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Can “Fuct” Be Trademarked? Supreme Court Hears Key Case For Free Speech

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  • The Supreme Court heard a case on Monday involving whether or not the clothing brand Fuct can legally receive a trademark.
  • Erik Brunetti, the founder and owner of Fuct, claims the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office unconstitutionally violated his First Amendment rights when they denied him trademark protection for the brand.
  • The Patent and Trademark Office claims that the brand name violates the Lanham Act, a federal law that bans trademark protection for words that are “immoral,” “shocking,” “offensive,” and “scandalous.

Iancu v. Brunetti

The Supreme Court must decide whether or not the word “Fuct” can be trademarked.

On Monday, the nation’s highest court heard Iancu v. Brunetti, a case involving designer Erik Brunetti, who claims the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office acted unconstitutionally and violated his First Amendment rights when it refused to trademark his streetwear brand Fuct.

Brunetti founded Fuct in 1990, and since then, his brand has seen a rise in counterfeit products offered by third-party sellers. Brunetti says these products are costing him significant money.

“Go to eBay, and you’ll see a lot of counterfeits, or go to Amazon, and you’ll see lots of counterfeits,” Brunetti said.

If he wins his trademark, Brunetti will be able to sue eBay and Amazon to force them to remove the knockoff products from their sites. He will also be able to go after the counterfeiters and shut them down.

How the Case Reached the Supreme Court

Brunetti tried to copyright Fuct in 2011, but was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which claimed the name violates the Lanham Act, a federal statute that bans trademark protection for words that are “immoral,” “shocking,” “offensive,” and “scandalous.”

Brunetti appealed the decision, but for a while, nothing happened.

Then in 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Asian-American band called The Slants, saying that the band could not be denied trademark protection. In a parallel case, the Patent and Trademark Office had denied the band a trademark because it believed the band’s name was racially “disparaging.”

The case, known as Matal v. Tam, was brought before the court, which ultimately ruled that the denial was unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

“The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion, “Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”

Matal v. Tam was expected to have a significant impact on other trademark cases. For Brunetti, this was a huge boost.

Following the 2017 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided that Brunetti should be allowed a trademark under the precedent set by Matal v. Tam, stating that the Lanham Act was unconstitutional because it violates the first amendment.

After the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Brunetti, the government appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Hears Case

During Monday’s hearing, the Justices of the Supreme Court were careful not to say the name of the brand.

The justices looked at a chart that showed terms had been given trademarks by the government and terms that had not.

Similar terms that had been given trademark protection include “FCUK” and the well-known brand “FUBAR.” The term “Crap” was registered 70 times in a trademarked name, but the “Shit” was repeatedly denied.

While viewing the chart, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked how the Patent and Trademark Office defines “scandalous,” “shocking” or “offensive.” Justice Ginsberg also asked if 20-year-olds, the target audience for the brand, generally find Fuct to be “shocking” or “scandalous.”

Malcolm Stewart, the lawyer for the government, conceded that 20-year-olds probably do not find Fuct to be “shocking” or “scandalous,” but he argued that the term would still be offensive to a lot of the population, which gives it grounds to be denied a trademark.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that he was troubled by the chart, saying it showed “erratic or inconsistent enforcement” of the Lanham Act. He argued that the chart seemed to show that the terms that were denied were hardly different from the terms that had been approved, and that the decision to approve or deny terms appeared to be made without any specific reason.

Justice Neil Gorsuch echoed this sentiment, saying that the examples given in Brunetti’s brief were “remarkably similar,” adding, “I could not myself see a rational line.”

Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have an interesting point here.

According to a study by two New York University law professors, between 2003 and 2015 the government rejected around 2,000 trademark applications which they claimed were “immoral” or “scandalous” under the Lanham Act. The lawyers who wrote the study also argued that the decisions to deny or approve these cases are inconsistent and arbitrary.

Hard Questions

The Justices posed some hard questions to the government, but they were also sure to put the pressure on Brunetti and his lawyer as well.

Justice Stephen Breyer wondered why the government does not have the ability to deny the brand a trademark, while still recognizing Brunetti’s right to use the language in his brand without trademark protection.

Breyer also worried that allowing the trademark for Fuct would create a slippery slope whereby racial slurs could be trademarked, which could lead to slurs and offensive words appearing on newsstands, advertisements on buses, and in malls.

However, Justice Ginsberg pushed back on this concern.

