Stress Toy Claims Pounded Out in Court

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge squeezed out a few foam animals, but will let toy companies fight out copyright claims on seven “squeezy” toy designs that workers may abuse to relieve stress.
     Alpi International’s foam toys can be branded with corporate logos. Also known as “stress toys,” and often seen at industry trade shows, the toys can be squeezed, beaten, pounded on desks, and otherwise abused to release stress.
     Oakland-based Alpi sued Anga Supply in October 2013, claiming the Missouri-based corporation makes 18 squeezey toys that infringe copyright.
     Anga filed a counterclaim in June 2014, alleging copyright infringement against Alpi for 43 designs. Anga claimed it bought rights to the 43 designs for $80 six months after Alpi filed its lawsuit.
     Both companies filed for summary judgment in February this year.
     U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. ruled on Aug. 5 that neither party properly briefed multiple points of their arguments, but nonetheless a jury could construe some products to be sufficiently similar to find Anga guilty of infringement.
     “Anga does not, at least at this stage of the litigation, challenge the existence of some shared protectable elements between Alpi’s asserted designs and Anga’s allegedly infringing works,” Gilliam wrote. “Although the court is skeptical that each of Alpi’s bull, hammerhead shark, sea lion, shark, dolphin, orca and chicken designs possesses protectable elements, the court does not hold that no reasonable juror could find that Alpi and Anga’s designs are virtually identical.
     “Alpi’s designs are all extraordinarily similar to Anga’s allegedly infringing works. The salient question for the jury (or, if appropriate, for the court on a proper motion) will be whether those similarities arise from protectable elements or from the unprotectable elements that necessarily flow from the idea of small, animal-shaped foam and plastic squeeze toys.”
     Accordingly, Gilliam concluded: “Anga’s motion for summary judgment is denied with respect to Alpi’s claims for the bull, hammerhead shark, sea lion, shark, dolphin, orca and chicken designs, and granted with respect to the claims arising from Alpi’s frog, horse, astronaut, penguin and cow designs.”
     He added: “Alpi’s motion for summary judgment is denied in all respects with the exception of its argument concerning the availability of attorneys’ fees related to Anga’s counterclaim.”
     Gilliam set a case management conference for Aug. 18.

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