Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

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Safeway and its proprietor filed suit against DPB and its owner, alleging federal trademark infringement under the Lanham Act and deceptive trade practices under Minnesota state law. Safeway claimed that DPB infringed two unregistered description trademarks -- "Rent My Party Bus" and "952 Limo Bus." The district court permanently enjoined defendants from using the trademarks or related domain names, keywords, or hashtags in connection with the advertisement, marketing, or sale of transportation services. However, the district court denied plaintiffs' requests for disgorgement of profits and attorney's fees. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court's finding of no actual confusion and thus, no unjust enrichment, was not clearly erroneous; the district court did not erroneously place the burden of proof on Safeway to prove unjust enrichment; and Safeway bore the burden of proving DPB's sales. The court also held that the district court's findings, when taken in their totality, support its conclusion that Safeway is not entitled to a disgorgement of profits based on deterrence. In this case, the district court actually found that DPB held a good faith belief in its right to use the trademarks. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Safeway's request for disgorgement of profits, and did not abuse its discretion in denying Safeway's request for attorney's fees. View "Safeway Transit LLC v. Discount Party Bus, Inc." on Justia Law

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Intellisoft sued Acer in California state court, asserting state law claims, including misappropriation of trade secrets. After more than three years of litigation, Acer sought to plead a patent inventorship counterclaim under federal law and thereafter removed the action to a federal district court, which denied Intellisoft’s motion to remand and later entered final judgment in favor of Acer. The Federal Circuit reversed. Removal was not proper under 28 U.S.C. 1441. Acer’s arguments do not establish that Intellisoft’s trade secret claim necessarily raised patent law issues. Intellisoft did not need to establish patent infringement to prove trade secrets misappropriation. A plaintiff’s reliance on a patent as evidence to support its state law claims does not necessarily require the resolution of a substantial patent question. Removal was not proper under section 1454, which requires that the claim supporting removal must be contained in an operative pleading. Acer’s cross-complaint was not operative, the counterclaim was never “asserted” under section 1454. View "Intellisoft, Ltd. v. Acer America Corp." on Justia Law

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Myco believed its competitor, BlephEx, made false and misleading statements about Myco’s product and whether it infringed BlephEx’s patent, entitled “Method and Device for Treating an Ocular Disorder.” The district court preliminarily enjoined BlephEx from making allegations of patent infringement and from threatening litigation against Myco’s potential customers. The Federal Circuit reversed. Federal law requires a showing of bad faith before a patentee can be enjoined from communicating his patent rights. A showing of “bad faith” must be supported by a finding that the claims asserted were objectively baseless. There was no adequate basis to conclude that allegations of patent infringement would be false or misleading. Even if the injunction were narrowly tailored to allegations of infringement and threats of litigation against Myco’s potential customers, the “medical practitioner immunity” provision of 35 U.S.C. 287(c) does not blanketly preclude a patent owner from stating that a medical practitioner’s performance of a medical activity infringes a patent. Myco asked the court to assume, without any supporting evidence, that a doctor would have interpreted general statements as an accusation of patent infringement and a threat of litigation against the doctor herself. View "Myco Industries, Inc. v. Blephex, LLC" on Justia Law

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Audrie, the Potts’ daughter, was sexually assaulted while unconscious from intoxication. Her assailants distributed intimate photographs of her. Audrie committed suicide. The Potts, as the registered successors-in-interest to “deceased personality” rights for Audrie under Civil Code 3344.1, authorized the use of Audrie’s name and likeness in a documentary. The Potts sued Lazarin under section 3344.1, claiming that Lazarin (who claims to be Audrie’s biological father) had used Audrie’s name and likeness "for the purpose of advertising services” without their consent. Lazarin admitted that he had displayed Audrie’s photograph “to change the law regarding parental rights” but argued that he had not acted to promote “goods or services.” The Potts submitted evidence that Lazarin solicited donations for a suicide prevention group, using Audrie’s name and photograph. Lazarin brought an unsuccessful special motion to strike the complaint under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. The court of appeal reversed. Lazarin made a prima facie showing that the Potts’ suit was based on his “written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.” The Potts failed to establish that there was a “probability” that they would “prevail” on their Civil Code section 3344.1 suit; they did not show that Lazarin “misappropriate[ed] the economic value generated by [Audrie’s] fame through the merchandising” of her name or likeness. View "Pott v. Lazarin" on Justia Law