“Suppose in the niche market that these goods are targeting, the name is mainstream,” said Justice Ginsberg, “These goods, as I understand it, are meant to attract a particular market, and if we concentrate on that market the word is mainstream.”

Like Matal v. Tam, Brunetti’s case would set a huge precedent for free speech if he recieves his trademark. However, the court is not set to make a decision until this summer, so those who are eager to see a decision in the closely-watched case will have to wait.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (GQ) (The Washington Post)

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Houston Police Chief Slams Republican Lawmakers After Officer Death

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  • Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo slammed Republican leaders for their opposition to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on Monday.
  • His remarks came right after his sergeant, Christopher Brewster, was fatally shot while responding to a domestic violence call.
  • He claimed Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn are refusing to pass the bill because of its provision to close the “boyfriend loophole” that allows non-married men with a past conviction of domestic violence to buy firearms. 
  • Acevedo accused the senators of supporting the National Rifle Association over the safety of women, children, and officers.

The Chief’s Remarks

Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo publicly denounced Republican senators on Monday for their failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and take action against gun violence.

Acevedo was standing outside of a medical examiner’s office when he spoke to the press, waiting to escort the body of Sgt. Christopher Brewster to a funeral home. Brewster was fatally shot after responding to a domestic violence call over the weekend. 

The chief specifically called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Texas senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in his passionate remarks. He said he believes that one of the biggest reasons they won’t pass the VAWA is “because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends.” 

“And who killed our sergeant?” he added. “A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend.”

The VAWA was originally enacted in 1994 to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, but it expired in February. The House passed a reauthorization of the bill in early April, but it is currently on hold in the Senate as some disapprove of new provisions like closing the “boyfriend loophole.” 

Under the former version of the VAWA, only spouses and ex-spouses who are convicted of stalking offenses or domestic violence crimes are not legally allowed to buy firearms. Closing the “boyfriend loophole” would extend these gun restrictions to boyfriends and non-spousal partners. 

The NRA has publicly criticized the provision to close the “boyfriend loophole” in the past, calling it a “poison pill” and “too broad and ripe for abuse.” 

“You’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts,” Acevedo said on Monday. “Or you’re here for the NRA.”

Last week, before Brewster’s death, Acevedo had been part of the group of Houston leaders who urged Congress to reauthorize the VAWA. 

In response to these requests, Sen. Cornyn blamed the ongoing impeachment hearings for distracting lawmakers from other matters.

Acevedo mentioned Cornyn’s online response in his call for action on Monday. 

“And don’t tell me, Senator, with all due respect, it’s about the impeachment,” he said. “Because you brag every day, you and Mitch McConnell, about getting judges confirmed. You brag about every piece of legislation you care about.” 

“Start caring about cops, children and women, and everyday gun violence,” Acevedo added.

Senators’ Responses

The suspect accused of killing Sgt. Brewster, Arturo Solis, already had a previous domestic violence conviction. A spokesperson for Cornyn told The Washington Post that Acevedo’s arguments to close the “boyfriend loophole” didn’t apply to this case because there are already laws that restrict people who have previously been convicted of domestic violence (although the federal gun control act still has its own ‘boyfriend loophole.’)  

“So the ‘loophole’ he spent so much time blaming Sens. Cornyn and Cruz for didn’t apply because [Solis] already wasn’t supposed to own a gun,” Cornyn’s spokesperson said.

Cornyn’s office also told CNN that Democrats are to blame for the delay in reauthorizing the revised VAWA.

“Democrats in DC walked away from negotiations and that’s when it fell apart,” they said in an email.

In turn, Cruz’s office released the following statement to KHOU 11:

“For many years, Senator Cruz has worked in law enforcement, helping lead the fight to ensure that violent criminals—and especially sexual predators who target women and children—face the very strictest punishment,” they said. “Senator Cruz is currently reviewing Violence Against Women Act legislation in the Senate.”

See what others are saying: (Houston Chronicle) (Washington Post) (CNN)

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Influencer Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison After Heist to Steal Website Domain Goes Completely Wrong

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  • Influencer Rossi Adams was sentenced to 14 years in prison for extortion after he convinced his cousin to help him steal a domain name.
  • Adams’ cousin, Sherman Hopkins Jr., held up the domain owner at gunpoint before that owner managed to gain control of the situation.
  • Adams, who had created social media company State Snaps, had reportedly been trying to complete his business with the website domain.

