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'Not a generic name': Booking.com wins trademark fight at U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The travel reservation company Booking.com, a unit of Booking Holdings Inc, deserves to be able to trademark its name, the U.S. Supreme Court decided on Tuesday, overruling a federal agency that found it too generic to merit protection. The court decided 8-1 that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was incorrect when it denied the company’s application to trademark the name Booking.com, with the justices finding it distinctive enough that the agency should have approved it.

The court said surveys made clear that consumers understand that Booking.com refers to a particular company, and not online hotel reservation services in general.

“Because ‘Booking.com’ is not a generic name to consumers, it is not generic,” liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the ruling.

In a dissent, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said the court’s majority had put too much emphasis on consumer surveys, which he said were of limited value.

Booking.com, based in Amsterdam, welcomed the ruling, with spokeswoman Kimberly Soward saying in a statement that it “demonstrates that the U.S. legal system has the capacity to evolve in order to reflect the digital world we are all living in.”

David Bernstein, a lawyer for Booking.com, called the decision “a victory for countless brand owners that have invested significant resources in building their brands – such as Weather.com, Law.com, Wine.com and Hotels.com.”

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office spokesman Paul Fucito declined to comment.

U.S. law allows trademark registrations only on terms that are “descriptive,” or able to distinguish a particular product or service from others on the market. “Generic” words that refer to an entire category of goods or services, like “car” or “computer,” cannot be protected under the law because that would give an unfair competitive advantage to the trademark holder. Booking.com began using its name globally in 2006, and filed U.S. trademark applications in 2011 and 2012. A U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tribunal rejected those applications in 2016, saying “booking” is a generic term for a category of services and that the addition of “.com” did not transform it into a protected trademark. Lower courts sided with Booking.com, prompting the patent office’s Supreme Court appeal. Tuesday’s ruling may guide how some other companies, such as Salesforce.com Inc and Home Depot Inc, protect their brands from potential copycats.

The May 4 oral argument in the case was the first that the justices held by teleconference amid the coronavirus pandemic. In another first, the public was able to hear arguments through a live audio feed.

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Supreme Court lifts ban on state aid to religious schooling – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it easier for religious schools to obtain public funds, upholding a Montana scholarship program that allows state tax credits for private schooling.

The court’s 5-4 ruling, with conservatives in the majority, came in a dispute over a Montana scholarship program for private K-12 education that also makes donors eligible for up to $150 in state tax credits.

The Legislature created the tax credit in 2015 for contributions made to certain scholarship programs for private education. The state’s highest court had struck down the tax credit as a violation of the Montana constitution’s ban on state aid to religious schools. The scholarships can be used at both secular and religious schools, but almost all the recipients attend religious schools.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion that said the state ruling violates the religious freedom of parents who want the scholarships to help pay for their children’s private education. “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Roberts wrote.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent that the high-court ruling “is perverse. Without any need or power to do so, the Court appears to require a State to reinstate a tax-credit program that the Constitution did not demand in the first place.”

Parents whose children attend religious schools sued to preserve the program.

Roughly three-dozen states have similar no-aid provisions in their constitutions. Courts in some states have relied on those provisions to strike down religious-school funding.

Advocates for allowing state money to be used in private schooling said the court recognized in its decision that parents should not be penalized for sending their children to schools that are a better fit than the public schools.

“This opinion will pave the way for more states to pass school choice programs that allow parents to choose a school that best meets their child’s individual needs, regardless of whether those schools are religious or nonreligious,” said Erica Smith, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented the parents in their court fight.

But the president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, which counts more than 12,000 teachers and other school workers as union members, called the decision “a slap in the face” to its members and the communities they serve.

“Today’s decision violates Montana’s commitment to public education, our children, and our constitution. Extremist special interests are manipulating our tax code to rob Montana children of quality education while padding the pockets of those who run exclusive, discriminatory private schools,” union president Amanda Curtis said.

