13 Landmark Intellectual Property Disputes

In one corner: Dr. Dre. In the other: A ... gynecologist?
In one corner: Dr. Dre. In the other: A ... gynecologist?
mangsaab/iStock via Getty Images

In 1813, Thomas Jefferson had this to say about patents: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” A noble thought indeed, but try telling that to two parties locked in a multimillion-dollar court case over a bagless vacuum cleaner. And with no shortage of jealously guarded ideas in the world, major intellectual property disputes are never in short supply. As Bill Gates supposedly said, “intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”

1. Dr. Dre vs. a gynecologist

In 2018, Draion M. Burch, a gynecologist and the author of 20 Things You May Not Know About the Vagina, trademarked the name Dr. Drai. No one in the world had a problem with that, apart from Andre Romelle Young, better known as Dr. Dre. The rapper tried to prevent the trademark, arguing that the public would be confused at the similarity of the names. The U.S. trademark office, however, sided with the real doctor, quite reasonably arguing that the public would be unlikely to confuse a rapper with a gynecologist.

2. Tattoo artist Victor Whitmill vs. Warner Bros.

The dispute took getting in trouble for your tattoos to a whole other level.Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Plenty of big name movies have been plagued by lawsuits, but one of the strangest intellectual property cases was that of tattoo artist Victor Whitmill vs. Warner Bros. Whitmill was the artist responsible for Mike Tyson’s facial tattoo, and he wasn’t happy when the design was replicated on the face of Stu (Ed Helms) in The Hangover Part II. He took Warner Bros. to court over the issue of the “original tattoo” and almost derailed the release of the movie. In the end, Warner Bros. settled the claim for an undisclosed amount.

3. Louis Vuitton vs. Haute Diggity Dog

High fashion and dog toys don’t often come into conflict, but they did in 2006 when Louis Vuitton sued Haute Diggity Dog for trademark, trade dress, and copyright infringement. Haute Diggity Dog, a designer and manufacturer of parody plush dog toys, provoked Louis Vuitton’s wrath with its furry "Chewy Vuiton" dog chews. Louis Vuitton argued the toys were likely to cause confusion. The federal appeals court, however, didn’t side with the French fashion house, finding that Chewy Vuiton was “a joking and amusing parody” [PDF] and nothing more.

4. Isaac Newton vs. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Back in the 17th century, mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz went head to head in a bitter argument over who had invented calculus. In the mid-1660s, Newton began working on his form of calculus, which he called "the method of fluxions and fluents." Leibniz began work on his calculus around 1673, but neither man published any serious paper on the subject until years later. The argument reached a peak around 1711 [PDF], when both scholars and their supporters engaged in a fully fledged, retrospective war of words about who deserved the credit. Today, most people accept that they developed their ideas independently. But Leibniz died poor and dishonored, while Newton was given a state funeral.

5. Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica

A year after the release of 1977’s Star Wars, which was retitled Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope upon its 1981 re-release, Universal Studios produced its own space opera, the TV series Battlestar Galactica and its pilot film Saga of a Star World. Twentieth Century Fox, which produced Star Wars, was highly unimpressed with the similarities between the two and promptly filed a lawsuit against Universal. To support its case, Fox highlighted 34 supposed similarities between the two productions, including “a friendly robot, who aids the democratic forces”; spaceships that “are made to look used and old”; and the destruction of “an entire planet, central to the existence of the democratic forces.” Fox's copyright claims were initially dismissed but later revived on appeal. The whole messy affair was later resolved without a trial.

6. Apple vs. Microsoft

Back in 1987, this Apple II Platinum was a technological wonder.Benoît Prieurm, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

When Microsoft released Windows 2.0 in December 1987, Apple Inc. went ballistic. Apple claimed Microsoft had copied the look and feel of the graphical user interface (GUI) used on its own Macintosh operating system. Apple filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in March 1988, kicking off a four-year legal dispute. The court finally ruled in favor of Microsoft, stating Apple’s arguments failed on the basis of originality. Some ideas were seen to be basic elements of a GUI desktop, including windows, icon images, menus and the ability to open and close objects.

7. Apple vs. Google

The smartphone patent wars have been raging since 2009, and pretty much every smartphone manufacturer has been involved at some time. It’s no surprise, as a new smartphone can contain hundreds of thousands of patents, creating a tangled web of intellectual property disputes. Apple and Google have been going at it for years, the argument mainly revolving around the Android mobile operating system, which Apple co-founder Steve Jobs called a “stolen product.” Finally, in 2014, the two companies agreed to settle all patent litigation between them, ending one of technology’s highest-profile lawsuits. For now, at least.

