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Orange County Business & Commercial Law Blog

Could participation in rewards programs void the right to sue?

The next time you sign up for a rewards program offered by a retailer, or actually “like” a product on Facebook, you may be forfeiting your right to bring a lawsuit against them. According to a recent New York Times article, a growing number of companies in California and across the United States are using this tactic as a possible way to insulate themselves from the possibility of class action lawsuits.

The article highlighted the changes that Breakfast cereal giant General Mills made to the legal terms that accompany its coupons and online offerings after a California court refused to dismiss a lawsuit ostensibly based on consumer fraud. The changes require disputes related to coupon based purchases to be resolved through binding arbitration. Legal experts noted that General Mills is one of the first food companies to impose “forced arbitration” clauses on consumers who use online coupons.

Trademark office takes issue with Google's "glass" request

In the world of intellectual property and trademark laws, much is at stake. A company's reputation can be deeply damaged if a competitor infringes on intellectual property or otherwise unfairly competes. These disputes can arise in a wide variety of circumstances, and many businesses are caught off guard. It helps to have legal support with experience in protecting profits by stopping unfair competition in all its forms.

One aspect of intellectual property law is researching exactly what can be trademarked. For example, Google's recent attempt to trademark the word "glass" raises some basic questions about where a brand ends and where everything else begins.

More retailers closing their doors

You may not have noticed it the last time you went to the mall, but traditional brick and mortar retailers are having a difficult time. The proliferation of online retailers is taking a bite out of the marketplace previously dominated by retailers with physical locations. Examples of this can be seen with a number of stores.

Electronics dealer Radio Shack recently announced that it would be closing 1,100 stores across the United States. This represents 20 percent of its national locations. Questions abound as to how the leases Radio Shack had with these various locations were settled.

McDonald's responds to Taco Bell breakfast ads

Taco Bell is jumping into the fast food breakfast arena. The low-cost Mexican food chain is traditionally known for its late night menu and afternoon specials (e.g. $1 loaded grillers and drinks). However, it is now challenging breakfast stalwart McDonald’s for a share of the morning meal market.

Taco Bell has released a number of commercials showing real-life people named Ronald McDonald who ostensibly enjoy its new morning menu; which, of course, includes a waffle taco. The ubiquitous clown that was McDonalds’ front man for decades is not seen very often anymore, but the intent in Taco Bell’s commercials is directed at swaying customers who enjoy the golden arches. 

Eminent domain issues interfere with large construction project

Private contractors are often asked to participate in publicly-funded construction projects. Delays in such projects due to litigation or court injunctions can thus affect private companies or corporations involved in such projects.

California water officials had hoped to create two tunnels leading to the Sacramento River for purposes of siphoning water. The Bay Delta Conservation plan was intended to provide fresh water to areas throughout Southern California. However, the construction project has been delayed due to concerns that the project in question may intrude upon private property.

Amazon faces lawsuits over Prime membership benefits

Online retailer Amazon has enticed customers to purchase its “Amazon Prime” membership with the allure of free two-day shipping on all of its items, in addition to access to its streaming video content. However, two recent lawsuits are challenging the company’s promise that its shipping protocol actually was not free.

Essentially, plaintiffs claim that some items were artificially inflated to include the cost of shipping, thus negating the “complimentary” shipping benefit. 

Ex-lead singer of Steely Dan files suit in California

A lawsuit involving a contract dispute between the former lead singer of Steely Dan and the rest of the band was filed in Los Angeles on Feb. 28. According to reports, David Palmer is claiming that the band owes him payments for royalties earned through streaming and satellite services. Palmer was one of the founding members of Steely Dan and is reportedly contractually entitled to one-sixth of the royalties from songs that he performed on.

Palmer sang on a total of five songs on the band's 1972 debut, including "Dirty Work" and "Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)." He was also the lead singer for the band's concerts and sang background vocals on the band's 1974 album "Countdown to Ecstasy." He was reportedly let go from the band in 1973 for performing while under the influence of alcohol and his ability to interpret the songs.

Overstock.com fined by California judge

In this business litigation case, Overstock.com, an Internet-based retailer, has been charged with giving false and misleading prices of products. However, the company has now defended itself, according to a Feb. 21 report, and it claims that the pricing laws currently in place have become outdated because of the way e-commerce works and how fast prices change online. The company believes that consumers are aware of street, retail and list prices and how that affects their wallets.

The company, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, claims that it sells products below the retail price of manufacturers. The company compares its prices to the retail pricing available, showing consumers how much they are saving when buying online on Overstock.com. However, this isn't always truthful, according to a 2010 lawsuit.

Twitter account at the center of intellectual property dispute

As social media becomes an increased presence in marketing and branding for today's businesses, the importance of who owns what comes to the forefront. A legal battle involving Twitter, the owners of the James Dean estate and five anonymous users of the social media network could set the precedent for how copyright and trademark infringement is handled in the future.

In 2009, a fan of the late actor James Dean set up a Twitter account with the handle @JamesDean to post about his love and appreciation the actor's films and personal story. That man, as well as four other John Does using variations of the name, is now finding himself named in a lawsuit claiming trademark infringement between Twitter and the estate of James Dean, which is being represented by CMG Worldwide.

California hot sauce factory facing breach of contract claims

The ongoing business litigation against Huy Fong Foods may have just gotten a little bigger. The owners of the Los Angeles County Sriracha hot sauce factory are named in a suit filed by the city of Irwindale, California, and the suit claims that the smell coming from the factor is a public nuisance. The city is asking that a permanent injunction against the factory's operations be awarded.

According to city officials, one of the conditions of the Huy Fong Foods' operating permit is that it cannot emit harmful odors. Because of this, the city is planning on amending its complaint to add breach of contract. An attorney for the city stressed that the initial facts of the case had not changed and that the city was simply approaching the suit from a different legal angle.

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