|Dirksen Building - home of 7th Circuit Court of Appeals|
During the mega-hit movie "The Dark Knight Rises," Catwoman extracts a promise from Batman for her help -- a "clean slate" removing her entire criminal history from every law enforcement computer in the world. After her contribution to saving Gotham, Bruce Wayne makes sure Catwoman's criminal history is erased from every computer.
But suprise! There actually is a product called Clean Slate. And Fortres Grand, maker of the software, has lawyers.
And those lawyers sued Warner Brothers asserting that the fictional "clean slate" alluded to in the movie would cause confusion with its own software, a utility that "cleans" the history from your web browser.
The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago held for the film makers, ruling that there was not a substantial risk of confusion cause by the fictional reference to a clean slate in the Batman movie. Judge Manion, writing for the Court, found that the software company's allegation of reverse confusion was "implausible."
So Warner Brothers won. But at what cost? First there are lawyers fees that can ratchet up at $500 to $1,000 an hour for big firm partners. There there are expenses. In addition to lawyer time, court reporters will charge perhaps $1,200 or more for the transcript of a day-long deposition. Then there are the hidden costs of lost time, productivity and energy of executives, in-house lawyers, risk management people, and others involved in the project who are dragged into the lawsuit.
The real lesson is that even the most innocent of references, even to a fictional "product", can bring down the wrath of intellectual property litigators and patent trolls. It is why lawyers are often so cautious, even to the point of being perceived as "anal," in finding problems and issues where most people, including writers, see none.
While many lament that a lawyer "can find a gray cloud in every silver lining." that is often the most important part of what lawyers do.
photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenlund/11004376983/">Ken Lund</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>