Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries
Hiller, LLC v. Success Group International Learning Alliance, LLC
In 1999, Hiller, the largest home-services company in Tennessee, became a paying “member” of Success Group, which offers management advice and customer-service training to home-services companies. Clockwork owned Success, which conducted training courses using manuals copyrighted by Clockwork. Hiller sent its employees to those courses; they had access to the Manuals. In 2014, Clockwork sold Success to Aquila. Clockwork retained ownership of the Manual copyrights but granted Aquila a perpetual license. In 2015, Hiller hired the Pike Group to create the Guide for use in place of the Manuals to train its technicians. Pike had no expertise in the home-services industry; to learn what Hiller wanted, Pike conducted a workshop attended by Hiller employees and representatives of Aquila and Success. The participants referred to at least one of the Manuals.The resulting Guide included some content taken directly from the Manuals. In 2016, Success conducted a class using a workbook that closely resembled the Guide. Hiller ended its Success membership, demanded that Success stop using the workbook, registered its copyright in the Guide, and sued Success for copyright infringement. Clockwork was allowed to intervene.A jury concluded that Hiller had a valid copyright in the Guide and that the Success workbook copied protected elements of the Guide. Clockwork’s request for declaratory relief invalidating Hiller’s copyright was rejected. The Third Circuit affirmed. The jury reasonably concluded that Hiller created enough original material to gain copyright protection and the jury was correctly instructed that the Guide’s incorporation of some Clockwork-copyrighted content did not invalidate Hiller’s copyright in the Guide’s original parts. View "Hiller, LLC v. Success Group International Learning Alliance, LLC" on Justia Law
Batiste v. Lewis
Paul Batiste, a local jazz musician, brought a copyright infringement action against the world-famous hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. After the district court found no evidence of copyrighting, it granted summary judgment for defendants and then ordered both Batiste and his attorney to pay defendants' attorneys' fees.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court acted well within its discretion in denying Batiste's motion for leave to supplement his summary-judgment opposition. The court also held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment for defendants on the copyright infringement claims where Batiste failed to produce evidence for a reasonable jury to infer that defendants had access to his music or to find striking similarities between his songs and those of defendants. Therefore, he cannot prove factual copying and his copyright claims fail. The court further held that, given the objective unreasonableness of Batiste's claims, his history of litigation misconduct, and his pattern of filing overaggressive copyright actions, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees to defendants under the Copyright Act. Finally, the court lacked jurisdiction to review Batiste's challenge to the district court's decision to hold his attorney jointly and severally liable for the fee award as a sanction. View "Batiste v. Lewis" on Justia Law
Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft
Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law
Corbello v. Vallli
Four Seasons front man Frankie Valli and other defendants associated with Jersey Boys did not infringe Rex Woodard's copyright in the autobiography of Tommy DeVito, now owned by Donna Corbello, Woodard's surviving wife.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, after a jury trial in favor of defendants, on the sole ground that Jersey Boys did not infringe DeVito's biography, and so the panel did not reach the district court's fair use rationale. The panel rests its decision primarily on the unremarkable proposition that facts, in and of themselves, may not form the basis for a copyright claim. In this case, each of the alleged similarities between the Play and the Work are based on historical facts, common phrases and scenes-a-faire, or elements that were treated as facts in the Work and are thus unprotected by copyright, even though now challenged as fictional. The panel explained that neither Valli nor the other defendants violated Corbello's copyright by depicting in the Play events in their own lives that are also documented in the Work. Therefore, because the Play did not copy any protected elements of the Work, there was no copyright infringement. View "Corbello v. Vallli" on Justia Law
Egenera, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc.
Egenera sued, alleging that Cisco’s enterprise server systems infringed the 430 patent. Before claim construction, and with Cisco’s inter partes review (IPR) petition pending, Egenera separately petitioned the Patent and Trademark Office to remove one of the 11 listed inventors from the patent. Egenera realized that all claim limitations had been conceived before one listed inventor, Schulter, had started working there. The Patent Board declined to institute IPR; Schulter was removed as an inventor. Following the district court’s claim construction of a “logic to modify” limitation and a trial on inventorship, Egenera asked the district court to add Schulter back to the patent. The court determined that judicial estoppel prevented Egenera from relisting Schulter and found the patent invalid for failing to name all inventors.The Federal Circuit affirmed the claim construction but vacated the invalidity judgment based on judicial estoppel. Egenera advanced no “clearly inconsistent” positions. Inventorship can depend on claim construction. Egenera’s inventorship petition was consistent with the underlying presumption was that Egenera’s claim terms, lacking “means,” were not means-plus-function. Schulter likely would not be an inventor under Egenera’s preferred construction but inventorship under that construction was not decided. Once claim construction issues were decided, it was entirely consistent for Egenera to request an accompanying formal correction of inventorship. In addition, Egenera did not succeed in persuading a court or court-like tribunal to accept its first position. View "Egenera, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
Neville v. Foundation Constructors, Inc.
