Vampire Definition Helps Settle Intellectual Property Infringement Case

Vampire pop culture recently contributed to a Simmons law firm client’s success in settling an on-going intellectual property infringement case.

helmet3Hoodlums Welding Hoods is a small business that designs creative welding helmets. One of the company’s more popular designs resembles a red skull with fangs and flames shooting out of the base of its neck. The design looks so tough it won a “Balls out Best” recommendation from Maxim Magazine.

But that’s not all the attention Hoodlum’s design got. A licensee of Hoodlum’s had surreptitiously hired the defendant to manufacture the helmet on Hoodlum’s behalf.  The defendant then made its own red skull with flames helmet, but then marketed the helmet as its own product.

The defendant tried arguing that our client’s intellectual property was limited to a “vampire skull” with flames, while the defendant’s helmet was simply a regular (flaming) skull, and thus there was no infringement.

The Simmons law firm filed suit on behalf of Hoodlums in June 2008 alleging copyright infringement, trademark infringement and unfair competition, patent infringement, and false marking in an eleven-count complaint.

In a patent case, the plaintiff and the defendant argue the meaning of their respective patents before a judge in a hearing called a Markman hearing. The judge then interprets the definitions of the patents before the case proceeds to trial.  

 The judge faulted the defendant’s “vampire skull” argument because it provided no guidance as to how a vampire, or its helmet2skull, should look, or how it would differ from a normal human skull.  “As Bram Stoker (Dracula), Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire), and Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) can attest, there is no single way to envision or describe a vampire. The same must be true of a ‘vampire skull,’” the judge wrote to explain why he agreed with Hoodlums’ definition.

In the end, the judge agreed with all of our team’s arguments about Hoodlums’ patent definitions. That overwhelming decision led to the firm’s recent announcement of a settlement between the two companies. Not only did the defendant agree to enter into a license agreement, it admitted it infringed Hoodlums’ designs and that Hoodlums’ intellectual property was strong—all very unusual for a settlement.

When it comes to protecting patents and copyrights, this case was very diverse. It’s not every day vampire pop culture can help a small company defend its product, but having an experienced IP lawyer who can help you navigate the nuances of patent and copyright law is something you can have everyday no matter how small your business or how big your opponent.

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