Justia Intellectual Property Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Claudio De Simone v. VSL Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Defendants, VSL Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Alfasigma USA, Inc., appealed the district court’s order finding them in contempt of the court’s permanent injunction. The injunction prohibited Defendants from suggesting in promotional materials that their probiotic contained the same formulation as one marketed by Claudio De Simone and ExeGi Pharma, LLC. On appeal, Defendants (1) their statements weren’t contemptuous, (2) their statements didn’t harm Plaintiffs (3) the district court improperly awarded attorneys’ fees, and (4) VSL and Alfasigma shouldn’t be jointly liable for the fee award. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order. The court explained a party moving for civil contempt must establish four elements by clear and convincing evidence, relevant here are the last two: that the alleged contemnor by its conduct violated the terms of the decree, and had knowledge (at least constructive knowledge) of such violations; and that the movant suffered harm as a result. Defendants emphasized that consumers couldn’t access the Letter from Alfasigma’s home page. That’s true, as De Simone and ExeGi showed only that consumers could access the Letter by searching “vsl3 litigation” on Google. But the way in which consumers could access the Letter is irrelevant to Alfasigma’s constructive knowledge that it remained on the website. Further, under the Lanham Act, “commercial advertising or promotion” is “commercial speech . . . for the purpose of influencing consumers to buy goods or services.” Here, Defendants’ press release’s final sentence emphasizes VSL#3’s commercial availability, so the district court reasonably viewed the message as an attempt to realize economic gain. View "Claudio De Simone v. VSL Pharmaceuticals, Inc." on Justia Law
Snyder’s-Lance, Inc. v. Frito-Lay North America, Inc.
The waiver language in 15 U.S.C. 1071 relates only to the choice of review options for the decision appealed from. The Fourth Circuit held that a party seeking review of a subsequent Trademark Board decision may seek review in either the Federal Circuit or the district court, even if the Trademark Board's initial decision was reviewed by the Federal Circuit.In this case, the parties' dispute concerns the registration of the mark "PRETZEL CRISPS." Plaintiff sought to register the mark in 2004, but the trademark examiner denied registration. Plaintiffs reapplied for registration in 2009, but Frito-Lay opposed the registration and argued that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic for pretzel crackers and not registrable. The Trademark Board sided with Frito-Lay in 2014. Plaintiffs opted for the section 1071(a) route and appealed the Trademark Board's 2014 decision to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit agreed with plaintiffs in 2015, remanding to the Trademark Board. On remand in 2017, the Trademark Board again concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic, and alternatively concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" lacked distinctiveness. Plaintiffs sought review of the Trademark Board's 2017 decision, but the district court dismissed the case without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that the statutory text of the Lanham Act, while ambiguous, favors plaintiffs' argument in favor of jurisdiction. Furthermore, this conclusion is bolstered by legislative history, the court's sister circuits' holdings in similar cases, and policy considerations. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Snyder's-Lance, Inc. v. Frito-Lay North America, Inc." on Justia Law
Fleet Feet, Inc. v. Nike, Inc.
Fleet Feet filed suit against NIKE, alleging that NIKE's advertising campaign with the tagline "Sport Changes Everything" infringed on Fleet Feet's trademarks "Change Everything" and "Running Changes Everything." Fleet Feet also sought a preliminary injunction, which the district court granted, enjoining NIKE's use of the tagline and any designation "confusingly similar" to Fleet Feet's marks.While NIKE's appeal was pending, NIKE ended its advertising campaign and disavowed any intent to continue using the tagline. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot because NIKE no longer has a legally cognizable interest in the validity of the preliminary injunction. The court explained that, at best, NIKE's argument that the "confusingly similar" language in the preliminary injunction order presents only a potential controversy, which cannot sustain this appeal. In regard to NIKE's contention that the injunction bond is a live issue, the court agreed that the bond keeps the case as a whole from being moot but it does not do the same for the appeal. In this case, if the district court ultimately finds that NIKE's "Sport Changes Everything" campaign infringed on Fleet Feet's marks, the preliminary injunction will have been, at worst, harmless error. If it does not, NIKE may recover on the bond. Either way, the court explained that the district court must be the first to resolve NIKE's challenge on the merits. The court found no good reason to vacate the district court's order and opinion granting a preliminary opinion, remanding for further proceedings as necessary. View "Fleet Feet, Inc. v. Nike, Inc." on Justia Law
RXD Media, LLC v. IP Application Development LLC
This appeal arose out of trademark litigation initiated by RXD against Apple over rights to use the "ipad" mark. After the district court awarded summary judgment in favor of Apple on all claims advanced by RXD and on all counterclaims asserted by Apple, the district court permanently enjoined RXD from any commercial use of the terms "ipad" or "ipod." RXD challenges the district court's infringement rulings.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Apple on both its claims and counterclaims, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its award of injunctive relief to Apple. The court concluded that Apple had an established, protected mark capable of being infringed by RXD's use of the mark in 2016. The court explained that RXD's use of "ipad" on its ipadtoday.com website was not subject to "first user" protection. The court also concluded that a jury could not have reasonably concluded that RXD’s use of the "ipad" mark was unlikely to cause consumer confusion. Therefore, the district court did not err in awarding summary judgment to Apple on its claim of trademark infringement. Given the clear evidence of RXD's infringement of Apple's use of the "ipad" mark, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the injunctive relief in favor of Apple.The court rejected RXD's contention that the district court erred in holding that Apple met its burden of establishing a bona fide intent to use the "ipad" mark for cloud storage services. Rather, contrary to RXD's assertion, Apple did not apply to use the "ipad" mark for cloud storage. The court explained that Apple was not required to prove a bona fide intent to use a trademark for services not identified in its application. Accordingly, the district court did not err in concluding that Apple had a bona fide intent to use the mark for the services listed in its application. View "RXD Media, LLC v. IP Application Development LLC" on Justia Law
UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Kurbanov
Plaintiffs, twelve record companies, filed suit against defendant alleging claims for five separate violations of the Copyright Act. Plaintiffs are Delaware corporations, with eight having their principal place of business in New York, three in California, and one in Florida. Defendant, born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, is a Russian citizen who still resides in Rostov-on-Don. Defendant owns and operates websites that offer visitors a stream-ripping service through which audio tracks may be extracted from videos available on various platforms and converted into a downloadable format.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss, holding that defendant's contacts sufficiently show he purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in Virginia. Therefore, the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(1) is appropriate if it is constitutionally reasonable. Because the district court did not perform a reasonability analysis in the first instance, the court remanded for the district court to do so. View "UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Kurbanov" on Justia Law
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