Justice Samuel Alito pointed, in a separate opinion, to evidence of anti-Catholic bigotry that he said motivated the original adoption of the Montana provision and others like it in the 1800s, although Montana’s constitution was redone in 1972 with the provision intact. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose two daughters attend Catholic schools, made a similar point during arguments in January when he talked about the “grotesque religious bigotry” against Catholics that underlay the amendment.

The decision was the latest in a line of decisions from the Supreme Court, which now includes Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, that have favored religion-based discrimination claims. In 2014, the justices allowed family-held, for-profit businesses with religious objections to get out from under a requirement to pay for contraceptives for women covered under their health insurance plans. In 2017, the court ruled for a Missouri church that had been excluded from state grants to put softer surfaces in playgrounds.

The high court also is weighing a Trump administration policy that would make it easier for employers to claim a religious or moral exemption and avoid paying for contraceptives for women covered by their health plans. Still another case would shield religious institutions from more employment discrimination claims.

The Supreme Court also has upheld some school voucher programs and state courts have ratified others.

This story corrects the 9th paragraph spelling to ‘Erica,’ not ‘Erika.’

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Booking.com wins at U.S. Supreme Court in bid to trademark its name

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The travel reservation company Booking.com, a unit of Booking Holdings Inc, deserves to be able to trademark its name, the U.S. Supreme Court decided on Tuesday, overruling a federal agency that found it too generic to merit protection.

The court decided 8-1 that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was incorrect when it denied the company’s application to trademark the name Booking.com, with the justices finding it distinctive enough that the agency should have approved it.

The court said consumers understand that Booking.com refers to a particular company, and not online hotel reservation services in general.

“Because ‘Booking.com’ is not a generic name to consumers, it is not generic,” liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the ruling.

U.S. law allows trademark registrations only on terms that are “descriptive,” or able to distinguish a particular product or service from others on the market. “Generic” words that refer to an entire category of goods or services, like “car” or “computer,” cannot be protected under the law because that would give an unfair competitive advantage to the trademark holder. Booking.com, based in Amsterdam, began using its name globally in 2006, and filed U.S. trademark applications in 2011 and 2012. A U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tribunal rejected those applications in 2016, saying “booking” is a generic term for a category of services and that the addition of “.com” did not transform it into a protected trademark. Lower courts sided with Booking.com, prompting the patent office to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s ruling may guide how some other companies, such as Salesforce.com Inc and Home Depot Inc, protect their brands from potential copycats. The high court’s May 4 oral argument in the case was the first that the justices held by teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic. In another first, the public was able to hear arguments through a live audio feed.

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U.S. Supreme Court gives president more power over consumer financial agency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed President Donald Trump more authority over a federal agency charged with protecting consumers in the financial sector, empowering him to fire its director at will and ruling that the structure it was given by Congress violated the U.S. Constitution.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, stopped short of the much more drastic solution of invalidating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency set up in 2011 under Democratic President Barack Obama that long has been criticized by Trump and his fellow Republicans. The justices ruled in favor of California-based law firm Seila Law LLC, which challenged the agency’s structure after being investigated by it.

“The agency may therefore continue to operate, but its Director, in light of our decision, must be removable by the President at will,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote on behalf of the majority.

Trump has sought to undermine the CFPB. Kathy Kraninger, named by Trump to head the agency, took office in 2018 over the objection of Democrats and consumer advocates.

The legal fight focused on whether the agency’s director, a presidential appointee who serves a five-year term, has too much power because the president has only limited authority to remove the director. The law firm had argued that the CFPB structure violated the Constitution’s separation of powers provisions that vest executive authority with the president and limit the power of Congress to encroach in that area.

Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that established the CFPB, the president could terminate a director only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.” Lawmakers wanted the agency to be independent from political interference.