8. Adidas vs. Payless Shoesource Inc. and Shoe Branding Europe

Who knew three simple stripes could cause so many legal complications?Antoninwat, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

How do you trademark three stripes? That’s the problem Adidas has been facing in both the U.S. and Europe, with varying results. In 2008, Adidas took Payless Shoesource Inc. to court, arguing the company’s two- and four-stripe designs were copied from the classic Adidas three-stripe design, but with one stripe added or removed. Adidas won the case and Payless was ordered to pay a hefty $304.6 million for trademark infringement. In Europe, however, things didn’t go so well. In 2016, Shoe Branding Europe applied to have Adidas’s trademark annulled, arguing it wasn’t distinctive enough. The EU intellectual property office sided with Shoe Branding Europe.

9. Dyson vs. Hoover

In 1999, the British inventor James Dyson took the Hoover Company to court. He argued that the vacuum cleaner industry giant had copied his Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, which had become the fastest-selling vacuum cleaner ever made in the UK. The two-year-long case became the David vs. Goliath battle of the floor-cleaning industry. Dyson came out on top, first rejecting an offer to settle the claim for £1 million, and later accepting a settlement offer of £4 million plus £2 million in legal costs.

10. Mattel vs. MGA Entertainment

Both tennis courts and legal courts are no match for Barbie.ErikaWittlieb, needpix // Public Domain

Few people could have expected that the case of Barbie vs. Bratz would turn into one of the most epic intellectual property disputes of recent years. It all began with Carter Bryant, a 31-year-old designer who was working for Mattel, the creators of Barbie, in 2000. While working for Mattel, he came up with the idea for Bratz. He then sold his idea to MGA Entertainment, one of Mattel’s competitors, two weeks before he quit Mattel. Bratz became an international hit and the first dolls to rival Barbie since she first strutted onto the scene back in 1959. Chaos ensued: Mattel sued Bryant, then Mattel sued MGA, then MGA sued Mattel. Damages were awarded then reversed, counterclaims flew in every direction, and the whole thing was a mess. Things didn’t settle down until 2013, with no one entirely sure who had come out on top— save for the legions of lawyers involved in the whole debacle.

11. Napster vs. pretty much everyone in the music industry

Napster, an online sharing service for digital audio files, faced the wrath of various parties for copyright infringement and numerous other claims. In 2000, Metallica became the first band to take on Napster, in the first legal case of its type. Dr. Dre, the Recording Industry Association of America, A&M Records, and various other record companies all filed similar lawsuits, and Napster was taken down a year later.

12. Daniel Morel vs. Agence France-Presse and Getty Images

In 2010, photojournalist Daniel Morel posted his own photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake onto his Twitter account. When Getty Images and Agence France-Presse used the images without his permission, Morel took them to court in what would become a landmark trial for online news agencies and digital journalists. Twitter’s own terms and conditions supported Morel’s case, but the trial nonetheless dragged on for three years. Morel was eventually awarded $1.2 million in damages.

13. David Slater vs. PETA, on behalf of Naruto the monkey

When it comes to protecting intellectual property, there's no monkeying around.Self-portrait by the depicted Celebes crested macaque, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When British nature photographer David Slater was hanging out with a group of Celebes crested macaques in Indonesia, he had no idea the storm that would come from his photography expedition. During his time with the monkeys, some of them picked up his camera and managed to take a few surprisingly good selfies. When Slater returned home, the fun photos were published in newspapers such as The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, and The Guardian. An editor at Wikimedia Commons, an online photo resource for free-license and public domain images, took the selfie photographs from The Daily Mail and uploaded them to the website. When Slater discovered this a few days later, he requested their removal. But Wikimedia Commons argued that the photos belonged to the monkeys, a position it maintains to this day (the U.S. Copyright Office agrees). On images such as this one and this one, the licensing note still reads: “This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.” Slater was then taken to court in 2015, not by Wikimedia but by PETA, who used the “next friend” principle of law, which allows someone to sue in the name of another person—in this case, Naruto, one of the crested macaques. In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the selfie-taking monkey, threw out the copyright lawsuit and heavily criticized PETA, stating that Naruto was “as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.