Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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The dealer had the exclusive right to sell the manufacturer's below-ground storm shelters in Missouri and Arkansas. The dealer created a wordmark—“Life Saver Storm Shelters”— and a logo using that name, which it affixed to the shelters. In 2006, the manufacturer obtained the dealer’s permission to use these marks on shelters marketed in Illinois. The manufacturer violated the limited license by using the marks on products sold throughout the country. The manufacturer's suit for trademark infringement, claiming prior use and ownership of the wordmark, was rejected on summary judgment. The dealer counterclaimed for trademark infringement and false endorsement under the Lanham Act. The district judge found for the dealer on all claims, entered a cease-and-desist order, and awarded $17 million in disgorged profits as damages but denied vexatious-litigation sanctions under 28 U.S.C. 1927 and attorney’s fees under the Lanham Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting the manufacturer's argument that the logo violated a statute that makes it a crime to use the American Red Cross emblem. The conclusion that the manufacturer engaged in trademark infringement on a vast scale was supported by the evidence. The court granted a limited remanded; although the judge reasonably concluded that section 1927 sanctions were not warranted, his summary denial of Lanham Act fees cannot be squared with his conclusions on the merits concerning infringement. View "4SEMO.COM, Inc. v. Southern Illinois Storm Shelters, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sullivan, a graphic design artist, produced 33 illustrations for Flora, an herbal supplement company, to use in two advertising campaigns. Upon noticing that Flora was using the illustrations in other ads, Sullivan brought suit for copyright infringement and opted to pursue statutory damages to maximize her potential payout by classifying each of her 33 illustrations as “one work” within the meaning of section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act. Flora argued that the illustrations were part of two broader compilations. The district court instructed the jury that Sullivan could recover separate awards of statutory damages for 33 acts of infringement on 33 separate illustrations. The jury returned a statutory damages award of $3.6 million. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court committed error in permitting separate awards of statutory damages unaccompanied by any finding that each or any of the 33 illustrations constituted “one work” within the meaning and protection of section 504(c)(1). View "Sullivan v. Flora, Inc." on Justia Law

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SportFuel registered its first “SportFuel” trademark for “food nutrition consultation, nutrition counseling, and providing information about dietary supplements and nutrition,” which became “incontestable” in 2013 (15 U.S.C. 1065). SportFuel later registered the trademark for “goods and services related to dietary supplements and sports drinks enhanced with vitamins.” Gatorade, created in 1965, is more widely known and is the official sports drink of the NBA, PGA, MLB, MLS, and other organizations. In addition to its traditional sports drinks, Gatorade now customizes its sports drinks by selling formulas that are tailored to the nutritional needs of individual professional athletes and sells other sports nutrition products. It began to publicly describe its products as sports fuels in 2013. In 2016 it registered the trademark “Gatorade The Sports Fuel Company.” Gatorade disclaimed the exclusive use of “The Sports Fuel Company” after being advised that the phrase was merely descriptive of its products. SportFuel sued for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false designation of origin in violation of the Lanham Act. Gatorade sought cancellation of SportFuel’s trademark, moved to exclude SportFuel’s expert’s testimony and survey evidence concerning the likelihood of consumer confusion from Gatorade’s use of the slogan. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Gatorade, finding that SportFuel failed to produce evidence that demonstrated a factual dispute on any of the three elements of Gatorade’s fair use defense. Gatorade descriptively used the term “Sports Fuel” in its slogan fairly and in good faith. View "SportFuel, Inc. v. PepsiCo, Inc." on Justia Law

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Narkiewicz‐Laine, an artist, rented space from the defendants in 2004. About six years later, the defendants cleared the rental space and discarded most of his property, including his only records of the stored property. Narkiewicz‐Laine filed suit, citing the Visual Artists Rights Act, 17 U.S.C. 106A. For certain visual art, the Act confers upon artists rights to attribution and integrity, including the right to prevent the work’s destruction. Narkiewicz‐Laine added claims for trespass, conversion, and negligence under Illinois law. He sought $11 million for his losses. The defendants presented evidence that Narkiewicz‐Laine had missed multiple rent payments and stopped paying for the property's utilities, and testified that, before emptying the space, they saw nothing resembling art or valuable personal property. The defendants introduced Narkiewicz‐Laine's prior conviction for lying to an FBI agent. The jury awarded $120,000 in damages under the Act plus $300,000 on the state law claims, reflecting the loss of all the belongings stored at the unit. The court reduced the total award to $300,000 to avoid an improper double recovery, reasoning that Narkiewicz‐Laine’s common law claims necessarily included the loss of his artwork. The court concluded did not award Narkiewicz‐Laine attorneys’ fees under the Copyright Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first upholding the decision to allow Narkiewicz‐Laine’s 2003 conviction into evidence. Narkiewicz‐Laine is not entitled to recover twice for the same property, so the actual damages attributed to specific art must be subtracted from the jury’s award of actual damages for all destroyed property. View "Narkiewicz-Laine v. Doyle" on Justia Law