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VIP filed suit seeking a declaration that its "Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker" toy did not infringe JDPI's trademark rights or, in the alternative, that Jack Daniel's trade dress and bottle design were not entitled to trademark protection. JDPI counterclaimed and alleged claims of trademark infringement and dilution. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to JDPI on the issues of aesthetic functionality and distinctiveness. The court held that the district court correctly found that Jack Daniel's trade dress and bottle design are distinctive and aesthetically nonfunctional, and thus entitled to trademark protection; VIP also failed to rebut the presumption of nonfunctionality and distinctiveness of the Jack Daniel's bottle design; the district court correctly rejected VIP's nominative fair use defense; and the district court correctly rejected VIP's request for cancellation of the registered mark and rejected VIP's nominative fair use defense. However, the panel held that the dog toy is an expressive work entitled to First Amendment protection. In this case, the district court erred in finding trademark infringement without first requiring JDPI to satisfy at least one of the two Rogers prongs. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's judgment as to the dilution claim, vacated the judgment on the trademark infringement claim, and remanded for further proceedings. View "VIP Products LLC v. Jack Daniel's Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant on the grounds that plaintiff's trade dress registrations, which cover the shape and color scheme of its chicken feeder products, are functional and thus only eligible for patent law's protection of utilitarian inventions. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff's claims of trade dress infringement under the Lanham Act and North Carolina common law. The court held that the total feeder profile is functional and ineligible for trade dress protection. The court explained that, because the color trade dress was placed on the supplemental trademark register, rather than the principal register, it is presumed functional, and plaintiff bears the burden of proving non-functionality. In this case, the court held that plaintiff cannot do so because its own utility patents and witness testimony establish that the red pan and gray spokes serve the functional purpose of attracting chickens to feed. Finally, the court held that the district court's order recommending a trial sanction for spoliation of evidence was moot. View "CTB, Inc. v. Hog Slat, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, a licensing company, alleging that the Burbank High School student show choirs failed to obtain licenses for their use of copyrighted sheet music in arranging a show choir performance. The panel held that plaintiff lacked standing to sue as to three of the four musical works at issue, and that the defense of fair use rendered the use of the fourth work noninfringing. In regard to the three works, plaintiff received its interests in the three songs from individual co-owners of copyright, without the consent of the other co-owners, and therefore held only nonexclusive licenses in those works. The panel held that the use of the fourth work was a fair use in light of the limited and transformative nature of the use and the work's nonprofit educational purposes in enhancing the educational experience of high school students. Finally, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion in denying defendants' motion for attorneys' fees under 17 U.S.C. 505, and remanded for the calculation of the award. View "Tresóna Multimedia, LLC v. Burbank High School Vocal Music Ass'n" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Intersal, a marine salvage company, discovered the shipwreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge off the North Carolina coast. North Carolina, the shipwreck’s legal owner, contracted with Intersal to conduct recovery. Intersal hired videographer Allen to document the efforts. Allen recorded the recovery for years. He registered copyrights in all of his works. When North Carolina published some of Allen’s videos and photos online, Allen sued for copyright infringement, arguing that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA, 17 U.S.C. 511(a)) removed the states’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement cases. The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit, ruling in favor of North Carolina. Congress lacked the authority to abrogate the states’ immunity from copyright infringement suits in the CRCA. A federal court may not hear a suit brought by any person against a nonconsenting state unless Congress has enacted “unequivocal statutory language” abrogating the states’ immunity from suit and some constitutional provision allows Congress to have thus encroached on the states’ sovereignty. Under existing precedent, neither the Intellectual Property Clause, Art. I, section 8, cl. 8, nor Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which authorizes Congress to “enforce” the commands of the Due Process Clause, provides that authority. View "Allen v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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Windy CIty’s patents share a common specification and are generally related to methods for communicating over a computer-based network. Exactly one year after being served with Windy City’s infringement complaint, Facebook timely petitioned for inter partes review (IPR). Windy City had not yet identified the specific claims it was asserting in the infringement proceeding. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board instituted IPR. After Windy City identified the claims it was asserting in the infringement litigation, Facebook filed two additional petitions for IPR of additional claims and motions for joinder to the already instituted IPRs. The one-year time bar of 35 U.S.C. 315(b) had passed. The Board nonetheless instituted new IPRs and granted joinder, then held that Facebook had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that some of the challenged claims, including several claims only challenged in the later-joined proceedings, are unpatentable as obvious but had failed to show that others were unpatentable. The Federal Circuit vacated in part. The Board erred in allowing Facebook to join itself to a proceeding in which it was already a party and in allowing Facebook to add new claims to the IPRs through that joinder. The court held that the obviousness determinations on the originally instituted claims are supported by substantial evidence. View "Facebook, Inc. v. Windy City Innovations, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1996, two doctors discovered cell-free fetal DNA in maternal plasma and serum, previously discarded as medical waste. In 2001, they obtained a patent, claiming a method for detecting the small fraction of paternally inherited cell-free fetal DNA in the plasma and serum of a pregnant woman. In 2015, the Federal Circuit (Ariosa) held that the patent's claims were invalid under 35 U.S.C. 101, as directed to “matter that is naturally occurring.” The patents at issue are unrelated to the Ariosa patent and begin by acknowledging the "Ariosa" natural phenomenon, then identify a problem that was the subject of further research: there was no known way to distinguish and separate the tiny amount of fetal DNA from the vast amount of maternal DNA. The patents use an additional discovery to claim methods of preparing a fraction of cell-free DNA that is enriched in fetal DNA. The Federal Circuit concluded that the claims are patent-eligible. These inventors patented methods of preparing a DNA fraction. The claimed methods utilize the natural phenomenon that the inventors discovered by employing physical process steps to selectively remove larger fragments of cell-free DNA to enrich a mixture in cell-free fetal DNA. Those steps change the composition of the mixture, resulting in a DNA fraction that is different from the naturally-occurring fraction in the mother’s blood. View "Illumina, Inc. v. Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc." on Justia Law