Environmental Marketing Claims – It’s Not Easy Being Green

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It’s April, which means it’s time for Earth Day.  But for so many consumers, sustainability is top of mind all year.  Consumers are constantly seeking out products and services that they can feel good about using and purchasing.  And marketers want to tout what their company is doing to be good to the environment.  As a result, the marketplace is flooded with claims that our household cleaners are “non-toxic” and our packaging is “recyclable” along with many other environmental benefit statements for products and services.

To avoid what’s commonly known as “greenwashing,” marketers need to ensure that statements made about the environmental benefit of their products or services are clear, truthful, and evidence-based.  A top resource in this area is the Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides,” which can help companies avoid making environmental benefit claims that can attract regulators and mislead consumers.  While the Green Guides are not FTC regulations, they provide detailed guidance on the types of claims that the FTC considers deceptive under Section 5 of the FTC Act, which broadly prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” (15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(1).)  Although these Guides have not been updated in almost 10 years, they remain instructive when it comes to a review of environmental benefit claims.

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Healthy Choices: The Power and Perils of Health and Wellness Claims in Advertising

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Even before COVID-19 had turned each of us into an amateur epidemiologist, companies in nearly every industry had begun to recognize the magnetic appeal of health and wellness claims in consumer advertising.  Marketers of everything from cleaning products to apparel to furniture to homes were suddenly making claims touting the health and wellness benefits of their products. It wasn’t just better, it was better for you and your family.  It will surprise no one to learn that the pandemic year of 2020 only intensified this trend, as consumers focused as never before on the ways that their purchases might not only help them live better lives, but perhaps even keep them alive.

Predictably, competitors, regulators and the plaintiff’s bar have all taken notice of this trend, and moved aggressively in response.  In 2020, for example, the BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (NAD), the nation’s premier forum for competitor initiated advertising challenges, recorded an extraordinary 50% uptick in challenges to health-related advertising.  Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and state regulators across the country have focused intense scrutiny on companies claiming to offer health benefits to consumers often desperate for help.  It is natural to predict that class actions and Lanham Act activity will soon reflect these trends as well.

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Someone Else’s Trademark in Your Way? Just Buy It.

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Sometimes the quickest way out of something is straight through it. This advice holds true in life, and in trademarks.

Those who deal with trademarks are familiar with obstacles to registration based on similar third-party marks. It’s frustrating, and especially so if you had conducted a clearance search beforehand in an effort to avoid such obstacles and see no reasonable basis for the Trademark Office’s refusal. Other times, the Trademark Office may approve your application for publication, but a third party will oppose registration during the opposition period. Or maybe you haven’t even applied for registration in the Trademark Office, but you receive a letter threatening legal action if you do not cease and desist from the use of your mark.

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Supreme Court Decides Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc.

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On April 5, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., holding that Google’s copying of a portion of an Application Programming Interface (API) for Java SE, in which Oracle was presumed to have a copyright for purposes of the Court’s decision, to enable programmers familiar with Java programming language to work with Google’s Android platform constituted “fair use” of Oracle’s software as a matter of law because it copied only those portions of computer code that were needed to allow programmers to work in Google’s new and “transformative” Android platform.

In 2005, Google acquired Android, Inc., and began developing a software platform for use on smartphones. Its developers wrote millions of lines of new code to build that platform. Google hoped to attract software developers to create applications for use on its new Android platform. Many software developers were already proficient with the Java programming language, and were specifically familiar with Oracle’s Java SE platform, which was primarily directed to programs for use in desktop and laptop computers. To allow those programmers to be able to easily work with the new Android platform, Google copied approximately 11,500 lines of code from the Java SE program — specifically from a tool called an “Application Programming Interface,” which allows programmers to use prewritten code to enable their software to perform certain functions.

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