Labels Matter: Consumer Class Actions are Available for Organic Labeling Violations

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The California Supreme Court has affirmed that “labels matter” to both buyers and sellers of consumer products. “They serve as markers for a host of tangible and intangible qualities consumers may come to associate with a particular source or method of production.” California protects consumers from mislabeling through a number of laws, including possible class action lawsuits under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Civil Code §§ 1750 et seq.), unfair competition laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq.) and false advertising laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17500 et seq.)

Aside from California’s general false labeling laws, there are specific laws and regulations regarding organic product labeling. The California Organic Products Act (COPA), generally requires that multi-ingredient cosmetics labeled or sold as organic contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. But COPA is designed to work in concert with Federal regulations that direct baseline standards for production, labeling and sale of organic products. The California Supreme Court recently addressed whether the Federal regulations of organic products in some manner preempt or supersede California’s consumer protection laws, so that only the very limited Federal remedies can be pursued when there are alleged violations of organic labeling laws.

In Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., the California Supreme Court determined that California’s general laws prohibiting labeling misrepresentation do not conflict with the Federal laws concerning organic production, labeling and sale, but rather complement those Federal laws by allowing additional remedies to be pursued when those laws are broken by fraudulent organic product labeling. The Supreme Court observed that “permitting state consumer fraud actions would advance, not impair” the goals of providing “a level playing field” to manufacturers of organic products and “enhance consumer confidence in meaningful labels and reduce the distribution network’s reluctance to carry organic products.” From this perspective, where products are fraudulently mislabeled as organic, “the prosecution of such fraud, whether by public prosecutors where resources and state laws permit, or through civil suits by individuals or groups of consumers, can only serve to deter mislabeling and enhance consumer confidence.”

The result for manufacturers, distributors and resellers is that organic product labeling can create concerns at multiple levels, including federal and state regulatory liability, and class actions under strong state consumer protection laws. All those involved in the chain of manufacturing and distribution of products labeled as organic should consult with experienced counsel to protect themselves from potential adverse outcomes that can come from several directions. Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are well versed in helping their clients proactively avoid and resolve such problems.

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CK&E to Present on Emerging Legal Issues at PCPC Emerging Issues Conference

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys John Conkle and Kim Sim will once address current legal trends and developments in the cosmetic and personal care products industry at the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC)’s Emerging Issues Conference on November 18, 2015 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Rey, California.

John and Kim will present on “Emerging Legal Issues in the Cosmetic and Personal Care Products Industry.”  The topics to be discussed include recent developments involving enforcement of prohibitions on container slack fill, trends in lawsuits and agency action concerning advertising, an update on the California Air Resources Board’s ongoing Consumer and Commercial Products Survey, as well as a discussion about protecting companies from counterfeiting and cybersquatting in the digital age.

CK&E’s presentation from last year’s Emerging Issues Conference can be found here.

The annual event by the PCPC – the leading national trade association for the cosmetic and personal care products industry – is a must-attend for beauty companies across the country, with its unique focus on the many challenges that are on the horizon for the beauty industry.

This year’s agenda will also include updates from the PCPC on key issues for the industry and from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control on the California Safer Consumer Products and Workplaces regulations, as well as presentations on emerging issues in the Americas, safety standards for cosmetics, current and future challenges for Proposition 65.  In addition, Deputy Attorney General Robert Sumner is slated to speak at the conference.

CK&E is pleased to once again participate in this annual event and to offer its experience and insight into legal issues affecting the industry to the PCPC and its members.

 

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The Conkle Firm to Present on Emerging Legal Trends in Personal Care Products Industry

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On November 19, 2014, Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys John Conkle and Kim Sim will speak on emerging legal trends in the cosmetic and personal care products industry at the Emerging Issues Conference in Santa Monica, California.  Their topics will include recent developments concerning hazardous waste regulation, trends in advertising and class action litigation affecting the personal care products industry, and an update on California’s regulation of volatile organic compounds in consumer products.