Neville’s 708 patent and its parent 236 patent relate to foundation piles, which are tubular structures placed into the ground to provide stability for the foundations built over them. Such foundation piles can be driven into the ground through direct application of force or through rotational torque. The claimed inventions are directed to the screw-type foundation pile. The specification explains that rotational torque is applied through a “helical flight” at the tip of the foundation pile, which “draws the pile into a soil bed,” which is depicted in the figures as a structure similar to the helical structure of a screw.The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment, finding that Foundation’s accused products do not infringe. The district court properly construed the terms “end plate having a substantially flat surface,” and “protrusion extending outwardly from the end plate.” View "Neville v. Foundation Constructors, Inc." on Justia Law
Baxalta Inc. v. Genentech, Inc.
Baxalta sued Genentech, asserting that Genentech’s Hemlibra® product used to treat the blood clotting disorder hemophilia infringes claims of its 590 patent. The 590 patent relates to preparations used to treat hemophilia patients who have developed factor VIII inhibitors. After the district court issued a claim construction order, construing the terms “antibody” and “antibody fragment,” the parties stipulated to non-infringement of the asserted claims. The Federal Circuit vacated, finding that the district court erred in construing the terms by selecting a narrower construction, which is inconsistent with the written description and the plain language of the claim. View "Baxalta Inc. v. Genentech, Inc." on Justia Law
Christy, Inc. v. United States
Christy applied for a patent on its “ambient air backflushed filter vacuum” invention. The patent claiming that invention issued in 2006. Christy paid the patent's $1,000 issuance fee and the $490 3.5-year, $1,800 7.5-year, and $3,700 11.5-year maintenance fees. Christy and its licensee sued competitors for patent infringement. One competitor filed petitions for inter partes review (IPR). The Federal Circuit affirmed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s invalidity decision. Aggrieved by the cancellation of 18 claims of the patent, Christy filed a class-action suit, seeking compensation from the government, with a Fifth Amendment takings claim and, alternatively, an illegal exaction claim, seeking compensation amounting to the issuance and maintenance fees, Christy’s investments made in the technologies, and attorney fees spent in defending the IPR.The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The cancellation of patent claims in an IPR does not amount to a compensable taking. Christy’s argument regarding the fees fails because the law requires payment of the fees without regard to any later result of post-issuance proceedings, 35 U.S.C. 41, 151. Christy identifies no statute, regulation, or constitutional provision compelling the fees’ refund if claims are later canceled in post-issuance proceedings. Without showing how the PTO’s actions contravened the Constitution, a statute, or a regulation, Christy cannot state an illegal exaction claim. View "Christy, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
ECIMOS, LLC v. Carrier Corp.
Carrier manufactures residential Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. ECIMOS produced the quality-control system that tested completed HVAC units at the end of Carrier’s assembly line. ECIMOS alleged that Carrier infringed on its copyright on its database-script source code—a part of ECIMOS’s software that stores test results. ECIMOS alleges that Carrier improperly used the database and copied certain aspects of the code to aid a third-party’s development of new testing software that Carrier now employs in its Collierville, Tennessee manufacturing facility.ECIMOS won a $7.5 million jury award. The court reduced Carrier’s total damages liability to $6,782,800; enjoined Carrier from using its new database, but stayed the injunction until Carrier could develop a new, non-infringing database subject to the supervision of a special master; and enjoined Carrier from disclosing ECIMOS’s trade secrets while holding that certain elements of ECIMOS’s system were not protectable as trade secrets (such as ECIMOS’s assembled hardware). The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. There are sufficient reasons to conclude that Carrier did infringe on ECIMOS’s copyright, but Carrier’s liability to ECIMOS based on its copyright infringement and its breach of contract can total no more than $5,566,050. The district court did not err when it crafted its post-trial injunctions. View "ECIMOS, LLC v. Carrier Corp." on Justia Law
Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.
Without permission from Epic, TCS downloaded thousands of documents containing Epic’s confidential information and trade secrets. TCS used some of the information to create a “comparative analysis”—a spreadsheet comparing TCS’s health-record software (Med Mantra) to Epic’s software. TCS’s internal communications show that TCS used this spreadsheet in an attempt to enter the U.S. health-record-software market, steal Epic’s client, and address key gaps in TCS’s own Med Mantra software.Epic sued. A jury ruled in Epic’s favor on all claims, including multiple Wisconsin tort claims. The jury then awarded Epic $140 million in compensatory damages, for the benefit TCS received from using the comparative-analysis spreadsheet; $100 million for the benefit TCS received from using Epic’s other confidential information; and $700 million in punitive damages for TCS’s conduct. The district court upheld the $140 million compensatory award and vacated the $100 million award. It reduced the punitive damages award to $280 million, reflecting Wisconsin’s statutory punitive-damages cap. The Seventh Circuit remanded. There is sufficient evidence for the jury’s $140 million verdict based on TCS’s use of the comparative analysis, but not for the $100 million verdict for uses of “other information.” The jury could punish TCS by imposing punitive damages, but the $280 million punitive damages award is constitutionally excessive. View "Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd." on Justia Law