Justia Intellectual Property Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
Brumley v. Albert Brumley & Sons, Inc.
In 1975, Brumley assigned to his sons, Robert and William, his interests in a copyright to the hit gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away.” In 2006, Brumley’s four other children sought to terminate the assignment. Robert refused to recognize the termination as valid, arguing that Brumley was not the statutory author of the song and that a 1979 assignment of interests by Brumley’s widow prevented the heirs from later exercising termination rights. The district court ruled in favor of the heirs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed admission of a transcript and recording of a 1977 conversation between Brumley and one of the plaintiffs, but reversed and remanded because of the court’s exclusion of two articles discussing Brumley’s employment status at the time that he composed the song. View "Brumley v. Albert Brumley & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law
Yellowbook Inc. v. Brandeberry
In 2002 Brandeberry sold his phonebook business, AMTEL, to White, who in turn sold the business to Yellowbook, a national publisher of yellow-pages directories. In 2009, Brandeberry started a rival phonebook under the AMTEL name. Yellowbook brought a trademark-infringement suit. The district court found that when Brandeberry initially purchased the rights to the AMTEL mark the rights were transferred to both him individually and his corporation; since the sale to White did not involve Brandeberry in an individual capacity, Brandeberry retained his individual rights, and White received only a non-exclusive right to use the mark. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the contract transferred exclusive ownership of the mark and, even if it did not, Brandeberry’s rights were abandoned. The initial contract cannot be read to create joint ownership, and trademark law would not permit joint ownership under the facts in this case. View "Yellowbook Inc. v. Brandeberry" on Justia Law
United States v. Howley
Wyko sold parts to tire manufacturers, but in the U.S., provided parts for steel tire-assembly machines only for Goodyear. Wyko contracted with HaoHua, owned by the Chinese government, to supply parts unlike any it had previously built. Goodyear used machines like those Wyko needed. Goodyear asked Wyko to repair tire-assembly machines. Wyko sent engineers. Before their visit, both signed agreements that they might have access to trade secrets or other confidential information and that they would not disclose that information. A security guard reminded them that no cameras were allowed inside the factory. Unescorted for a few minutes, one engineer used his cell-phone camera to take photos that were forwarded to the design team. Wyko’s IT manager forwarded the e-mail to Goodyear. Goodyear notified the FBI. Convicted of theft of trade secrets (18 U.S.C. 1832(a)) and wire fraud (18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349), the engineers were sentenced to four months of home confinement, community service, and probation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions, rejecting an argument that the photographs did not meet the statutory definition because Goodyear did not take “reasonable measures” to protect secrecy. The court reversed the sentences because the court had not adequately explained its calculation of loss. View "United States v. Howley" on Justia Law
Vision Processing, LLC v. Groves
Since enacting a program for black-lung benefits in 1969, known as the Black Lung Benefits Act,83 Stat. 742, Congress has repeatedly amended the claim-filing process, sometimes making it harder for miners and survivors to obtain benefits, sometimes making it easier. The most recent adjustment, part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, reinstated a presumption that deceased workers who had worked for at least 15 years in underground coal mines and had developed a totally disabling respiratory or pulmonary impairment were presumed to be totally disabled by pneumoconiosis and to have died from it. The presumption is rebuttable. The Act also reinstated automatic benefits to any survivor of a miner who had been awarded benefits on a claim filed during his lifetime, 124 Stat. at 260. Groves, a miner for 29 years, filed a claim for benefits in 2006 and died four months later. An ALJ denied his widow benefits. The law changed while her appeal was pending. The Benefits Review Board concluded that the new law covered this claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Vision Processing, LLC v. Groves" on Justia Law
N.V.E., Inc. v. Innovation Ventures, LLC
LE, creator of the “5-hour ENERGY” energy shot, asserted that N.V.E., creator of the “6 Hour POWER” energy shot, infringed its trademark, under the Lanham Act. 15 U.S.C. 125(a). LE distributed a “recall notice” stating that NVE’s “‘6 Hour’ energy shot” had been recalled. NVE claims that the notice constituted false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act and anti-competitive conduct in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2. The district court first found that a likelihood of confusion did not exist between “6 Hour POWER” and “5-hour ENERGY” and held that the recall notice did not constitute false advertising or a violation of the Sherman Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed with respect to trademark infringement and false advertising claims, but affirmed with respect to Sherman Act claims. The “5-hour ENERGY” mark is suggestive and protectable, but the factors concerning likelihood of confusion were closely balanced, making summary judgment in appropriate. There were also unresolved questions of fact as to whether the “recall notice” was misleading, but there was no Sherman Act violation because it was relatively simple for NVE to counter it by sending notices that “6 Hour POWER” had not been recalled. View "N.V.E., Inc. v. Innovation Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law
Static Control Components, Inc v. Lexmark Int’l, Inc.