Seila, which brought one of several similar legal challenges to the agency, lost in lower courts and appealed to the Supreme Court. The law firm, which specializes in resolving consumer debt issues, sued in response to a 2017 CFPB request for information and documents during an investigation into whether it had violated federal consumer financial law.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the CFPB’s structure did not violate the Constitution.

Trump’s administration and the current CFPB leadership agreed with the challengers in the case, although administration lawyers stopped short of arguing that the entire agency should be struck down. The Democratic-led House of Representatives intervened in the case in defense of the agency.

The ruling is likely to affect a similar challenge to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, also led by a single director.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that the ruling “helps restore to Americans power over their government that the Dodd-Frank Act took away to protect entrenched and unelected bureaucrats in Washington.”

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Colorado Supreme Court upholds state’s ban on large-capacity gun magazines

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld the state’s ban on large-capacity gun magazines, finding that the prohibition does not violate residents’ right to bear arms as guaranteed by the state Constitution.

The justices ruled that the ban is a “reasonable exercise of police power that has neither the purpose nor effect of nullifying the right to bear arms in self-defense” set out in the Colorado Constitution.

The ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds was put in place in 2013 in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting the prior year, in which the gunman used such a magazine to fire more than 60 rounds in less than a minute, killing 12 and wounding dozens.

The court did not consider whether the ban violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Rather, the court considered a narrow argument — brought by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the National Association for Gun Rights and plaintiff John Sternberg — that the state’s ban on large-capacity magazines is worded in such a way as to constitute a ban on “practically all detachable magazines,” therefore violating the right to bear arms in defense of home, person and property.

The justices rejected that argument, finding that the state’s ban was specific enough to avoid running afoul of the state Constitution, and finding that the plaintiffs’ argument relied on an “overly broad” interpretation of the ban based on a “misreading” of the law’s plain language.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners declined comment Monday and the National Association for Gun Rights did not immediately return a request for comment.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement Monday that the ruling was a “win for public safety and the rule of law.”

“As the Court states in its opinion, there is overwhelming evidence that the General Assembly placed reasonable limitations on large-capacity magazines to 15 rounds when it passed the law seven years ago,” he said.

The court also found that the ban does not infringe on the state right to bear arms in self-defense because being able to fire more than 15 rounds without reloading is not necessary for self-defense.

The purpose of the ban, the court found, was clearly to try to reduce casualties in future mass shootings.

“The prohibition on (large-capacity magazines) is reasonably related to that legitimate — and increasingly critical — state interest,” Justice Monica Marquez wrote in the court’s opinion. “Evidence at trial established that the use of (large-capacity magazines) in mass shootings increases the number of victims shot and the fatality rate of struck victims. It also established that (large-capacity magazines) were used in some of the most horrific shootings in recent memory. These statistics have been deeply felt in Colorado, where (large-capacity magazines) played a lethal role in the Columbine and Aurora massacres.”

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Haulier appears in court over deaths of 39 migrants found in lorry container

A haulier has appeared in court charged with the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found dead inside a lorry container in Essex.

Ronan Hughes, who was extradited to the UK from Ireland, appeared via video link from a police station.

The 40-year-old faces 39 charges of manslaughter, and one count of facilitating the illegal entry of people into Britain between May 2018 and October 2019.

Prosecutors allege he played a leading role by allowing his trailers and drivers to be used in human trafficking.

The bodies of 31 Vietnamese men and eight women were found suffocated in the trailer of a lorry on an industrial estate at Grays in the early hours of 23 October 2019.

The trailer had arrived earlier at Purfleet docks on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

During the hearing, the judge read out the names of those who died.

Hughes was flanked by two police officers wearing face masks during an 11-minute hearing at Southend Magistrates Court.

He was not asked to enter pleas and did not ask for bail.

He told the court he was Irish and gave an address in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Hughes was remanded in custody and will appear next at the Old Bailey in London on 22 July for a plea hearing.

Northern Ireland lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25, pleaded guilty to 39 manslaughter charges in April – and he will be sentenced at a later date.

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