Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting SnugglyCat's motion to voluntarily dismiss this Lanham Act action without prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). The court rejected appellants' contention that the district court failed to consider their argument regarding legal prejudice; the court saw no need to adopt a per se rule that would bar dismissal without prejudice in all cases in which a plaintiff has sued under a fee-shifting statute and found that the district court did not commit an error of law; and the district court did not commit a clear error of judgment where it considered all the relevant factors, including SnugglyCat's purported reason for seeking dismissal of the action without prejudice—its inability as a small company to sustain the cost of continuing suit—and expressly found the motion to have been made in good faith. View "SnugglyCat, Inc. v. Opfer Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action alleging copyright infringement by the Disney movie Inside Out of plaintiffs' characters called The Moodsters. After plaintiff developed The Moodsters, anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions, she pitched to entertainment and toy companies around the country, including The Walt Disney Company. The panel held that, under DC Comics v. Towle, 802 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. 2015), lightly sketched characters such as The Moodsters, which lack consistent, identifiable character traits and attributes, do not enjoy copyright protection. Furthermore, under Warner Bros. Pictures v. Columbia Broad. Sys., 216 F.2d 945, 950 (9th Cir. 1954), The Moodsters are chessman in the game of telling the story. In this case, the panel applied the alternative "story being told" test and held that The Moodsters as an ensemble are no more copyrightable than the individual characters. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claim for an implied-in-fact contract where plaintiff was required under California law to do more than plead a boiler-plate allegation, devoid of any relevant details. View "Daniels v. The Walt Disney Co." on Justia Law

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Hafco’s patent, issued in 2013, covers a “Rock Dust Blower” used to distribute rock dust in areas such as coal mines, where rock dust is applied to interior surfaces, to control the explosive hazards of coal dust. Hafco contracted with GMS to serve as the distributor of Hafco’s blower for sale to mining customers. In 2015, Hafco terminated this arrangement, stating that performance was poor. GMS then produced a rock dust blower for sale to mining customers. Hafco sued for infringement. GMS filed an unsuccessful pretrial motion for patent invalidity. The jury found GMS liable for willful infringement and awarded damages of $123,650. The court entered a permanent injunction against infringement but remitted the damages award to zero, offering a new trial on damages. The Federal Circuit affirmed the judgment of infringement and the denial of GMS’ request for a new trial and remanded the case. The jury was correctly instructed that the question is how the ordinary observer would view the article as a whole. Given that there was no prior art introduced at trial, no attempt by GMS to introduce the prior art, and no proposed jury instruction on the issue, the purported exclusion of this instruction cannot be an error. View "Hafco Foundry & Machine Co. v. GMS Mine Repair & Maintenance, Inc." on Justia Law