Influencer Tries to Buy Domain

An influencer who operated a social media company known as State Snaps was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Monday after being found guilty of extortion.

That influencer, Rossi Adams, had planned to steal a website domain to use to market State Snaps; however, the domain had already been bought. After unsuccessfully trying to buy the domain, he convinced his cousin to break into the owner’s house and steal it at gunpoint in June 2017.

Source: Linn County Jail

Adams first launched State Snaps while he was a student at Iowa State University in Cedar Rapids. Spread across Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, State Snaps contained videos and photos of “young adults engaged in crude behavior, drunkenness, and nudity,” according to court records.

As State Snaps then took off at Iowa State, many students began using the hashtag #DoItForState, which in turn, allowed the company to grow outside of the campus.  

At its height, Adams actually collected over a million followers. During that time, Adams began raking in money. At one point, he even earned the nickname “Polo” because he reportedly started buying and wearing Ralph Lauren Polo clothes en masse.

“The nudity, that’s what draws the attention, that’s what got it going, you know?” he said in an investigative piece with KCCI in 2015. “Sex sells.”

Adams, however, lacked a website, so he attempted to create doitforstate.com, but that domain name was already registered with GoDaddy.com. 

At the same time State Snaps went viral, two brothers—Ethan and Chris Deyo—reportedly wanted to bank off its success by selling merchandise and promoting parties. Thus, they purchased doitforstate.com, with the sale was being officially in Ethan’s name.

Ethan Deyo, who had also been living in Cedar Rapids, had also previously worked for GoDaddy.com and at the time, was making a side hustle by buying domains that might be popular.

Within the next few months, Adams reached out to the Deyo’s and met with them on several occasions to buy the domain from them. At one point, they had discussed a potential partnership, but it repeatedly fell through when neither side could reach a deal.

However, for the next two years, Adams continued to contact Deyo.

Adams Tries to Claim Domain at Gunpoint

In June 2017, Adams and his cousin, Sherman Hopkins Jr., exponentially escalated the situation when they drove to Ethan Deyo’s home to hold him hostage.

Hopkins, who was already a convicted felon at the time, reportedly armed himself with both a stolen gun and a taser.

The plan had been for Hopkins to deliver a note from Adams on how to transfer the domain to his name while Adams waited in the car and acted as the getaway. According to court documents, the two had purchased burner phones to communicate.

Source: The Register

Meanwhile, Deyo was in his home office on the second floor. He said when his dog cocked its head and picked up its ears, he stepped outside the room to see what was happening. That’s when he then saw Hopkins standing in his foyer.

Reportedly, Hopkins—while wearing pantyhose over his head as well as sunglasses and a baseball cap—shouted, “Come here, motherfucker!”

Deyo raised his hands to surrender but then ran and locked himself in his bedroom. Hopkins, however, kicked through the door and grabbed Deyo, reportedly by the neck. 

He then asked Deyo where his computer was. In turn, Deyo to lead him back to his office. All the while, Hopkins pointed the gun against Deyo’s back. 

Once in the office, Hopkins opened Deyo’s Macbook and told him, “Okay, motherfucker. GoDaddy.com.”

Hopkins then handed Deyo the note from Adams. While Deyo followed commands, GoDaddy also requires the physical address of new owners when transferring domains. When he attempted to explain that to Hopkins, the intruder tased him in the neck.

“You don’t need no fucking address,” Hopkins reportedly said.

Eventually, however, Hopkins put Deyo on call with Adams, who gave him the address. In court, Deyo said he recognized Adams’ voice from previous conversations. 

But there’s actually another reason why this plan was doomed from the start. To prevent theft, GoDaddy requires a second, later confirmation of transfer. That process can take up to a few business days, but Adams was sitting in his car on his iPhone waiting for the transfer to go through.

Deyo, piecing together that Hopkins would be waiting for Adams’ command to leave, began concocting a plan to fight back. 

“My thought is that, you know, they’re not going to be happy until they see the domain in their account,” he said in court. “And if it’s a three-day period of that happening, you know, what are they going to do? Sit here for three days and hold me at gunpoint? So I decided to get out of it.”

Finding an opening, Deyo grabbed the gun and swung it away from his head. He and Hopkins then reportedly struggled over the gun, crashing through a table. At one point, Deyo ended up getting shot in the leg, but he was ultimately able to gain control of the gun.