The Emerging Issues Conference is an annual presentation by the Personal Care Products Council.  The PCPC is the leading national trade association for the cosmetic and personal care products industry and represents the most innovative names in beauty today.  For more than 600 member companies, the PCPC is the voice on scientific, legal, regulatory, legislative and international issues for the personal care product industry. The PCPC is a leading and trusted source of information for and about the industry and a vocal advocate for consumer safety and continued access to new, innovative products.

Please join CK&E at the conference to hear important information on the latest legal trends affecting the industry.

 

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Timed Out vs Youabian: The Conkle Firm Establishes that the Right of Publicity is an Assignable Property Right

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It is virtually impossible to get through a day without seeing the “right of publicity” in action.  Everywhere, there are advertisements featuring photographs of professional models and celebrities of every variety published to sell all types of products and services.  It is strange, then, that no statute or case precedent in California specifically established that models and celebrities have the ability to assign or license those publicity rights for proper use and for enforcement if their likenesses are misused.  Until now.

On September 12, 2014, the California Court of Appeal agreed with the arguments of Eric Engel of the Conkle Firm (working with co-counsel at Hall & Lim), and established the first published precedent in California that explicitly holds that the right of publicity is assignable.  In Timed Out, LLC v. Youabian, Inc., Case No. B242820, the Second District Court of Appeal finally settled a long-simmering dispute that had confused many lower courts:  Whether the right of publicity is a “personal right” that can only be exercised during lifetime by the individual owner, or whether the right of publicity is a form of intellectual property that can be freely assigned and licensed to others for use and enforcement.

The dispute had its origin many years ago, when an influential tort law treatise by famed Professor Prosser observed that the right of publicity historically derived from the “right of privacy.”  The classic form of the “right of privacy” is protection against hurt feelings and injury to personal reputation that can occur when personal information about a private individual is published without her consent.  That type of injury is considered personal in nature and cannot generally be assigned.  But, as the Timed Out decision observed, the right of publicity has evolved away from its origin into a distinctly commercial and non-personal interest.

The right of publicity is now virtually the opposite of the original right of privacy:  The right of publicity is the ability of a person to control the commercial value of the use of her image and information.  Timed Out recognizes that a person’s likeness, voice, signature or other identifying characteristics can have substantial commercial value, regardless of whether the person is a celebrity and regardless of whether the commercial value of the identified person’s “persona” is created by happenstance or by investment of great time and effort.  Timed Out finally establishes that the value created is a form of property, freely assignable by the person who owns it.

The Court of Appeal also resolved a separate important issue that is frequently in dispute in right of publicity actions:  Whether federal copyright law subsumes and preempts right of publicity claims.  Timed Out v. Youabian established that the right of publicity is distinct from copyright interests in a photograph or image, and that right of publicity claims generally are not preempted by federal copyright laws.

The effect of Timed Out LLC v. Youabian, Inc. for models, celebrities, manufacturers, advertisers and resellers is to finally establish that the right of publicity can be licensed and assigned to third parties, and enforced by third parties such as Timed Out, and that such rights are independent of federal copyright interests.  That means models and celebrities no longer have to make the difficult decision whether it is worth their time, expense and effort to pursue claims when their publicity rights are violated – they can assign the affected publicity rights to agencies such as Timed Out to pursue the claims.  Manufacturers, advertisers and resellers will no longer waste effort and time attempting to determine whether the publicity rights were assignable.  They can and should instead focus on establishing whether they had the necessary rights to use the image, photograph, likeness, voice or other identifying characteristic of the “persona” of the model or celebrity.  This puts a premium on making sure that any “model releases” obtained prior to advertising are well-written and appropriate for each particular use of the model or celebrity’s photograph, image, likeness or other identifying features.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel counsels and helps clients avoid these kinds of issues with effective model releases, licenses and assignments.  Timed Out v. Youabian demonstrates that CK&E is also at the forefront of enforcing the right of publicity when model and celebrity rights are violated.

