PlumbBob Flash Drive Design May Be Protected by Copyright

Electronic Arts (EA) creates a variety of online games, including The Sims.  The Sims game includes a gem-shaped icon called a “PlumbBob.”  To promote a Collector’s Edition of The Sims, EA contracted with Lithomania to produce a USB flash drive shaped like a PlumbBob.  Lithomania contracted with Direct Technologies (DT) to produce a PlumbBob-shaped flash drive prototype.  EA approved the prototype created by DT, but Lithomania shipped DT’s prototype to a company in China to make the same flash drives for $0.50 less per drive than DT’s quoted price.  Even though DT signed an agreement with Lithomania to produce the flash drives, Lithomania never informed DT that DT lost the deal.  DT settled its lawsuit against Lithomania.

DT sued EA for violating the Copyright Act.  The district court ruled that DT’s flash drive was not sufficiently original when compared to the PlumbBob icon to qualify for copyright protection and granted EA’s motion for summary judgment.  The Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court erred by concluding as a matter of law that the flash drive was not copyrightable.  

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Laminate Floor Competitors Go to the Mat Over Copyrighted Design

Mannington Mills manufactures and sells laminate wood flooring.  Laminate wood flooring consists of several layers.  The “décor paper” layer goes underneath the transparent overlay, which is the top layer.  Mannington designers created Mannington’s Glazed Maple design to replicate what they thought a floor might look like after twenty or thirty years of wear.  The Mannington team created the Glazed Maple design by starting with new wood, gauging and staining the boards, taking digital photos and retouching digital photos until they arrived at the 120 inch by 100 inch Glazed Maple design.  Mannington obtained a copyright registration for its Glazed Maple design in November 2010.

Home Legend, a Mannington competitor, started selling a laminate floor design that was virtually identical to Mannington’s Glazed Maple design.  When Mannington requested Home Legend to stop selling the design, Home Legend filed a declaratory judgment action against Mannington.  The district court granted Home Legend’s motion for summary judgment.  The district court ruled that Mannington’s Glazed Maple design was ineligible for copyright protection because 1) Mannington’s Glazed Maple design lacked originality; 2) the Glazed Maple design could not be separated from the functional element of the flooring; and 3) the Glazed Maple design was directed to an idea or process.  The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling that Mannington’s copyright was invalid.

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