University of Southern California

To Plead or Not to Plead: Whether to Bring a Reverse Passing Off Claim in the Post Dastar Era of Lanham Act § 43(A) Litigation

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Note by Diana Wade
From Volume 88, Number 5 (July, 2015)

88 S. Cal. L. Rev.1269

Your client, CreativeSoft, produces CreativeDesign, a computer program that creates cards and brochures. In the 1990s, CreativeSoft sold the program on CD-ROMs. To keep up with the market, CreativeSoft now sells CreativeDesign2.0 only as a downloadable file from its website. CreativeSoft has come to your firm because MockSoft is selling CreativeDesign2.0 as its own product.

This reminds you of the Lanham Act § 43(a)(1)(A) “reverse passing off” (“RPO”) claim you brought against MockSoft when it sold CreativeDesign CD-ROMs packaged in MockDesign boxes. Now, MockSoft copies CreativeDesign2.0, removes copyright notices from the splash screens, and resells the program from its website. Further, MockSoft confuses customers by creating the impression that MockSoft is the origin of the program.

Should you file a RPO claim? You prevailed on this claim when MockSoft repackaged CreativeDesign CD-ROMs. However, a RPO claim may not survive the pleading stage of litigation if CreativeDesign alleges that MockSoft has repackaged CreativeDesign2.0. There is a risk of copyright preemption, and many district courts interpret a Supreme Court case, Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., as precluding producers of digital products from bringing claims under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act. Why?

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