Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The estate of guitarist Randy Wolfe filed suit claiming that Led Zeppelin copied portions of Taurus, a song written by Wolfe and performed by his band Spirit, in Led Zeppelin's opening notes of Stairway to Heaven.The en banc court affirmed the district court's judgment after a jury trial in favor of Led Zeppelin, holding that the 1909 Copyright Act, which does not protect sound recordings, controlled its analysis. In this case, Taurus was an unpublished work registered in 1967. Because the deposit copy defines the four corners of the Taurus copyright, the en banc court held that it was not error for the district court to decline plaintiff's request to play the sound recordings of the Taurus performance that contain further embellishments or to admit the recordings on the issue of substantial similarity.The en banc court also held that plaintiff's complaint on access was moot. The en banc court affirmed the district court's challenged jury instructions; rejected the inverse ratio rule, overruling circuit precedent to the contrary; and held that the district court did not err in its formulation of the originality instructions, or in excluding a selection and arrangement instruction. Finally, the en banc court affirmed the district court with respect to the remaining trial issues and its denial of attorneys' fees and costs to Warner/Chappell. View "Skidmore v. Zeppelin" on Justia Law

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VVV appealed the district court's dismiss of its trademark claims based on three marks and the denial of leave to amend its complaint. The Ninth Circuit assumed, without deciding, that the district court correctly applied the elements of claim preclusion to this case, but found that an exception to claim preclusion applied.The panel explained that an interparty proceeding before the TTAB is a limited proceeding involving registration of a trademark, and the TTAB has no authority to determine the right to use, or the broader questions of infringement, unfair competition, damages or injunctive relief. In this case, TTAB had no power to decide VVV's claims of infringement, dilution, and unfair competition or to grant either injunctive relief or damages. Therefore, the panel held that it would be unfair to preclude VVV from litigating these claims and seeking relief when barriers existed that prevented it from doing so in the first action. The panel reversed and remanded for the district court to consider, in the first instance, whether issue preclusion applied. The panel also reversed the denial of leave to amend the complaint, and affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claims as to the second and third marks. View "V.V.V. & Sons Edible Oils v. Meenakshi Overseas" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, for failure to state a claim, of an action brought by Great Minds, publisher of math curriculum Eureka Math. The complaint alleged a claim of copyright infringement against Office Depot.The panel held that Office Depot did not itself become a licensee of the "Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License" or otherwise infringe Great Minds' copyright by making copies of Eureka Math materials for a profit on behalf of school and school district licensees. In this case, there was no dispute that, if Office Depot were itself a licensee, commercial copying of Great Minds' material would fall outside the scope of the license and infringe Great Minds' copyright; under California law, the school and school district licensees' exercise of their rights under the license through the services provided by Office Depot did not result in Office Depot becoming a licensee; and the district court not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend the complaint. View "Great Minds v. Office Depot, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from the parties' longstanding dispute over the literary works of John Steinbeck. In this case, a federal jury in Los Angeles unanimously awarded plaintiff, as executrix of Elaine's estate (Elaine was the widow of Steinbeck), compensatory damages for slander of title, breach of contract, and tortious interference with economic advantage, and punitive damages against defendants.Determining that it had jurisdiction, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the orders granting summary judgment and striking defendants' defenses to tortious interference on grounds of collateral estoppel. Furthermore, the panel explained that it follows that the district court's decisions to exclude evidence related to defendants' different understanding of the agreement at issue or the validity of the prior court decisions were not abuses of discretion. The panel affirmed the compensatory damages award, holding that the record contained substantial evidence to support the awards on each cause of action independently. Furthermore, the compensatory damages were not speculative. The panel held that there was more than ample evidence of defendants' malice in the record to support the jury's verdict, thus triggering entitlement to punitive damages. However, the panel vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the punitive damages claims against Gail, Steinbeck's daughter-in-law, based on lack of meaningful evidence of Gail's financial condition and her ability to pay. View "Kaffaga v. The Estate of Thomas Steinbeck" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and award of attorney's fees to Sanctuary Clothing in an action brought by Fiesta, alleging that Sanctuary clothing copied its fabric design. The panel held that the district court did not err in finding that the design had been published prior to registration and therefore Fiesta's registration application contained an inaccuracy. Furthermore, Fiesta included inaccurate information on its application with knowledge that it was inaccurate. Therefore, the inaccuracy in the registration rendered it invalid as to the design under section 411(b)(1)(B) of the Copyright Act. The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees to Sanctuary Clothing. View "Gold Value International Textile, Inc. v. Sanctuary Clothing, LLC" on Justia Law

