Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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After the district court granted summary judgment in favor of two government agencies and a pharmaceutical company in this Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") case. Plaintiff, a science writer and journalism professor, sought records from the government agencies relating to the pharmaceutical company's successful application for accelerated approval of a drug for the treatment of a neuromuscular disease. The agencies produced over 45,000 pages of documents, some of which were redacted under Exemption 4 of FOIA. The district court granted summary judgment for the agencies and the pharmaceutical company on the basis that the redacted information fell within Exemption 4 and publication would either cause foreseeable harm to the interests protected by Exemption 4 or was prohibited by law.Plaintiff appealed and the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court held that the interests protected by Exemption 4 are the submitter's commercial or financial interests in the information that is of a type held in confidence and not disclosed to any member of the public by the person to whom it belongs. Defendants' declarations show that the release of the information Plaintiff seeks would foreseeably harm the pharmaceutical company’s interests and Plaintiff does not raise a genuine dispute as to that showing. View "Seife v. FDA, et al." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that, for Copyright Act purposes, the screenwriter Victor Miller was an independent contractor of the film production company Manny, Inc., in 1979, when Miller wrote the screenplay for the landmark horror film Friday the 13th, released in 1980. Manny argues primarily that Miller's membership in the Writers' Guild of America, East, Inc. (WGA), and Manny's participation in the producers' collective bargaining agreement with the WGA in the same period establish that Miller was Manny's employee for Copyright Act purposes.The court concluded that copyright law, not labor law, controls the "work for hire" determination here. The court explained that because the definition of "employee" under copyright law is grounded in the common law of agency and the Reid framework and serves different purposes than do the labor law concepts regarding employment relationships, there is no sound basis for using labor law to override copyright law goals. Furthermore, there was no error in the district court's refusal to treat Miller's WGA membership as a separate Reid factor. The court applied the Reid factors and concluded that Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay and is therefore entitled to authorship rights. The court also concluded that the notice of termination that Miller gave under section 203 of the Copyright Act is effective as to Manny and its successors. The court found that the Companies' remaining arguments did not provide a basis for reversal and thus affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Miller. View "Horror Inc. v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Hamilton filed suit against Vortic and its founder for selling wristwatches that featured restored antique pocket watch parts with Hamilton's trademark. The district court entered judgment in favor of defendants, finding that Vortic's use of the mark was not likely to cause consumer confusion.The Second Circuit confirmed that a plaintiff in a trademark infringement suit bears the burden of proving that a defendant's use of its mark is likely to mislead consumers, even when Champion Spark Plug Co. v. Sanders, 331 U.S. 125 (1947), is implicated, and that no particular order of analysis is required, provided that the district court considers all appropriate factors in light of the circumstances presented. The court affirmed the district court's judgment in this case, concluding that the district court properly placed the burden of proving trademark infringement on Hamilton, and correctly analyzed the relevant considerations under Polaroid Corp. v. Polarad Electronics Corp., 287 F.2d 492 (2d Cir. 1961), and Champion. Furthermore, the district court correctly applied Champion and Polaroid to these factual findings to conclude that there was no likelihood of consumer confusion. Finally, the district court properly concluded that defendants were entitled to judgment on the remaining claims. View "Hamilton International Ltd. v. Vortic LLC" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Foundation on its complaint for a declaratory judgment of fair use and the district court's dismissal of defendant's counterclaim for copyright infringement. This case involves visual art works by Andy Warhol based on a 1981 photograph of the musical artist Prince that was taken by defendant, Lynn Goldsmith, in her studio, and in which she holds copyright.The court concluded that the district court erred in its assessment and application of the fair-use factors and that the works in question do not qualify as fair use as a matter of law. In this case, the court considered each of the four factors and found that each favors defendant. Furthermore, although the factors are not exclusive, the Foundation has not identified any additional relevant considerations unique to this case that the court should take into account. The court likewise concluded that the Prince Series works are substantially similar to the Goldsmith Photograph as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's grant of final judgment for Mixpac on its claims of unfair competition, infringement of common law trademarks, and its claims under the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act) for trademark counterfeiting, infringement of registered marks, and false designation of origin. Mixpac and defendants are competitors in the U.S. market for mixing tips used by dentists to create impressions of teeth for dental procedures, such as crowns.The court disagreed with the district court's holding that Mixpac's trade dress—its use of yellow, teal, blue, pink, purple, brown, and white on mixing tips—is not functional. Instead, the court held that the use of these colors on mixing tips is functional, as the colors signify diameter and enable users to match a cartridge to the appropriate mixing tip. Accordingly, the court remanded for entry of final judgment in favor of defendants on the unfair competition, trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting, and false designation of origin claims. The court declined to address defendants' counter claims and to address in the first instance Mixpac's civil contempt claim. View "Sulzer Mixpac AG v. A&N Trading Co., Ltd." on Justia Law

