that fees can only be paid by electronic transfer of funds. Checks and money orders will not be accepted. Only payments by credit cards or electronic transfer of funds will be allowed. Credit cards can only be used for payments up to $24,999.99 by any entity. Only commercial stations need to pay these fees. A fact sheet for Media Services is available here and contains more details on the fees and procedures for payments by broadcasters. But the amounts of the fees for various classes of broadcasters were set by the FCC’s Order also released yesterday.
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It’s the holiday season, and many of us are turning our thoughts to celebrating with friends and family. It is also high season for shopping, which means the airwaves, social media, websites and print pages are full of opportunities to buy, sell, and advertise. Whether you consider that to be a feature or a bug,

With Election Day finally upon us, we wait in anticipation (and with a fair amount of nail biting) as the fate of our country is decided. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some trademark fun, looking at how law and trademarks can collide. But first, a reminder — don’t forget to dial into our upcoming Trademark Basics webinar, Tuesday, November 15th at 1pm Eastern Time for a live overview of the many issues we have discussed in the last few weeks. Register here today!

And now, back to the law. Even seasoned politicians can get into trademark trouble when crafting their campaign branding strategies. We’ve summarized three somewhat amusing cases below as an Election Day stress reliever!

  • One Quacky Dispute. Tim Hagan, a former candidate for the for governor of Ohio, ran a campaign against incumbent Governor Robert Taft riffing off of the famed “AFLAC DUCK” commercials, in which a white duck repeatedly quacks the AFLAC insurance company’s name in a distinctive, nasal tone. Hagan’s internet commercials included a crudely animated character made up of Governor Taft’s head sitting on the body of a white cartoon duck, with the duck quacking “TaftQuack” several times during each commercial. Hagan broadcast these commercials on his website, www.taftquack.com. The insurance company thought it was no quacking matter and filed a lawsuit in an Ohio district court. The court ultimately determined that the use of this character or the AFLAC marks did not constitute trademark infringement because the ads constituted core political speech warranting First Amendment protection.


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Over the last few weeks, we’ve offered insights about how you can stay out of legal hot water by establishing good practices with regard to your company’s trademark portfolio (see Part 5 of our Trade Basics series here, which contains links at the end to the other parts of the series). Unfortunately, not all companies have followed such wisdom. With Halloween just around the corner, we thought you might appreciate some Tips and Tales from the Trademark Crypt!

To help you avoid becoming another trademark horror story, don’t forget to dial into our upcoming Trademark Basics webinar, November 15th at 1pm Eastern Time for a live overview of the many issues we have discussed in the last few weeks. Register here today!

  • Searching Proposed Descriptive Marks. We have previously discussed how descriptive marks may become protectable as trademarks if they acquire what is known as “secondary meaning.” Just because a mark is descriptive doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t conduct a trademark search. In 1984, the manufacturer of GATORADE® beverages decided to use the slogan “Gatorade is Thirst Aid.” Its in-house counsel concluded that “Thirst Aid” was merely descriptive and therefore did not run a search before approving the slogan. A search would have revealed that the mark THIRST-AID® had been in use since 1921 and had been registered since 1950 in connection with soft drink products. The owner of the THIRST-AID® mark filed a trademark infringement claim and ultimately was awarded in excess of $10,000,000 in damages.
  • Running Down All Potential Impediments. Due diligence means more than running a trademark search. It means taking appropriate action to run down possible impediments before proceeding. In one case, a company named “Big O” used the marks “Big O Big Foot 60” and “Big O Big Foot 70” for tires, but its application to register BIG FOOT as a trademark was denied. Subsequently, Goodyear began using BIG FOOT for snowmobile tracks and, later, for tires. It ran a trademark search and concluded that there were no conflicting marks. It is not clear, but, most likely, the person who reviewed the search saw Big O’s abandoned application, but may not have tried to determine whether the mark was still in use. (It should be noted, however, that in 1974, the ability to locate marks that were in use, but were not registered, was far more limited than today.) In any event, a jury awarded Big O $2.8 million in damages (which was reduced to $678,302 on appeal) and $16.8 million in punitive damages (which was reduced to approximately $4.1 million on appeal).
  • Running Down All Potential Impediments – Part 2. Many companies translate their marks into Spanish for purposes of marketing to the Hispanic community. Even with a well-established trademark, a search should be conducted for the translated mark. Several months ago, a trademark infringement action was filed against Kentucky Fried Chicken for using “Para chuparse los dedos” on the basis that it is the Spanish-language translation of “Finger Lickin’ Good.” The plaintiff owns a restaurant in Southern California and has a registration for a logo that contains the identical phrase, “Para Chuparse Los Dedos,” which it says translates to “To Lick Your Fingers” in English. (We offer no comment on the possible outcome of this litigation, but mention it to illustrate the need for a thorough and competent trademark search before using almost any new mark.)
  • Clearing Advertising Copy. Famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer has reportedly been involved with at least 100 legal actions over his famous catchphrase LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE® and claims to have never lost a case. Unfortunately, many radio stations and other media outlets have used the phrase without authorization (presumably without first consulting counsel), with many not aware that the catchphrase is legally protected, and have ended up on the receiving end of a cease and desist letter from Buffer’s attorney. At least one station was brought to court and was held liable for $175,000 worth of damages, while other awards have ranged from four to six figures.


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Last week, we discussed the benefits of federally registering your trademarks.  But having a few federal registrations under your belt doesn’t mean your task of building a valuable trademark portfolio is complete.  There are several additional steps you can take to make sure you are managing your trademarks wisely and getting the most value from them.

