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COVID-19 IP Catch-Up: Publishers, Vodka Co. Head To Court

By Dani Kass · June 5, 2020, 4:16 PM EDT

In the last week or so, the Internet Archive's library service came under fire, a vodka company that started making hand sanitizer sought to defend its brand name, a convicted intellectual property thief asked to be let out early over the pandemic, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office launched a new resource center. 

Here's what you need to know about the latest coronavirus impacts on IP.

Stand-In For Closed Libraries Sparks Suit

The month started off with Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons Inc. and Penguin Random House LLC suing the Internet Archive for copyright infringement.

The June 1 suit in New York federal court claims the organization is engaging in "willful digital piracy on an industrial scale" with its Open Library, where users can borrow e-books made by scanning physical books. The alleged misconduct escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Internet Archive launched the "National Emergency Library" in response to the closing of in-person libraries, the suit claims. 

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle defended the organization's role as a library and said he hopes the case can be "resolved quickly."

Hand Sanitizer Maker Wants To Ward Off TM Claims

Then on Tuesday, 28 Mile Vodka Co. LLC filed a trademark suit against Hopmaniacs LLC. 28 Mile is asking for a declaratory judgment that it didn't infringe Hopmaniac's "Toughtown" trademark with its "Tough Town" hand sanitizer.

The vodka and gin company based in Highwood, Illinois, said that when its business was "deeply impacted economically" during the pandemic, it started looking into making hand sanitizer. It donated 12,000 bottles of its new product to the Chicago Police Department, marketed as Highwood's nickname, Tough Town, and then started selling the bottle for profit and applied for a trademark registration, the complaint states. 

Beermaker Hopmaniacs called warning of alleged trademark infringement, leading 28 Mile to sue, saying it's "not attempting to palm off its hand sanitizer as defendant's beer product."

Hopmaniacs couldn't be reached Friday.

IP Thief Requests Pandemic-Related Prison Release

All this came after the first person ever convicted of economic espionage by a federal jury — for stealing manufacturing secrets from DuPont Co. and selling the information to Chinese-owned companies — asked for early home release, saying he contracted COVID-19 in prison and is on a ventilator.

Walter Liew, 62, on May 29 said his age and underlying medical conditions put him at an elevated risk were he to get the virus again. The motion notes that Liew, who was incarcerated in Lompoc, California, is still waiting on test results to confirm that he did contract the virus.

USPTO Creates COVID-19 Resource Center

Outside of court, the USPTO on Wednesday launched a resource center on its website to centralize initiatives and programs specific to the pandemic, along with other related IP information. 

"The COVID-19 Response Resource Center will provide inventors, entrepreneurs, and IP practitioners with a centralized destination to access information and assistance needed to meet the challenges of these times," USPTO Director Andrei Iancu said in a statement.

--Additional reporting by Dave Simpson. Editing by Haylee Pearl.

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