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Canal appealed from the district court's judgment awarding $1.1 million in statutory damages to Omega for Canal's contributory infringement of Omega's trademarks. The infringement arose from sales of counterfeit Omega watches at Canal's property in Manhattan.The Second Circuit dismissed Canal's appeal of the denial of summary judgment, holding that the interlocutory appeal is not appealable. The court explained that once the case proceeds to a full trial on the merits, the trial record supersedes the record existing at the time of the summary judgment motion, and there is no basis for this court to review issues raised in a denied motion overtaken by trial.The court nonetheless affirmed the judgment on the merits via appeal of the jury instructions, holding that Canal's position is inconsistent with Tiffany (NJ) Inc. v. eBay Inc., 600 F.3d 93 (2d Cir. 2010), which held that a defendant may be liable for contributory trademark infringement if it was willfully blind as to the identity of potential infringers—that is, under circumstances in which the defendant did not know the identity of specific infringers. The court reasoned that this holding precludes Canal's argument that Omega needed to identify a specific infringer to whom Canal continued to lease property. At trial, Omega pursued a theory of willful blindness, and the district court's jury instructions accurately captured Tiffany's requirements. Finally, the court found no reversible error in regard to the district court's evidentiary and damages ruling. View "Omega SA v. 375 Canal, LLC" on Justia Law

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CFC appealed the district court's dismissal based on summary judgment of its complaint alleging trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition by Energizer. CFC contends that its trademark for automobile air fresheners, consisting of the words "Black Ice," is infringed and diluted by Energizer's sale of products labeled with the words "Midnight Black Ice Storm" and that its trademark, consisting of the words "Bayside Breeze," is infringed and diluted by Energizer's sale of products labeled with the words "Boardwalk Breeze."The Second Circuit concluded that the record developed by CFC sufficed to withstand Energizer's motion for summary judgment with respect to CFC's mark "Black Ice" but not its mark "Bayside Breeze." Accordingly, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment for Energizer on CFC's federal trademark infringement claim with respect to its "Black Ice" mark; affirmed the grant of summary judgment for Energizer on CFC's federal trademark infringement claim with respect to the "Bayside Breeze" mark; affirmed the grant of summary judgment for Energizer on CFC's federal trademark dilution claim with respect to both marks; reversed the grant of summary judgment for Energizer on CFC's state law claims with respect to the "Black Ice" mark; and affirmed the grant of summary judgment for Energizer on CFC's state law claims with respect to the "Bayside Breeze" mark. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Car-Freshner Corp. v. American Covers, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Curtis James Jackson III, the hip-hop recording artist known as 50 Cent, appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendant William Leonard Roberts II, the hip-hop recording artist known as Rick Ross, on the grounds that Jackson's claim of violation of the Connecticut common law right of publicity is preempted by the Copyright Act. The complaint alleged that, on the mixtape entitled Renzel Remixes, Roberts' use of Jackson's voice performing "In Da Club," as well as of Jackson's stage name in the track title identifying that song, violated Jackson's right of publicity under Connecticut common law.The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that Jackson's claim is preempted under the doctrine of implied preemption. In this case, Jackson's Connecticut right of publicity claim does not seek to vindicate any substantial state interests distinct from those furthered by the copyright law, and the policy considerations justifying the doctrine of implied preemption prevail.In the alternative, the court held that Jackson's claim as to the use of his voice on the mixtape is preempted by the express terms of section 301 of the Copyright Act. The court explained that the gravamen of Jackson's right of publicity claim, to the extent it is based on the use of the "In Da Club" sample, is not the use of his identity but rather the use of the copyrighted work itself, and that the focus of his claim therefore comes within the subject matter of copyright. Furthermore, to the extent that Jackson's right of publicity claim is based on the reproduction of a copyrighted work embodying Jackson's voice, that claim is preempted by section 301 because (1) its focus is Roberts' use of a work that falls within the "subject matter of copyright" and (2) it asserts rights that are sufficiently equivalent to the rights protected by federal copyright law. View "Jackson v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's third amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), alleging that defendants violated the Copyright Act by copying creative aspects from his unreleased science fiction videogame, including his use of a tardigrade -- a microscopic animal -- traveling in space, in their television series Star Trek: Discovery.Even assuming that actual copying occurred, the court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege substantial similarity between protectible elements of his videogame and elements from Discovery. The court explained that, overall, the presence of Ripper the tardigrade in Discovery is minimal, as it only appears in three episodes. Therefore, after extracting the unprotectible elements from plaintiff's videogame -- the scientific facts, general ideas, science fiction themes constituting scènes à faire, and generalized character traits -- the court held that the videogame and Discovery are not substantially similar because the protectible elements are markedly different. View "Anas Osama Ibrahim Abdin v. CBS Broadcasting Inc." on Justia Law

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Tiffany filed suit against Costco under the Lanham Act and New York law, alleging that Costco was liable for, inter alia, trademark infringement and counterfeiting in connection with its sale of diamond engagement rings identified by point-of-sale signs containing the word "Tiffany." The district court granted summary judgment for Tiffany and awarded Tiffany Costco's trebled profits along with punitive damages and prejudgment interest, for a total of $21,010,438.35.The Second Circuit vacated, holding that the district court's determination was inappropriate at the summary judgment stage. The court held that Costco has raised a question of material fact as to its liability for trademark infringement and counterfeiting and, relatedly, its entitlement to present its fair use defense to a jury. In this case, Costco argued that it was using the word in a different, widely recognized sense to refer to a particular style of pronged diamond setting not exclusive to rings affiliated with Tiffany. Costco claimed that its use of the term was not likely to confuse consumers—the essence of a claim for infringement—and that even if some degree of confusion was likely, it was entitled under the Lanham Act to the descriptive fair use of an otherwise protected mark. Accordingly, the court remanded for trial. View "Tiffany & Co. v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law