He then reportedly shot Hopkins three times in the chest before running downstairs to call police. When he couldn’t find his phone, he then ran back upstairs to call 911 using Hopkins’ burner.

Within minutes, police and paramedics arrived. Hopkins ended up surviving that shooting but also suffered permanent nerve damage in his spine.

He was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison for burglary, robbery, and kidnapping.

Adams Convicted and Sentenced to 14 Years

Meanwhile, for the next three days, Adams continued checking GoDaddy to see if the domain had been transferred to him. It never was. 

It wasn’t until September 2018 that police arrested Adams after Hopkins revealed Adams’ full plan in court in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Adams was then charged with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by force, threats, and violence.

In April, he was actually found guilty of that crime, leading to his sentencing on Monday. He’s also been ordered to pay around $35,000 in legal fees. 

Doitforstate.com, the website which inflamed the entire fiasco, has been nothing more than a blank page since 2018. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (One Zero) (Des Moines State Register)

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AOC and Sanders Ask for HIV Medicine Patent to be Rejected

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  • A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that biotech company Gilead Sciences suspended the development of a potentially safer HIV prevention drug for five years in 2005 so they could continue to profit from their current monopoly on the market, despite the fact that it was less safe. 
  • Gilead is asking now asking to extend the patent on the new drug while PrEP4All is asking for this patent to be rejected. 
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also wrote a joint letter urging the Trump administration to reject this request, calling the alleged practice a “disgrace.”
  • Gilead has denied these accusations.

Petition Filed Against Gilead

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are calling on the Trump administration to reject a patent extension request from Gilead Sciences after the company was accused of delaying the development of a safer HIV prevention drug. 

A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that when Gilead suspended the development of a newer and potentially safer HIV prevention drug in 2005, it did so in order to maximize its monopoly on profits from its less-safe drug that was already on the market. The petition says they wanted to leave this old drug on the market until its patent expired, and before generic competition came up. The company did not submit the new drug, tenofovir alafenamide, or TAF, to the Food and Drug Administration until 2010. It was approved in 2015. 

According to a report from the Washington Post, Gilead is currently requesting that its patent on TAF be extended for another three years. PrEP4All is asking the Patent and Trademark Office to reject this request because of this allegation. 

TAF is meant to prevent HIV infections via a process called pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP. Extending the patent would make sure they had a monopoly on the drug. 

Letter from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez

PrEP4All’s fight got a new push of support on Monday when Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez gave their support. In a letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office obtained by The Guardian, the leaders condemned Gilead for these accusations. 

“It is an absolute disgrace that in America, a greedy drug company like Gilead can deprive hundreds of thousands of Americans of lifesaving HIV medicine to extract more profit, lie about it, and then have the audacity to ask the US government to award it with a longer monopoly to reap tens of billions more in profits,” Sanders wrote. 

Ocasio-Cortez said this practice “inhibited efforts to end the HIV epidemic.”

Together, the two urged the Trump administration to “not reward Gilead for this immoral behavior.” 

If the Trump administration followed their requests, it would not be the first time they took action against Gilead. In November, the administration sued the company in a patent infringement case. They accused the company of profiting off of taxpayer-funded research without giving taxpayer money back. 

Statements From Those Involved

Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have not been the only ones to speak out. 

“Gilead has not only intentionally delayed clinical development of a drug to artificially manipulate its eligibility for a patent-term extension, but it has done so despite the apparent harm to patients,” said attorney Christopher Morten, who filed PrEP4All’s petition in a statement to the Washington Post. 

The Post says that the petition cites statements made by the company’s executives in 2011, where some indicated a desire to “avoid cannibalizing sales of the old drug” with the expectation that TAF could maintain the patent longevity of their HIV drug franchise. The petition also says that Gilead stated that clinical trials had indicated that TAF is safer than older drugs. A study funded by them found that restricting patients from the new drug could cause 16,000 deaths over the course of nine years.

Still, the Washington Post said the outcome of PrEP4All’s petition is not set in stone. 

“Odds of success are steep because the patent office will review such third-party petitions only in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, according to its rules,” their report said. 

“Patient safety is of foremost importance to us, and any implication that Gilead delayed the development of a drug known to be safer than [the older drug] is false,’’ Gilead spokesperson Ryan McKeel said in a statement obtained by the Post.  

See what others were saying: (The Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Advocate)

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