Justia Intellectual Property Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
CTB, Inc. v. Hog Slat, Inc.
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
Life Technologies Corp. v. Govindaraj
Life filed a complaint against another corporation of the same name, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act. Life obtained an injunction against the defendant corporation and its officers, including the corporation's president, who was not named a defendant. After entry of a default judgment against the corporation and damages-related discovery, the district court awarded damages and attorneys' fees against both the defendant corporation and its president personally. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in entering judgment against the president personally when he was not named as a party or otherwise brought into the case by service of process. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the president in contempt of court. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for the district court to determine whether any of the damages and fees award entered against the president is attributable to his contempt of court. View "Life Technologies Corp. v. Govindaraj" on Justia Law
Brammer v. Violent Hues Productions, LLC
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Violent Hues in a copyright infringement action brought by plaintiff, a commercial photographer, alleging that Violent Hues made an unlicensed use of one of his photographs on its website. The photograph at issue, "Adams Morgan at Night," was uploaded from the image-sharing website Flickr. The court rejected Violent Hues' fair use defense and held that none of the fair use factors weigh in favor of Violent Hues. In this case, Violent Hues' reproduction of the photo was non-transformative and commercial; the photo merits thick protection and the published status of the photo was not relevant here; and Violent Hues used roughly half of the photo and kept the most expressive features of the work. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Brammer v. Violent Hues Productions, LLC" on Justia Law
Booking.com B.V. v. US Patent & Trademark Office
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's summary judgment ruling regarding the protectability of the proposed trademark BOOKING.COM. The court held that the district court, in weighing the evidence before it, did not err in finding that the USPTO failed to satisfy its burden of proving that the relevant public understood BOOKING.COM, taken as a whole, to refer to general online hotel reservation services rather than Booking.com the company. Therefore, the district court did not err in finding that BOOKING.COM is a descriptive, rather than generic, mark. Furthermore, because USPTO did not challenge the district court's finding that BOOKING.COM has acquired secondary meaning where the mark is deemed descriptive, the court affirmed the district court's partial grant of summary judgment finding that BOOKING.COM is protectable as a trademark. Finally, the district court's grant of attorney fees was affirmed under Shammas v. Focarino, 784 F.3d 219, 225 (4th Cir. 2015), where an applicant that decides to challenge the USPTO's ruling in district court must pay all the expenses of the proceeding whether the final decision was in its favor or not. View "Booking.com B.V. v. US Patent & Trademark Office" on Justia Law
Allen v. Cooper
Plaintiff, a videographer, and his video production company, filed suit against North Carolina, alleging that plaintiff's copyrights were violated when North Carolina published video footage and a still photograph that he took of the 18th century wreck of a pirate ship that sank off the North Carolina coast. Plaintiff and his company also sought to declare unconstitutional a 2015 state law, N.C. Gen. Stat. 121-25(b), that provided that photographs and video recordings of shipwrecks in the custody of North Carolina are public records. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss with prejudice the claims against the state officials in their individual capacities and to dismiss without prejudice the remaining claims. The court held that North Carolina did not waive its sovereign immunity when it signed the 2013 Settlement Agreement; the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act did not validly abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity; and the Ex parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity did not apply in this case. View "Allen v. Cooper" on Justia Law
Variety Stores, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
This trademark infringement action concerned whether Walmart's use of the mark "Backyard Grill" on its grills, and grilling supplies infringed on Variety's use of its registered mark, "The Backyard," and unregistered marks, "Backyard" and "Backyard BBQ." Variety appealed the district court's calculation of disgorged profits and denial of its request for a jury trial, and Walmart cross-appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Variety and award of profit disgorgement, costs, and attorneys' fees. The court held that the district court improperly granted summary judgment in Variety's favor because there were genuine disputes of material fact as to whether a likelihood of confusion exists. The court vacated the district court's order granting Variety's motion for partial summary judgment and affirmed the order denying Walmart's motion for summary judgment; vacated every order entered subsequent to the summary judgment rulings; vacated the award of profit disgorgement, costs, and attorneys' fees; and dismissed the parties' respective cross-appeals pertaining to disgorgement, denial of jury trial, and award of costs and fees. View "Variety Stores, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law
Rainbow School, Inc. v. Rainbow Early Education Holding LLC
The district court held Early Education in contempt and awarded Rainbow School $60,000, plus attorney's fees and costs, after Early Education violated the terms of a consent judgment and permanent injunction. The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that the district court did not clearly err in finding multiple violations of the injunction; Early Education's violations harmed the Rainbow School; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding damages and attorney's fees and costs. The court dismissed Early Education's appeal from the order requiring it to undergo an audit based on lack of appellate jurisdiction. The court held that the question of whether Early Education should initially pay for an audit was neither inextricably linked nor a necessary precursor to the issues presented in the appeal from the district court's prior order, which made a determination of contempt and had nothing to do with paying for an audit. View "Rainbow School, Inc. v. Rainbow Early Education Holding LLC" on Justia Law
BMG Rights Management v. Cox Communications
BMG filed suit against Cox, alleging copyright infringement, seeking to hold Cox contributorily liable for infringement of BMG's copyrights by subscribers to Cox's Internet service. On appeal, Cox argued that the district court erred in denying it the safe harbor defense and incorrectly instructed the jury. The Fifth Circuit held that Cox was not entitled to the safe harbor defense under section 512(a) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(a), because it failed to implement its policy in any consistent or meaningful way. The court held that the district court did erred in charging the jury as to the intent necessary to prove contributory infringement. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "BMG Rights Management v. Cox Communications" on Justia Law
SAS Institute, Inc. v. World Programming Ltd.
This case arose out of competition in the market for software used to manage and analyze large and complex datasets. SAS filed suit against WPL, alleging that WPL breached a license agreement for SAS software and violated copyrights on that software. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment finding WPL liable for beach of the license agreement, holding that the contractual terms at issue were unambiguous and that SAS has shown that WPL violated those terms. The court vacated the portion of the district court's ruling on the copyright claim and remanded with instructions to dismiss it as moot. View "SAS Institute, Inc. v. World Programming Ltd." on Justia Law