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MRT filed suit against Microsoft, alleging patent infringement stemming from MRT's development of a technology to protect electronic files from content piracy. The Ninth Circuit held that claim preclusion barred the claims in this suit that accrued at the time of MRT's patent-infringement action, because these claims arose from the same events—Microsoft's alleged misappropriation of MRT's software—as the prior patent infringement claims. Furthermore, they merely offer different legal theories for why Microsoft's alleged conduct was wrongful. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the dismissal of these claims.However, the panel held that, under Howard v. City of Coos Bay, 871 F.3d 1032 (9th Cir. 2017), claim preclusion did not bar MRT from asserting copyright infringement claims that accrued after it filed its patent-infringement suit: namely, claims arising from the sale of Microsoft products after MRT filed its patent-infringement suit. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's dismissal of these copyright infringement claims and remanded for further proceedings. View "Media Rights Technologies, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of two copyright infringement actions against defendants, accusing them of copying Malibu's lace designs. The court held that, at the pleading stage, Malibu successfully alleged ownership of valid, registered copyrights. Malibu also plausibly alleged striking similarity between Malibu's designs and defendants' designs. Furthermore, the district court abused its discretion in denying Malibu leave to amend its allegations of access for a theory of substantial similarity. Finally, the panel dismissed as moot H&M's cross-appeal from the district court's denial of attorney fees. View "Malibu Textiles, Inc. v. Label Lane International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed a jury verdict finding that he vicariously and contributorily infringed Erickson's copyrighted images by displaying them on his website and did so willfully. This case arose when defendant hired a website developer, Only Websites, to redevelop defendant's company website and three photos taken by Erickson were incorporated on the company site.The panel vacated the jury's vicarious liability verdict because Erickson presented no evidence that could constitute a direct financial benefit as a matter of law. However, the panel affirmed the jury's contributory liability verdict and upheld the judgment against defendant, because the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury that "knowledge" for contributory infringement purposes includes having a "reason to know" of the infringement. Finally, the panel vacated the jury's willfulness finding and remanded for a determination of whether defendant's infringement was willful on the existing record. View "Erickson Productions, Inc. v. Kast" on Justia Law

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VHT filed a copyright infringement suit against Zillow, alleging that Zillow's use of photos on its Listing Platform and Digs exceeded the scope of VHT's licenses to brokers, agents, and listing services who provided those photos to Zillow. The Ninth Circuit held that VHT failed to satisfy its burden of demonstrating that Zillow directly infringed the photos displayed on the Listing Platform, because VHT failed to provide evidence showing that Zillow exercised control; selected any material for upload, download, transmission, or storage; or instigated any copying, storage or distribution of the photos. The panel also held that VHT did not present substantial evidence that Zillow, through the Digs platform, directly infringed its display, reproduction, or adaption rights in 22,109 not displayed photos and 2,093 displayed but non-searchable photos. However, the fair use defense did not absolve Zillow of direct liability for 3,921 displayed, searchable Digs photos.The panel affirmed the district court's grant of Zillow's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict with respect to secondary infringement, both contributory and vicarious infringement. In regard to damages, the panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings as to whether the VHT photos remaining at issue were a compilation, and held that substantial evidence did not show Zillow was actually aware of its infringing activity nor was it reckless or willfully blind to its infringement. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "VHT, Inc. v. Zillow Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a Lanham Act action brought by Applied Underwriters, alleging claims for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Although the district court abused its discretion when it sanctioned Applied Underwriters and dismissed the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) absent an order requiring Applied Underwriters to file an amended complaint, the panel nevertheless affirmed the district court's earlier Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal because the use of Applied Underwriters' trademarks by defendants constituted nominative fair use. In this case, Applied Underwriters' service was not readily identifiable without use of the trademarks; defendants used only so much of the marks as was reasonably necessary; and use of the marks did not suggest sponsorship or endorsement. View "Applied Underwriters, Inc. v. Lichtenegger" on Justia Law