Naturally, litigation results from unsupported advertising claims and undefined terms.

The WSJ Corporate Intelligence blog has an interesting article today that highlights the risks inherent in un-vetted advertising claims.  Apparently Proctor & Gamble took issue with “99% Natural” claim that toothpaste maker Hello Products, LLC was making with respect to its toothpastes which come in unusual flavors (for toothpaste) like pink grapefruit mint and mojito mint. Neither the FDA nor FTC have guidelines for what constitutes “natural” or “all natural” products.  In practice, the FDA takes the position that it will “not object[] to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances,” but you are apparently on your own to determine what exactly is or is not a “synthetic substance.”  Because of the regulatory confusion over the meaning of “natural,” litigation over what does or does not qualify often resorts to claims sounding in state false advertising, unfair trade practices, or consumer protection statutes, or alleging common law fraud or breach of warranty.  Some clarity as to what it means to be natural that we can all agree on (or at least rely on) would be helpful from both the consumer and advertiser perspective, much like the USDA’s National Organic Program that tries to put some meaning into that word as used on food labels.  Apparently, though,  it is difficult from a food science perspective  to define a food product that is natural “because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth,” according to the FDA.  That seems to have been part of P&G’s problem as the maker of one of the country’s leading toothpastes, Crest,  asserted that some of the Hello Product’s toothpaste’s ingredients, like fluoride, were chemically processed and thus not “natural.”

For its part, Hello Products offered to change its packaging after it had sold its existing stock but that did not satisfy P&G which filed suit and obtained an injunction to block the sale of the offending toothpaste. The upside for those of you in NYC tomorrow is that Hello Products plans to give away the 100,000 tubes it can no longer sell as free samples on the streets of Manhattan. Grab a tube (I recommend the grapefruit) and remember that FTC truth-in-advertising rules require that:

  1. advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
  2. advertisers have evidence to back up their claims; and
  3. advertisements are not unfair.

SCOTUS Joins Team Anti-Troll

HiRes

Just a few short months after the house passed the Innovation Act, HR 3309 (now before the Senate Judiciary Committee), a bill pointedly aimed at curbing the practices of non-practicing entities, or patent trolls, as reported earlier on this blog, the Supreme Court has now issued two decisions not as deliberately aimed but nonetheless injurious to the patent troll business model.

Yesterday, Justice Sotomayor delivered two nearly unanimous decisions of the Court (available here and here) that collectively lower the hurdle for prevailing defendants to obtain attorneys’ fees against the plaintiff.  The previous standard, oft implemented by the Federal Circuit, the federal Court of Appeals for patent cases, required “material inappropriate conduct” or both “subjective bad faith” and “objective[] baseless[ness]” on the part of the plaintiff in bringing the case before fees could be awarded against it.  Such conduct is commonly complained of by those targeted by patent trolls, entities named for their practice of acquiring patents in the hopes of collecting damages through infringement lawsuits, but is rarely punished.  Small businesses and individuals who are sued by patent trolls often pay a fee to settle the case rather than incur the expense and exposure of litigation.  Yesterday’s dual Supreme Court decisions may change that. (more…)

Fan Fiction Gets Weird

Popular author L.J. Smith of the Vampire Diaries series was terminated by her publisher and replaced with a ghostwriter. Some fans are content to continue reading the now ghostwritten series. Other fans are buycotting. What did L.J. Smith do? She is writing new Vampire Diaries stories as “fan fiction”. Fan fiction is understood as meaning stories written by amatuer writers based on their favorite book, television or movie characters.
While some media companies routinely prosecute copyright infringement lawsuits against fan works, others have embraced fan fiction, such as the publisher of Fifty Shades of Grey series. Originally fan fiction (or slash fiction)based on the Twilight series, Random House successfully published the books after the author removed the Twilight characters.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has been making deals with publishers and fan fiction writers for the rights to use characters and fan writing to identify new blockbusters like Fifty Shades.