Posted On: October 25, 2020

LEGAL BATTLE OVER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ACQUIRES RACIAL COLOUR

BY MS. APARNA JAIN, MS. HARINDER NARVAN, MS. AASHRIKA AHUJA AND MR. DEBANJAN MISHRA, © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

KNOWLEDGENTIA CONSULTANTS

APPLE’ Inc has been sued by Cub Club Investment, LLC for copyright infringement. The case was filed against Apple for copying an innovation that has brought about racial diversity to the world of emojis. This company is owned by Katrina Parrott who was the first one to give life to ‘IDIVERSICONS’ which are a line of emojis with five skin tones. Apple made them available in their App store in the year 2013 and in iTunes in the year 2014. Mrs. Parrott has been recognized globally as the creator of five skin tone emoji. She has also been recognized as pioneer in diversity and inclusion and also her iDIVERSICONS emoji have been featured in a 2019 film: An emoji Documentary. Numerous articles too have been published in various magazines like PC World, CNN, Texas Monthly, Black Enterprise, Women Leadership Magazine USA, SEVENTEEN, The Daily Dot, Houston Chronicle, Puget Sound Business Journal regarding the innovative idea of Mrs. Parrott for celebrating diversity.

In the year 2014, Mrs. Parrott had a discussion with APPLE for a potential Partnership between them and Cub Club Investment, LLC. In the said meeting, she presented her solution of using a colour modifier pallet to implement the five skin tone options on digital keyboards, which is recognized and utilized globally. Additionally, she had also sent a letter via email to the CEO of APPLE for further discussion on the partnership between them. After several meetings, few officials requested her to provide with a series of five skin tone female emoji of the iDiversicons; male police officer and construction worker emoji; and also, a unicorn emoji based on requests from Apple users. As requisitioned, she provided with 100 (hundred) emojis of iDIVERSICONS and also emojis for series of five skin tone female. Though, possibility of partnership did not work out between both the parties but Apple went ahead and released at least four versions of its emoji with five skin tone options and their emojis are the same or at least substantially similar to the copyrighted iDiversicons emoji that were shared. The point of contention and concern between the parties is that, APPLE released its own five skin tone keyboard modifier pallet in the year 2015 which had an adverse impact on the business of Mrs. Parrott as the downloads of her iDIVERSICONS dropped. This led the filing of the lawsuit before the western district court of Texas against APPLE accusing them for infringing her copyright and trade dress, misappropriating her ideas and technology, unfair competition and unjust enrichment. She is seeking compensation for the loss suffered by her due to copyright infringement by APPLE.

Another interesting case regarding this is the case involving Mattel designs that sell famous fashion doll, Barbie. Carter Bryant was initially employed at Mattel to work on fashion and hairstyle for Barbie dolls. During the tenure, Bryant came up with the idea of Bratz dolls which are multi- ethnic, trendy and urban. Though the idea behind inventing them was diversity and inclusivity but with swollen heads, pouty lips, spindly limbs and chunky heeled shoes, this idea behind giving dolls a colour has sparked a racial debate.

Bryant shared his sketches of Bratz dolls with MGA entertainment and during the course of his employment at Mattel, Bryant created a sculpt of a Bratz doll for MGA. Subsequently, Mattel filed a law suit against MGA entertainment and Carter Bryant for copyright infringement. Mattel also sued Carter Bryant because he had violated the terms in his employment contract that gave Mattel rights to all dolls that Bryant designed while he was a Mattel employee, which included the design for the Bratz dolls.  The district court eventually granted equitable relief, making its own infringement findings as to specific products. It found that the Bratz dolls were based on Carter’s sketches and many subsequent Bratz dolls created by MGA were substantially similar to the sketches and thus infringed Mattel’s copyright.

Both issues though they give full play to an individual’s creative instinct but at the same time draw immense criticism for expanding racial tension in a significant section of society. The legal battle for ownership of intellectual property in both above cases has turned into an ugly racial spat that has been embedded in the world societal structure since decades.

While one section that is celebrating diversity through such ideas, there is another section that has classified such ideas as fuelling racism and dividing the populace based on colour. Though the intention might not be to sow hatred and division but this innovation is being used to make racist comments on social media. Inserting a reference to race in everyday conversations of the people have only made the situation worse.

We at this conjecture of a dynamic global economy spread across borders, whether colour and rascism should remain or we have actually crossed that obstacle and are ready to ensure equality for all irrespective of diversity. We hope we overcome the same and work towards a global and harmonious world.

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