The Impact on Brands when Trademarks are Used in Military Strategy

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Western companies with trademark rights in Russia are feeling the ripple effects of the Ukrainian conflict.  In response to the economic sanctions and boycotts imposed by the U.S. and other Western countries, Russia has threatened to suspend the intellectual property rights of companies that have ceased operations in Russia.  Additionally, there has recently been an increase in bad faith trademark filings for various brands across a wide range of industries from Chanel to Audi.  Moreover, it appears that Russian courts may allow the infringement and misappropriation of trademarks owned by Western companies in light of a recent decision involving the character Peppa Pig, where the court cited sanctions as a basis for refusing to recognize the Western-based company’s intellectual property rights in the popular cartoon character.

Even those businesses with longstanding ties within Russia don’t appear to be safe.  Certain companies closing locations in the country in response to the conflict in Ukraine are finding that third parties are filing trademark applications for blatant replicas of their brands.  Even more disturbing is that should the Russian government decide to remove trademark protections for Western companies altogether, then a third party could step in and offer goods and services under identical marks.  Depending upon how things play out in Russia, Western brand owners are in serious danger of losing their intellectual property investments in the country.  Exacerbating the problem for these brands is that finding local counsel willing to assist them may be extremely difficult.  Fear for personal safety and the threat of retribution may encourage many trademark attorneys in Russia to steer clear of matters involving companies from “unfriendly” countries.

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NFTs: The Harbinger of Property Rights in the Metaverse?

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Non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) continue to dominate the crypto-zeitgeist. It is beyond dispute that they are currently a major economic and cultural force. In 2021, sales surged to approximately $25 billion. They have been featured in high profile television commercials during the Olympics and the Super Bowl. And Nike recently purchased the NFT developer RTFKT Studios, signaling its intention to be a dominant provider of digital fashion in the metaverse.

Despite all this, it remains unclear what legal rights are conveyed with the purchase of an NFT. The academic consensus is that, absent a “smart contract” that expressly includes intellectual property (“IP”) rights, purchasing an NFT does not convey any copyrights or trademark rights. Yet, the creation of an NFT (called “minting”) is almost certainly limited by recognized IP and other legal principles. These issues have begun to percolate up through the courts.

This article explores lingering, undefined NFT questions through the lens of several pending lawsuits. While many articles just describe the facts of each case, this article focuses on the most interesting legal arguments that each makes. It also identifies how decisions by these courts may form the basis of property rights within the metaverse. And ultimately, it questions whether the emergence of such lawsuits undermines blockchain as a decentralized institution.

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