As we discussed last week, federal registration gives you many benefits and it is the most cost-effective way to protect your brand.  Once you have those registrations in hand, however, it is important to periodically take stock in what you own and what you are (or are no longer) using.  This can help you identify (1) new brands that can be exploited, potentially opening up new lines of licensing revenue, (2) vulnerabilities in your current trademark practices that could expose you to the risk of litigation, and (3) cost savings by identifying marks that are no longer in use and discontinuing their maintenance and enforcement.  Proactively maintaining your trademark portfolio can also help you avoid surprises.  Imagine discovering that an important trademark registration has lapsed only through the due diligence being conducted by a potential buyer of your station or station group.  Not only is that an embarrassing position to be in, but it could compromise your valuation and your negotiating power.
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In last week’s Part Two of our series on Trademark Basics, we discussed the benefits of conducting a clearance search to try to ensure that the mark you are considering adopting doesn’t infringe on the rights of anyone else. Say the results of your clearance search have come back clean and, according to your trusted legal advisor, you should be able to use your trademark without worrying about being slapped with a demand letter. Why not just use your mark and save yourself the time and money it takes to obtain a federal registration?

Quite simply, federal registration gives you many valuable benefits at an extremely low cost (the filing fee for a trademark application can be as low as $225), and it is the most cost effective way to protect your brand. Here are the top nine reasons you should take the next step and file a trademark application with the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), along with a quick overview of the registration process. For those of you that have been following our five part series on Trademark Basics, we will divulge the 10th reason for seeking federal registration in our upcoming trademark webinar, the date for which we will be announcing soon.
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In last week’s article beginning this series on Trademark Basics, we gave an overview of trademark basics and discussed why building up a strong trademark portfolio should be an important part of any media company’s overall business strategy.  This week, we will discuss why identifying marks that you may use must be a key feature of your branding strategy.  The reason is simple – you don’t want to invest thousands of dollars in a mark – building websites and social media campaigns around it, promoting it on air, creating bumper stickers, calendars, t-shirts, and other swag – only to get slapped with a demand letter from someone claiming that it owns the rights to that mark.  That user can potentially force you to cease using the mark on air and online, destroy all physical materials that use the mark, and pay damages for your infringing use of the mark.  This development could blow a station’s marketing budget in the blink of an eye.  Thankfully, this scenario is avoidable by doing some advance sleuthing before committing to a mark.  So, what steps can you take to stay out of legal hot water?

There is a common misconception that, once you register a trademark at the federal level, you are “protected” against any claims of infringement.  As a result, many companies skip the sleuthing and simply file a federal trademark application when they adopt a new mark.  This is a very dangerous practice that could potentially cost you in the end because the application might be rejected by the Trademark Office or opposed by someone with prior rights in the mark.  Indeed, even if a mark is federally registered, someone with prior rights has five years in which to challenge your use or registration of the mark.  In order to minimize these possibilities, it is critical that, before you settle on a new mark, you conduct a trademark search.  Running a search will allow you to see what, if any, other parties may have rights in marks identical or similar to your proposed mark.  What does this entail, exactly?
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In today’s digital economy, trademarks are often the most valuable assets that a business owns.  For example, in 2015, Google’s trademark portfolio was estimated to be worth $76 billion, which constituted almost one third of the entire value of the company.  Microsoft clocked in at $67 billion, with Verizon close behind at almost $60 billion.  While you may not hit 11-digit figures like these intellectual property behemoths, a smart trademark strategy can put you on the right course.  This blog is the first of a five-part series that will help you understand trademarks and how they function, so that you can maximize the value of your own trademark portfolio.  We’ll run the other four articles on the next four Tuesdays (“Trademark Tuesday”) and plan to offer a free webinar covering trademark basics at the end.  So keep reading!

So, what is a trademark?  A trademark identifies products or services as coming from a particular source.  Although a trademark is usually a word, a phrase or a design, it can also consist of or incorporate features such as color, smell, taste, shape (product configuration), touch, motion and sound.  But not all trademarks are created equal.  A strong mark can preclude the use by others of somewhat similar marks for goods and services that may not be directly competitive.  In contrast, a weak mark may only be entitled to protection against the use of an identical mark for the same goods and services.  How do select a trademark that will most effectively help you build your brand?
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Right as everyone was set to enjoy the last glimmer of summer over the long weekend, the FCC issued its Report and Order on the regulatory fees for 2016.  The FCC adopted all the fees for broadcast stations as proposed in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (about which we wrote about here) with some

A few weeks ago, we wrote here about the risks of using in advertising and promotions the Olympic trademarks, symbols or marks that may suggest an association with the Olympic Games.  The Olympic Committee recently demonstrated just how serious it is about its marks, sending a letter to non-Olympic sponsor companies, warning them  that they “may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” and may not  use the “USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA” (presumably to protect the investments of Olympic sponsors).  According to ESPN, which obtained a copy of the letter, it goes on to say that a “company whose primary mission is not media-related cannot reference any Olympic results, cannot share or repost anything from the official Olympic account and cannot use any pictures taken at the Olympics.”  Apparel company Oiselle tested the waters earlier this month by posting a photo of athlete Kate Grace after winning the 800 meters at the trials, and was promptly contacted by USOC with a request to remove the pictures (the company opted to leave the pictures up but blurred any Olympic imagery).  So while media companies have some wiggle room to cover the news from Rio, non-media companies are essentially on an Olympic-sized lockdown.

This restrictive stance did not go unnoticed by comedian Stephen Colbert, who earlier this week took the Olympic Committee to the mat with a biting parody that pokes fun at the Committee’s militant protection of its trademarks.  Colbert’s routine, available here, cleverly turns the Olympic rings into five interlocking CBS symbols and introduces the show’s new summer sponsor, MUSA TEA.  After explaining that the tea is brewed “from the freshest mint in Morocco’s Musa mountains,” he encourages fans to share with family and friends by using the hashtag #TEAMUSA.
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