Trademark violations are serious business
Imagine you wake up tomorrow and a sign pops up on offices down the street from your house, and the sign reads your company’s name, only it isn’t your company, it is your competitor who has started to use your name and logo. That sure can confuse the marketplace.
But imagine that you’re a real estate professional and you feature all local MLS listings on your website through IDX, even if they’re not yours, and you get a letter from a lawyer claiming that an agent’s listing that appears on your site is your using someone else’s trademark to promote your company, and there are now allegations of confusion in the marketplace. Which is confusing in itself. Then imagine that you do a quick search for the listing and find that there are over 3,000 results online for the exact same listing, but there have not been over 3,000 cease and desist letters.
This is exactly what happened to Frank Llosa, Esq., Broker of Frankly Real Estate. Llosa recently received a cease and desist letter threatening action if he did not remove the listing of another broker, incorrectly advertising the trademarked term “Leisure World,” a listing that mentions the term in the property description of a building of condos in Maryland.
Llosa tells AGBeat that he was “flattered” that his “search engine optimization must be working well” that his website topped the search engine results, but noted that in his own search online for the specific listing, over 3,000 websites resulted.
Confusion in how real estate data is displayed
Over email to the lawyer that sent him the cease and desist letter, Llosa said, “Your issue may be with Weichert Realtors. They are the listing brokerage firm selling Leisure World units in MD. They posted the home on the MLS with the MLS #MC7774082. MLS stands for Multiple Listing Service. This data is then sent out to over 3,000 websites who are cooperating brokers. You just happened to contact me, as one of htose [sic] 3,000. I have nothing to do with Weichert, and I have nothing to do with Leisure World. If you feel that all 3,000 are in violation, you can FEDEX them a cease and desist letter as well. Here is a link.”
Llosa continued with suggestions of other entities the lawyer could contact, “Including Zillow, a public company [link to listing here] Trulia [link to listing here] and 3048 others. You could also contact MRIS, which is the local MLS data aggregator and distributor. Or you can contact the National Association of Realtors that overseas [sic] many of the 3,050 possible violators. They will also tell you that the websites displaying this information are not at fault. You need to go to the source. See the result of this lawsuit to better understand how it all works.”
Not the first lawsuit of its kind
As Llosa referenced, this is not the first lawsuit of its kind, as a fair housing lawsuit was recently dismissed against an agent whose website featured another agent’s listing through an IDX system which featured a fair housing violation.
UPDATE: According to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc. (MRIS) rules, under these circumstances, agents may not modify listings. “Article XXII- INTERNET POLICY Sec. 3 Principal Broker Subscribers and their affiliated licensees and Appraisers may not modify listing information (such as list price, lot size, postal city, etc.) from another Principal Broker Subscriber’s listings. MLS data may be augmented with additional data not otherwise prohibited from display so long as the source of the other data is clearly identified.”
We have reached out to Leisure World’s counsel for comment and requested more information pertaining to their investigation, who else has received cease and desist letters, what they believe damages are, and what course of action they believe any of the 3,000+ individual website owners and agents have in a scenario when they cannot edit an IDX feed, and have not received a response as of publication. Their response will be published here upon reception.
“Dear Mr. Llosa:
We represent RRLH, Inc. (“RRLH”), the owner of the famous and incontestable LEISURE WORLD (U.S. Reg. No. 809,677), Globe with Leisure World design (U.S. Reg. No. 809,679), and Globe with birds design (U.S. Reg. No. 1,657,718) trademarks (herein, “Leisure World marks”).
It has come to our attention that, among other things, you are using the Leisure World marks to advertise your real estate business on your website “franklymls.com” in connection with efforts to market Villa Cortese V. Please see the attached printouts of the website with the uses highlighted. You have no rights to the “Leisure World” name. Your use of the Leisure World marks violates trademark laws, and is immediately actionable.
There is an overwhelming danger that your use of the Leisure World marks in your advertisements will cause consumers to be deceived into believing that you are affiliated with our client and/or that our client and its authorized licensees are affiliated with your site and/or endorse the products, services, organizations, or viewpoints featured or advertised on your site. Creating this kind of consumer confusion in the marketplace is prohibited by federal law, inter alia, 15 U.S.C. 1114(1); 15 U.S.C. 1125(a); and 15 U.S.C. 1125(c).
We hereby demand that you immediately cease and desist from all use of the highly recognized and valuable Leisure World marks, including ceasing use of the Leisure World marks in your advertisements. We expect a written confirmation from you regarding these matters no later than May 28, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. In the meantime, if you have any questions, you or your attorney should contact me at (949) 723-4844.
Nothing in this letter shall be deemed a waiver of any rights, remedies or defenses of RRLH, all of which are expressly reserved, including the right to seek monetary damages for trademark infringement.
Very truly yours,
Richard M. Sherman”
Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns
(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.
The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.
When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”
Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.
For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.
Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.
But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.
While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.
Google workers have formed company’s first labor union
(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.
On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.
The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.
“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.
AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.
In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.
So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.
Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.
“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.
Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines
(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.
Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.
Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.
“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.
“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”
The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”
To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”
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