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Nagoya Protocol: Response to Biopiracy Becomes Effective October 2014

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The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization became effective on July 14, 2014, with its 50th ratification.  The Nagoya Protocol will begin to have a direct impact on the personal care and cosmetics industry on October 12, 2014.

With the increased consumer demand for natural and organic products, a growing number of companies in the beauty industry are drawing on biodiversity for its rich variety of native ingredients and as a way to differentiate their products.  The use of exotic ingredients sourced from countries rich in biodiversity means that companies need to be aware of the Nagoya Protocol and the country-specific “Access and Benefit Sharing” laws and regulations that exist and are being enacted.  The use of indigenous ingredients in hair care, skincare and cosmetics formulations – such as baobab oil extracted from the fruits of the baobab trees found across Africa or katafray bark extract from the katafray trees of Madagascar – may be a violation of the Nagoya Protocol if Access and Benefit Sharing requirements are not met.

The Nagoya Protocol is an international treaty focused on Access and Benefit-Sharing, which was adopted in 2010 by the United Nations’ Nagoya, Japan Convention on Biological Diversity.  The Nagoya Protocol arose from the interest of national governments to conserve and promote sustainable use of their countries’ biodiversity and protect against commercial biopiracy.  The purpose of the Nagoya Protocol is to support fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

Generally, the Nagoya Protocol requires that access to a participating country’s genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge be subject to the “prior informed consent” of the party providing such resources.  The Nagoya Protocol also requires the sharing of the benefits arising from the commercialization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge with the owners of biodiversity, including the local communities and the indigenous people, on “mutually agreed terms.”

The Nagoya Protocol itself establishes only international norms and a framework for Access and Benefit Sharing measures, and does not impose Access and Benefit Sharing laws itself.  That is left to national legislation, and requires the contracting parties to implement their own Access and Benefit Sharing measures and to designate a competent national authority on ABS.  Many countries, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and India, already have national enabling laws and regulations.

Personal care product companies in particular also should be aware that their marketing and advertising of the products as containing native ingredients or drawing on traditional knowledge could subject them to a claim of biopiracy by national governments, local communities, and even non-governmental organizations.

Although the United States is not a contracting party to the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Nagoya Protocol, companies in the United States whose products utilize genetic resources or traditional knowledge from a member state, or are sold in a member state, must comply with the access and benefit sharing requirements.  It is imperative for companies to exercise due diligence to ensure that their raw material or ingredient suppliers have obtained prior informed consent for access to genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge used in their products, and mutually agreed terms for the sharing of benefits.

As a leader in providing legal services to the personal care products industry, CK&E can assist companies in instituting internal policies and procedures to help ensure compliance with the Nagoya Protocol.  CK&E will continue to monitor and provide updates about developments in the Nagoya Protocol.  The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol will be held in October 2014 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, concurrently with the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Full text of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization.  The countries that have ratified or acceded to the Nagoya Protocol to date are:

  • Albania
  • Belarus
  • Benin
  • Bhutan
  • Botswana
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Comoros
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Ethiopia
  • European Union
  • Fiji
  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • Guatemala
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Guyana
  • Honduras
  • Hungary
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Jordan
  • Kenya
  • Lao People’s Democratic Republic
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Micronesia (Federated States of)
  • Mongolia
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar
  • Namibia
  • Niger
  • Norway
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • Rwanda
  • Samoa
  • Seychelles
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Sudan
  • Switzerland
  • Syrian Arab Republic
  • Tajikistan
  • Uganda
  • Uruguay
  • Vanuatu
  • Vietnam

 

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Can Containers be Copyrighted?

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There are some containers that have achieved trademark status. Among the most famous are the Coca-Cola bottle and the OPI nail lacquer bottle. Ownership of a trademark in container design requires a solid showing of secondary meaning, which generally takes considerable time, sales volume, and promotional efforts. Ownership of a copyright in a new creative work, on the other hand, is automatic. Copyright registration is usually quick and inexpensive.

