Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit wrote to clarify the role that de minimis copying plays in statutory copyright. The de minimis concept is properly used to analyze whether so little of a copyrighted work has been copied that the allegedly infringing work is not substantially similar to the copyrighted work and is thus non-infringing. However, once infringement is established, that is, ownership and violation of one of the exclusive rights in copyright under 17 U.S.C. 106, de minimis use of the infringing work is not a defense to an infringement action.The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants based on a putative de minimis use defense in a copyright case involving plaintiff's photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. The panel applied the Perfect 10 server test, concluding that Wilmott's server was continuously transmitting the image to those who used the specific pinpoint address or were conducting reverse image searches using the same or similar photo. Therefore, Wilmott transmitted and displayed the photo without plaintiff's permission. Furthermore, Wilmott's display was public by virtue of the way it operated its servers and its website. The panel also concluded that the "degree of copying" was total because the infringing work was an identical copy of the copyrighted Indianapolis photo. Accordingly, there is no place for an inquiry as to whether there was de minimis copying. On remand, the district court must consider Wilmott's remaining defenses, and it can address the questions surrounding plaintiff's ownership of the Indianapolis photo, in addition to the other defenses raised by Wilmott. View "Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Ayla, a San Francisco-based brand, is the registered owner of trademarks for use of the “AYLA” word mark in connection with on-site beauty services, online retail beauty products, cosmetics services, and cosmetics. Alya Skin, an Australian company, sells and ships skincare products worldwide. Ayla sued in the Northern District of California, asserting trademark infringement and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125(a).Alya Skin asserted that it has no retail stores, offices, officers, directors, employees, bank accounts, or real property in the U.S., does not sell products in U.S. retail stores, solicit business from Americans, nor direct advertising toward California; less than 10% of its sales have been to the U.S. and less than 2% of its sales have been to California. Alya Skin uses an Idaho company to fulfill shipments outside of Australia and New Zealand. Alya Skin filed a U.S. trademark registration application in 2018, and represented to potential customers that its products are FDA-approved; it ships from, and allows returns to, Idaho Alya Skin’s website listed U.S. dollars as the default currency and advertises four-day delivery to the U.S.The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(2) comports with due process. Alya Skin had minimum contacts with the U.S., and subjecting it to an action in that forum would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. The company purposefully directed its activities toward the U.S. The Lanham Act and unfair competition claims arose out of or resulted from Alya Skin’s intentional forum-related activities. View "Ayla, LLC v. Alya Skin Pty. Ltd." on Justia Law

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When an AM/FM radio station plays a song over the air, it does not pay public performance royalties to the owner of the original sound recording. Digital and satellite radio providers like Sirius, however, must pay public performance royalties whenever they broadcast post-1972 music. Before a 2018 amendment to the copyright law, 17 U.S.C. 1401(b), they did not have to pay royalties for playing pre-1972 music under federal law. State law was less clear.The district court held that California law, which grants copyright owners an “exclusive ownership” to the music, creates a right of public performance for owners of pre-1972 sound recordings and that Sirius must pay for playing pre-1972 music. The Ninth Circuit reversed, looking to the common law in the 19th century when California first used the phrase “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute. At that time, no state had recognized a right of public performance for music, and California protected only unpublished works. Nothing suggests that California upended this deeply-rooted common-law understanding of copyright protection when it used the word “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute in 1872, so “exclusive ownership” does not include the right of public performance. View "Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Apple in a trademark infringement action brought by Social Tech over the use of the MEMOJI mark. The panel held that mere adoption of a mark without bona fide use in commerce, in an attempt to reserve rights for the future, is insufficient to establish rights in the mark under the Lanham Act. The panel explained that Social Tech failed to put forward evidence that the release of its Memoji application to the public was for genuine commercial purposes warranting trademark protection and thus it failed to establish a triable issue regarding whether it engaged in a bona fide use of the mark in commerce within the meaning of the Lanham Act.The panel considered the totality of the circumstances and concluded that, while at the time of its original intent-to-use filing, Social Tech may have had some commercial intent to develop the Memoji application, at the time it filed its Statement of Use, its use of the MEMOJI mark was made merely to reserve a right in the mark. Because Social Tech did not engage in bona fide use of the MEMOJI mark in commerce, its registration is invalid, and Apple is entitled to cancellation of Trademark Registration No. 5,566,242. View "Social Technologies LLC v. Apple Inc." on Justia Law

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Ironhawk filed suit against Dropbox for trademark infringement and unfair competition, alleging that Dropbox's use of the name Smart Sync intentionally infringes on Ironhawk's SmartSync trademark and is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the affiliation of Ironhawk's product with Dropbox. After the district court concluded that Ironhawk could not prevail because a reasonable trier of fact could not find a likelihood of consumer confusion, Ironhawk appealed based on a theory of reverse confusion.The Ninth Circuit held that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to the likelihood of consumer confusion under a reverse confusion theory of infringement and thus reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Dropbox, vacating the judgment, and remanding for trial. The panel first concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Ironhawk's potential consumers include commercial customers. Applying the Sleekcraft factors, the panel then concluded that a reasonable trier of fact could find a likelihood of confusion. Therefore, Dropbox has not met its high burden of establishing that no genuine disputes of material fact exist as to the likelihood of confusion between Smart Sync and SmartSync. View "Ironhawk Technologies, Inc. v. Dropbox, Inc." on Justia Law

