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Panelists in Sharp Focus at the “Blurred Lines” Forum on Trolling for Patents

October 21, 2013

The attorney representing singer Robin Thicke in a preemptory lawsuit related to Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” hit song joined three other prominent patent and copyright law attorneys to focus on the new phenomena known as “patent trolls” at a forum at Thomas Jefferson School of Law on Friday, October 18. “From Patents to Porn: The #Blurred Lines Between Intellectual Property #Trolls and Legitimate Intellectual Property Enforcement” was presented by TJSL, in association with the law school’s Entertainment Law Society, the Center for Law and Intellectual Property and the Intellectual Property Law Association.

In the patent world, a troll is an entity that obtains patents for inventions it never intends to market. The forum, featuring four highly accomplished patent and copyright lawyers, explored the phenomena of IP trolls, from the world of technological inventions under patent law, to pornography and musical works under copyright law.”

The panelists included: Stephen D. Rothschild, Esq., a partner with King, Holmes, Paterno & Berliner, the firm representing Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, Jr., in the “Blurred Lines” action; Fred Hernandez, Esq., Of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, and Popeo, P.C.; David Branfman, Esq., of the  Branfman Law Group, P.C.; and Joseph Re, Esq., Litigation Partner with Knobbe Martens.

“The patent panel, which included both an experienced patent prosecutor and high-stakes litigator, discussed some of the most controversial issues surrounding the patent troll debate,” said TJSL Professor Brenda Simon, the panel’s moderator and an experienced IP practitioner. “The panelists talked about how to define patent ‘trolls,’ suggesting that using the term ‘patent assertion entity’ might be a less inflammatory way to describe the actors that are using questionable tactics in patent enforcement. The panel also discussed whether recent actions by the courts and Congress were more likely to be helpful or harmful to the patent system. One of the panelists remarked that the forum was better than many other events that cost hundreds of dollars to attend.”

Steven Rothschild is representing singer Robin Thicke in the pending legal battle over Thicke’s huge summer hit “Blurred Lines.” (View the lawsuit) Rothschild explained that the preemptory lawsuit against two of Marvin Gaye’s relatives and Bridgeport Music was filed to quash claims that his clients borrowed parts of the “Blurred Lines” song from Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and “Sexy Ways” by Funkadelic.

Regarding the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, Rothschild said, “After comparing all of the songs that are involved and because of the style of Blurred Lines, we believe that the songs do sound similar, but the artists who wrote this song will tell you that they paid homage to those artists because they respect those artists, they grew up with those artists and they love those artists. With this case, the musicologist used graphs and machines that they time everything with. They are familiar with prior art and with things that are in the public domain, and they develop an opinion. With this case, they determined that this is not an infringement. They said although it is in the same genre and sounds similar, it wasn’t copied. I am not the judge or the jury, but this is our view after working with experts in this area.”

“The legal system is always trying to keep up with technology,” said panelist David Branfman. “We are in the ‘black and white TV age’ of where the law is going to go in 20-30 years, the nexus of technology, art, and law. For students, this is a great opportunity to get in and be involved in exciting stuff!”

“Because our world is ever evolving, it is important that our generation of lawyers have a general understanding of ‘patent trolls,’ patents in general and copyrights,” said Entertainment Law Society (ELS) Industry Liaison Vinecea Edwards (2L). “It is a mission of ELS to bring these subjects to the forefront to provide fellow students with firsthand knowledge of these important and ever growing topics, beyond the scope of a book. I think we successfully reached our goal with the Blurred Lines event.”

TJSL alumnus Eric Bernsen ‘12, who is a patent counsel with Knobbe Martens, one of the top intellectual property law firms in the nation, found the panelists to be quite informative. “I thought Friday’s forum was wonderful – well-organized with top professionals and a great audience,” said Bernsen.

“On the patent side, I am slightly conflicted by the NPE/troll (non-practicing entity) phenomenon; I can see both sides of the issue but it was exceptionally useful hearing opinions from two of the patent world’s heavy hitters. And that is important to me, being a part of the patent industry.

As far as the copyright portion of the forum, I was not aware that the same trolling problems existed to such a degree. That was eye-opening, but the issues completely make sense, especially given the business-centric, as opposed to artist-centric, nature of many aspects of copyright law.”

TJSL Professor K.J. Greene, who has represented a number of prominent clients in the music industry and teaches Entertainment Law at TJSL, developed the concept and title of the event and lined-up the panelists and sponsors as well.  TJSL student Chanel DiBlasi (2L) assisted Professor Greene.  The law firms of Mintz Levin and Knobbe Martens co-sponsored the event.

“TJSL has a passion for intellectual property across the spectrum of faculty, students and graduates, and this event on a cutting-edge IP topic was enjoyed by all,” said Professor K.J. Greene. “The panels were riveting and the speakers spell-binding. Chanel DiBlasi and the Entertainment Law Society did a great job organizing the event, and Professor Brenda Simon was a fabulous moderator. Panelist Steve Rothschild has already told us he wishes to return.”

“Chanel DiBlasi and the Entertainment Law Society set the bar incredibly high by bringing in some serious players in the intellectual property world to have a candid discussion about something that needs to be talked about,” said Stephanie Ferguson (3L), Vice President of the Intellectual Property Law Association and an IP Fellow. “I was truly impressed by the turn out, and even more impressed by the amount of interested students and members of the San Diego community in attendance that knew very little about patent or copyright trolls. That was one of the goals of the evening, to allow interested individuals to learn more about an increasing problem in the field of intellectual property litigation. Sometimes people tend to shy away from asking the tough questions but Friday’s atmosphere provided the perfect forum for students and professionals alike to explore a hot topic many of us in the intellectual property world will face in our careers.” The panel discussion was followed by a reception on TJSL’s 8th floor terrace, where those who attended the event had an opportunity to further discuss.

“As the director, it was wonderful to see everything, including our incredible panelists, come together so nicely,” said DiBlasi. “And, as a spectator, I learned so much. I truly enjoyed the Blurred Lines event.  All of the hard work that went into it was well worth the effort.  I can’t wait for the next one.”

Video: Watch the forum

The next Entertainment Law Society event at TJSL is scheduled for Friday, November 15, and is titled “From the Catwalk to the Courthouse: Business, Law & the Fashion Industry.”