So why not protect a container design through copyright? Because a container design that is functional is not copyrightable.

According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its recent decision of Inhale, Inc. v. Starbuzz Tobacco, Inc., a case about a copyright claim on a hookah water pipe, copyright protection is not available for functional features of a useful article like a bottle or a chair. As a “useful article,” the shape of a container (including a hookah pipe) is copyrightable “only if, and only to the extent that, [it] incorporates . . . sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the container.” 17 U.S.C. § 101.

Courts have said that the non-functional, sculptural features must be “conceptually” or “physically” separable from the container in order to be protected by copyright. “Physically separable” is an easy concept – a printed label or a fancy emblem that is applied to the container can usually be protected by copyright, because it can exist separately from the container. “Conceptually separate” is more esoteric. The Ninth Circuit held that “the shape of a container is not independent of the container’s utilitarian function – to hold the contents within its shape – because the shape accomplishes the function.” In other words, as long as the shape of the container merely holds the container’s contents, the shape is not subject to copyright.

The Ninth Circuit left unanswered whether a “ring shape” that is molded into the bottle but does not conform to the interior container might be copyrightable as “conceptually separate” from the functional container. In any event, the Court’s lesson seems to be that, for copyright protection for a container, the copyrighted feature should serve no purpose in holding the contents. Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys regularly work with clients to most effectively secure and protect their valuable intellectual property, regardless of whether it’s a traditional trademark, artwork, a fragrance or a container.

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The Conkle Firm is Featured in April 2014 Beauty Industry Report

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel is proud to again be the subject of a feature interview in the industry-leading publication, Beauty Industry Report (BIR).  BIR is a monthly 24-page executive newsletter for professionals that focuses on the emerging trends affecting the beauty industry.  CK&E’s feature interview assessed the latest legal trends, based on CK&E’s decades of experience in the industry.  Topics covered included trademark and brand protection, both international and domestic, regulatory compliance issues such as California’s Proposition 65 and the Safe Cosmetics Act, issues in manufacturer-distributor relationships, and more.

The attached article includes links to topical blog posts and websites referenced in the interview.  CK&E wishes to thank BIR’s Mike Nave for taking the initiative to disseminate information about these important industry issues.  BIR proved again that working in the beauty industry without reading BIR is like working in finance without reading The Wall Street Journal.

BIR Feature Interview of CK&E

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Smells Like Trademark Registration

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Brand owners are increasingly tapping into the powerful realm of olfactory memory by using scent as a brand identifier.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel, a pioneer in brand protection strategies, registered one of the only three fragrance trademarks ever on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Principal Register.  In fact, CK&E registered the first ever U.S. fragrance trademark for personal care products.

Scent can evoke strong emotional reactions and create long-lasting memories, so a signature scent can be a critical element of an overall brand identity.  As recently reported in The Los Angeles Times, retail clothing stores and hotels are beginning to use scent diffusers to greet consumers with their custom-made fragrances.  Signature scents can also be introduced with products, such as Brazilian designer Melissa’s bubblegum scented plastic shoes or GM’s use of semisweet scented leather in Cadillac automobiles.

While brand owners often focus on traditional trademarks like brand names (word marks and stylized word marks) and logos (design marks), nontraditional trademarks like scent, sound and color may also be eligible for protection.  In the United States, a scent mark can be registered as a trademark if it is used as a brand identifier, but only if it is neither functional nor naturally occurring in the goods or services.  For example, the scent of elderflower cannot be protected as a trademark for use with perfume, as it would be functional, or for use with elderflower cordial, as it is naturally occurring.  However, the scent of elderflower could be used as a trademark with stationery.

The next hurdle to registration on the Principal Register is secondary meaning.  A brand owner must show that consumers associate the scent with the source of goods or services through evidence such as extensive use of the scent in commerce, advertising expenditure, affidavits from consumers, or surveys.  In order to establish a signature scent as a registrable trademark, it is especially useful to provide evidence of advertising that specifically identifies the scent in connection with the goods or services (e.g., “stationery distinguished by its unique elderflower scent” or “always with our signature fragrance”).

