Homer Simpson May Be Headed to Court…D’Oh!

by Megan Carboni, Associate Staff

 

            Earlier this August, patent rights’ holder Alki David, owner of Hologram USA, filed suit against The Simpsons’ broadcaster, 20th Century Fox, for alleged patent rights infringements.[1] David asserts infringement of his acquired hologram technology used to bring Homer Simpson to life at this year’s Comic-Con convention in San Diego.[2] Oddly enough, Homer Simpson is not the only celebrity in hot water over alleged unauthorized use of David’s patented technology. Michael Jackson’s estate and Pulse Evolution are also being sued for the unauthorized use of David’s hologram technology to bring Michael Jackson back to life at the Billboard Music Awards.[3] Adding more fuel to the fire is Pulse’s cross complaint stating that David is “falsely claim[ing] credit for creating and developing the visual effects spectacle [of Jackson] in a nationally-televised interview on CNN, in press releases, and on his various websites […].”[4]

            So, where did this all begin? Stepping back in time, back to 1862, a stage trick for magic shows was developed by two magicians called “Pepper’s Ghost.”[5] “Pepper’s Ghost” was a lifelike illusion technique that has currently been popularized in movie special effects, concerts, and amusement park rides.[6] Most recently, “Pepper’s Ghost” inspired the hologram technology behind Tupac Shakur’s resurrection at the 2012 Coachella Music Festival, whose patent rights were acquired by David and Hologram USA in February 2013.[7] Unfortunately for the late Michael Jackson and the animated Homer Simpson, neither Pulse nor Fox obtained any licensing rights to use the same hologram technology to create their holograms before they were publicly debuted. [8] Thus, enter the multimillion-dollar patent infringement suits brought by David. David’s attorneys representing him in the Jackson lawsuit state that Pulse, and now Fox, “have created significant confusion in the marketplace [and] diluted the value of the Hologram USA brand.”[9]

            But were Simpson and Jackson holograms made with the same technology? Of course, patent experts in this field will have to weigh in to determine if any of David’s claims of stolen holograms have any weight to them. The accused parties have publicly disavowed David’s allegations, with Fox saying “[t]his filing is totally without merit […] except to say […] Mr. David has demonstrated his insatiable need to stay relevant.”[10] Pulse adds in their own suit against the Hologram USA owner that David is merely “divert[ing] public and industry attention away from Pulse Entertainment,” asserting claims against David of unfair business competition practices and trade libel.[11] Pulse further asserts that the “mischaracterization of the [Michael Jackson] animation as a hologram highlights David’s complete lack of technical expertise….[This] was not a hologram at all, rather, it was an animation projected onto a screen.”[12]

            Will the courts find for David in his patent infringement claims? Or will they find that there is little substance to his allegations? Does the industry need the distinction between each of the types of technology and animation to continue to bring this type of entertainment to the masses? Is it also coincidence that Fox successfully sued one of David’s media companies for copyright infringement in 2012?[13] Time, or a hefty settlement (D’Oh!), will tell who has the future rights to collect off of celebrity holograms/animations technology.

 



 

 

[1] Homer Simpson Duffed With Patent Lawsuit, WORLD INTELL. PROP. REV. (Aug. 18, 2014), http://www.worldipreview.com/news/homer-duffed-with-patent-lawsuit-7050.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Eriq Gardner, Michael Jackson ‘Hologram’ Show Sparks New Legal Crossfire (Exclusive), THE HOLLYWOOD REP. (June 19, 2014, 12:11 PM), http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/michael-jackson-hologram-show-sparks-713109.html.

[5] Eriq Gardner, Homer Simpson Hologram at Comic-Con Draws Patent Lawsuit (Exclusive), THE HOLLYWOOD REP. (Aug. 15, 2014, 12:54 PM), http://hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/homer-simpson-hologram-at-comic-725830.html.

[6] Amended Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial at 2, Hologram USA, Inc. et al. v. Pulse Evolution Corp. et al. (D. Nev. May 29, 2014) (No. 2:14-cv-00772).

[7] Eriq Gardner, Homer Simpson Hologram at Comic-Con Draws Patent Lawsuit (Exclusive), THE HOLLYWOOD REP. (Aug. 15, 2014, 12:54 PM), http://hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/homer-simpson-hologram-at-comic-725830.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Eriq Gardner, Michael Jackson ‘Hologram’ Show Sparks New Legal Crossfire (Exclusive), THE HOLLYWOOD REP. (June 19, 2014, 12:11 PM), http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/michael-jackson-hologram-show-sparks-713109.html.

[10] Gardner, supra note 6.

[11] Eriq Gardner, Michael Jackson ‘Hologram’ Show Sparks New Legal Crossfire, THE HOLLYWOOD REP. (June 19, 2014, 12:11 PM), http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/michael-jackson-hologram-show-sparks-713109.html.

[12] Id.

[13] See WORLD INTELL. PROP. REV., supra note 1.

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