Lexmark manufactures printers and toner cartridges. Remanufacturers acquire used Lexmark cartridges, refill them, and sell them at a lower cost. Lexmark developed microchips for the cartridges and the printers so that Lexmark printers will reject cartridges not containing a matching microchip and patented certain aspects of the cartridges. SC began replicating the microchips and selling them to remanufacturers along with other parts for repair and resale of Lexmark toner cartridges. Lexmark sued SC for copyright violations related to its source code in making the duplicate microchips and obtained a preliminary injunction. SC counterclaimed under federal and state antitrust and false-advertising laws. While that suit was pending, SC redesigned its microchips and sued Lexmark for declaratory judgment to establish that the redesigned microchips did not infringe any copyright. Lexmark counterclaimed again for copyright violations and added patent counterclaims. The suits were consolidated. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction and rejected Lexmark’s copyright theories. On remand, the court dismissed all SC counterclaims. A jury held that SC did not induce patent infringement and advised that Lexmark misused its patents. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of federal antitrust claims, but reversed dismissal of SC’s claims under the Lanham Act and certain state law claims. View "Static Control Components, Inc v. Lexmark Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law
Balsley v. LFP, Inc.
The “Hot News Babes” feature of Hustler magazine invites readers to nominate young, attractive female news reporters for a monthly prize. In 2003, Bosley, a 37-year-old news anchor, entered a “wet t-shirt” contest at a Florida bar and ultimately danced nude. Durocher, took pictures without Bosley’s knowledge and published them on lenshead.com. Durocher included a visual copyright notice and a general warning. A few months later, Bosley lost her job when the story was reported. To end the photographs’ dissemination, Bosley bought and registered the copyright. In 2004, Bosley was employed as a television reporter in another city. In 2005, a reader advised Hustler of the availability of the pictures online and of Bosley being the “HOTTEST.” Hustler published the Durocher nude photograph in 2006 with text describing Bosley. Bosley’s suit alleged direct copyright infringement, 17 U.S.C. 101; contributory infringement, 17 U.S.C. 101; vicarious infringement, 17 U.S.C. 106(1), (3), (5); violation of Ohio common law right of privacy; violation of the Ohio statutory right of publicity; and violation of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Only the direct infringement claim survived. The jury rejected a fair use defense, but found the violation not willful, and awarded $135,000 plus fees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Balsley v. LFP, Inc." on Justia Law
T. Marzetti Co. v. Roskam Baking Co
Marzetti, which markets five varieties of “New York Brand the Original Texas Toast” croutons, sued under 15 U.S.C. 1125(a) alleging infringement based on Roskam’s use of the mark “Texas Toast” on its packaged croutons. The district court agreed with Roskam that the terminology is generic when describing a type of crouton, so that the mark “Texas Toast” is not entitled to trademark protection and that even if “Texas Toast” were a protectable mark, Roskam’s use did not create a likelihood of confusion among consumers. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing the generic quality of the mark. View "T. Marzetti Co. v. Roskam Baking Co" on Justia Law
Maker’s Mark Distillery, Inc. v. Diageo North America, Inc.
Maker's Mark sued Jose Cuervo for trademark infringement, based on Cuervo's use of red dripping wax seal on bottles of premium tequila. The district court found that the Maker's Mark trademark was valid, rejecting an argument of "functionality" under 15 U.S.C. 1065, and had been infringed. The court entered an injunction, but denied damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The court traced the history of bourbon whiskey and noted that Maker's Mark and its use of a red dripping wax seal, a registered trademark since 1958, occupy a central place in the modern story of bourbon. The majority of the factors indicate a possibility of "confusion of sponsorship" trademark infringement: strength of the trademark, relatedness of the goods, similarity, and marketing channels. Whether there was actual confusion was a neutral factor. View "Maker's Mark Distillery, Inc. v. Diageo North America, Inc." on Justia Law
Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publ’g, LLC
Famed singer-songwriter Roger Miller assigned original and renewal copyrights to his songs to defendant in the 1960s. Defendant filed applications to register renewal copyrights for 1964 songs with the Copyright Office in 1992 and subsequently registered these copyrights. In 2004, plaintiff, a company formed by Miller's heirs, sued for copyright infringement. The district court held that defendant owned the renewal copyrights and held an implied, non-exclusive license to exploit the 1964 songs based on plaintiff's actions and inactions in accepting royalty payments. Defendant moved to amend the judgment, arguing that it owned the renewal copyrights because it had applied to register them prior to Miller's death. The district court refused to hear arguments on the issue. On remand, the district court concluded that defendant did not own the renewal copyrights because Miller had died prior to vesting of the renewal rights and assignees were not included in the list of statutory successors. The court awarded $903,349.17 in damages. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 304(a)(2)(B)(i), the renewal copyright vested with Roger Miller, and thus with defendant as his assignee. View "Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publ'g, LLC" on Justia Law