As noted in Gilson on Trademarks, CK&E presented the USPTO with strong evidence that its client’s fragrance mark was not functional when used with hair care products, and CK&E submitted substantial, well-focused evidence of secondary meaning.  As signature scents continue to develop as key elements of brand identities, more brand owners will seek trademark protection for their chosen fragrances.  Brand owners should consider methods of protecting and enforcing their rights in nontraditional trademarks such as fragrance, color and sound.

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The Conkle Firm Participates in California Pavilion at Cosmoprof Bologna

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CK&E attended Cosmoprof Worldwide in Bologna, Italy, the international professional beauty industry trade show, in April 2014.  Cosmoprof Bologna is a preeminent global conference for the personal care products industry, with over 207,000 visitors and 2,450 exhibitors from 69 countries, and participation by manufacturers, distributors and industry organizations.  Highlights included the dynamic USA Pavilion and California Pavilion, orchestrated by the California Trade Alliance.  CK&E joined Beauty Industry Market Access (BIMA) directors Patty Schmucker and Cesar Arellanes, and several graduates of the BIMA program, as they put into practice the concepts taught at the intense educational program designed for entrepreneurs entering international markets.  To learn more about the BIMA program in which CK&E attorneys participated, click here.

As developed in discussions at Cosmoprof, a critical issue for many U.S. exhibitors entering the EU market is the July 2013 Cosmetics Regulation (EU Reg. 1223/2009) that overhauled the European Union’s regulatory landscape for personal care products.  The Regulations introduced a number of new requirements, including labeling for nanomaterials such as titanium dioxide, claim verification standards and an EU-wide ban on animal testing.  As a brief introduction to the new requirements, the EU distilled the July 2013 Cosmetics Regulation into the simplified infographic shown here.

Under the new Regulation, each manufacturer selling cosmetic products into the EU must designate a person or business entity physically located in the EU that will serve as the manufacturer’s designated “responsible person” for compliance with the Regulation.   CK&E has strong working relationships and regularly works with such “responsible persons” who can be engaged to assist businesses seeking to expand into the EU.  CK&E is pleased to participate in industry events such as Cosmoprof Bologna and programs such as BIMA, to help U.S. entrepreneurs expand into the EU and to assist foreign manufacturers develop and secure markets for their products in California and throughout the United States.

Cosmoprof Blogna

 

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China Finds Parallel Imports Constitute Trademark Infringement

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Chinese trademark law has no specific prohibitions against sale of gray market products diverted into the Chinese market, also known as parallel importation.  An important breakthrough occurred recently when the Suzhou Intermediate Court enforced trademark holders’ rights against an unauthorized reseller of gray market goods imported into China.

Pernod Ricard China (Trading) Co., Ltd. is the exclusive trademark licensee of Absolut Vodka (Images II-IV) in China.  Pernod Ricard and the trademark owner, Absolut Company Aktiebolag, brought a lawsuit in China against a local retailer of parallel imports of Absolut Vodka products, asserting trademark infringement and unfair competition.  The key facts were that the imported products had manufacturers’ identification codes removed and had added labels bearing Chinese characters for “Absolut” (Image I) and identifying an unauthorized importer and distributor.  The code removal and label addition infringed consumers’ right to know about the product origin, interfered with the trademark owners’ ability to track products to maintain product quality, and undermined the integrity and beauty of the genuine product.   The removal of the manufacturers’ identification code violated Article 52.5 of China’s Trademark Law, which is a catchall term prohibiting impairment of an exclusive right to use a registered trademark, and constituted unfair competition.  The addition of unauthorized labeling violated Article 52.1 & 52.2, prohibiting use of an identical or similar mark on the same or similar goods without the permission of the owner of the registered trademark, and infringed the exclusive right to use the registered trademark.

Absolut Vodka Images

Absolut Vodka Images

Conkle, Kremer & Engel works to protect its clients’ brands in the United States and abroad.

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