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Metal Jeans, an apparel brand and owner of the non-stylized "METAL" trademark, filed an infringement claim against Metal Sport, a powerlifting brand with a similar but stylized mark. The district court denied both parties' merits motions because material facts remained in dispute, but granted Metal Sport's separate motion for summary judgment on whether Metal Jeans was barred from pressing its infringement claim by the equitable doctrine of unclean hands. In doing so, the district court rejected Metal Jeans' counter-defense that Metal Sport also acted with unclean hands.In a separate memorandum disposition filed simultaneously with this opinion, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court improperly granted summary judgment against Metal Jeans. The panel wrote here to resolve an issue of first impression: the standard of review the panel employs when a district court concludes that a party has acted with unclean hands. The panel held that the appropriate standard of review of a district court's determination to grant summary judgment on the affirmative defense of unclean hands is abuse of discretion. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Metal Jeans, Inc. v. Metal Sport, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Desire filed suit against various defendants for copyright infringement, the district court held that Desire owned a valid copyright in the fabric design that was the subject of the action (the Subject Design), and that the Subject Design was entitled to broad copyright protection. The jury returned a verdict for Desire, finding that Manna, ABN, and Top Fashion willfully infringed the Subject Design, and that Pride & Joys and 618 Main innocently infringed the Subject Design.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Desire on the validity of its copyright and the scope of the Subject Design's copyright protection. The panel explained that the "similarity" of one design to another has no bearing on whether Desire "independently created" the subject design. Furthermore, defendants have also failed to introduce evidence that the Subject Design lacked the necessary "modicum of creativity" to be entitled to a valid copyright. The panel also held that the district court correctly extended broad copyright protection to the Subject Design. However, the panel held that the district court erred in permitting multiple awards of statutory damages. In this case, the district court correctly apportioned joint and several liability among the defendants, but the Copyright Act permits only one award of statutory damages here. Therefore, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated the judgment awarding Desire multiple awards of statutory damages, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Desire, LLC v. Manna Textiles, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's summary judgment in favor of defendants on a copyright infringement claim and affirmed the district court's dismissal and grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on a trademark claim concerning the book "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!," (the mash-up) a Dr. Seuss and Star Trek mash-up.The panel held that the mash-up does not make fair use of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" (the original work). The panel explained that the purpose and character of the mash-up; the nature of the original work; the amount and substantiality of the original work; and the potential market for or value of Seuss, all weigh against fair use. The panel concluded that the bottom line is that ComicMix created, without seeking permission or a license, a non-transformative commercial work that targets and usurps the original work's potential market, and ComicMix cannot sustain a fair use defense. The panel also held that Seuss does not have a cognizable trademark infringement claim against ComicMix because the Lanham Act did not apply under the Rogers test. In this case, the allegedly valid trademarks in the title, the typeface, and the style of the original work were relevant to achieving the mash-up's artistic purpose, and the use of the claimed original work trademarks was not explicitly misleading. View "Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP v. ComicMix LLC" on Justia Law

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Attia developed architecture technology called “Engineered Architecture” (EA). Google and Attia worked together on “Project Genie” to implement EA. Attia disclosed his EA trade secrets with the understanding that he would be compensated if the program were successful. After Attia executed patent assignments Google filed patent applications relating to the EA trade secrets and showed a prototype of the EA technology to investors. The patents were published in 2012. Google then allegedly excluded Attia from the project and used Attia’s EA technology to create a new venture. Attia sued Google for state law trade secret and contract claims. After Congress enacted the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA), 130 Stat. 376, making criminal misappropriation of a trade secret a predicate act under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Attia added RICO claims, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the RICO and DTSA claims. The misappropriation of a trade secret before the enactment of the DTSA does not preclude a claim arising from post-enactment misappropriation or continued use of the same trade secret but Attia lacked standing to assert a DTSA claim. Google’s 2012 patent applications placed the information in the public domain and extinguished its trade secret status. The court rejected an argument that Google was equitably estopped from using the publication of its patent applications to defend against the DTSA claim. View "Attia v. Google, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for ETC in an action brought by InteliClear, alleging that ETC misused its securities trading database. InteliClear alleged claims for trade secret misappropriations under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act.The panel held that: (1) there is a triable issue of fact as to whether (a) InteliClear described its alleged trade secrets with sufficient particularity and (b) InteliClear has shown that parts of the InteliClear System are secret; and (2) the district court abused its discretion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) by issuing its summary judgment ruling before discovery occurred. View "InteliClear, LLC v. ETC Global Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law