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Bodum produces and sells what design magazines and art museums have recognized as an iconically designed houseware product—the Chambord French press coffee maker. Bodum sued Top for selling a French press that Bodum claimed infringes on its unregistered trade dress in the Chambord, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1)(A). The court excluded evidence of various utility patents covering French press coffee makers and rejected Top’s argument that Bodum failed to prove the Chambord design was nonfunctional. A jury awarded Bodum $2 million in damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Bodum presented sufficient evidence for the jury to have found Bodum’s claimed trade dress was non‐functional. The district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence of utility patents that do not claim any of the features that comprise the claimed Chambord trade dress. View "Bodum USA, Inc. v. A Top New Casting Inc." on Justia Law

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has, on a few occasions, found that “capsule” was “merely descriptive” of cellphone cases, a finding that precludes registration on the Principal Register. The Office has also found otherwise and allowed Uncommon to register “capsule.” Rival case manufacturers still use the term. Uncommon sued Spigen for trademark infringement and unfair competition, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125(a). Spigen sought cancellation of the mark. In discovery, Spigen produced a survey to prove that consumers did not associate “capsule” with Uncommon’s cases, and disclosed the person who conducted the survey as a “non-testifying expert,” but without foundational expert testimony to explain the survey’s methodology, it was inadmissible, FRCP 26(a). The district court excused Spigen’s error and granted Spigen summary judgment on the merits. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Spigen’s disclosure was inaccurate but harmless. Spigen carried its burden to defeat Uncommon’s presumption of inherent distinctiveness. Spigen demonstrated that there is no issue of material fact regarding the descriptiveness of the “capsule” mark. With the survey, there was no genuine issue of material fact as to the mark’s invalid registration. Nor was there an issue of fact regarding the unlikelihood of consumer confusion. View "Uncommon, LLC v. Spigen, Inc." on Justia Law

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Guitar Center, which sells musical instruments, created a new brand of woodwind and brass instruments produced by Eastman, “Ventus.” Barrington owns the trademark “Vento,” which is used in relation to instruments it sells. Barrington began using its mark in commerce in 2009 and achieved gross sales just under $700,000. Barrington filed for registration of its “Vento” mark in January 2010. In March 2011, Guitar Center began selling instruments using the “Ventus” mark, with gross sales totaling about $5 million. Barrington filed suit against Eastman, Music & Arts, Guitar Center, and Woodwind. A jury found that only Guitar Center's sales infringed and awarded Barrington the total amount of Guitar Center sales—$3,228. Barrington later discovered that Music & Arts and Woodwind were divisions of Guitar Center. Barrington moved the court to amend the damages award to $4,947,200, the total sales for the “Ventus” mark by all of the Guitar Center owned stores. The district court denied the Rule 59(e) motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Barrington gave no reason to conclude that the jury’s verdict would be different if it were aware Music & Arts and Woodwind were merely divisions of Guitar Center; it found Music & Arts and Woodwind did not infringe on the “Ventus” mark and there was no basis to award Barrington their “Ventus” related sales. View "Barrington Music Products, Inc v. Music & Arts Center" on Justia Law

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Until recently, Sexing Tech held a monopoly on the market for sexed cattle semen in the United States. Sperm‐sorting technology separates bull semen into X‐chromosome bearing and Y‐chromosome bearing sperm cells; the resulting “sexed semen” is used to inseminate cows artificially so that dairy farmers can breed only milk‐producing cows. ABS, a bull‐stud operation, sued, alleging that Sexing Tech had unlawfully monopolized the domestic sexed‐semen market in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Act by using its market power to impose coercive contract terms. ABS sought a declaratory judgment proclaiming those contracts invalid, to permit its own entry into that market. Sexing Tech counterclaimed that ABS infringed its patents and breached the contract by misappropriating trade secrets in developing ABS’s competing technology. Three claims went to trial: ABS’s antitrust claim and Sexing Tech’s patent infringement and breach of contract counterclaims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that ABS violated a confidentiality agreement it had with Sexing Tech and that Sexing Tech’s patent was not invalid on obviousness grounds. The jury’s assessments of two of the three patent claims still at issue cannot be reconciled under the rules governing dependent claims and enablement, and so a new trial is necessary on them. View "ABS Global, Inc. v. Inguran, LLC" on Justia Law

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Bell sued Vacuforce for copyright infringement, accusing it of publishing his photograph of the Indianapolis skyline on its website without a license. Vacuforce hired attorney Overhauser. The parties quickly settled; the federal lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. Overhauser then moved to recover attorney fees from Bell, arguing that because the settlement produced a dismissal with prejudice, Vacuforce was the “prevailing party” for purposes of fees under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 505. The district court denied Overhauser’s as motion frivolous and misleading and ordered monetary sanctions against Overhauser: one under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and another under 28 U.S.C. 1927. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the sanctions, rejecting an argument that a party can “prevail” for purposes of a fee-shifting statute by paying a settlement and obtaining a dismissal with prejudice. The district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing the section 1927 sanction. “Objective bad faith” will support such a sanction. A lawyer demonstrates objective bad faith when she “pursues a path that a reasonably careful attorney would have known, after appropriate inquiry, to be unsound.” The district court found that Overhauser’s legal contentions were baseless and that he failed to disclose the proper factual foundation necessary to evaluate his legal argument. View "Overhauser v. Bell" on Justia Law

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Bolson develops products and processes for use in 3D printing. Soarus is a distributor of specialty polymers, including G-Polymer. In 2009, Bolson and Soarus began discussing Bolson’s acquisition and use of GPolymer in connection with developing a new 3D printing process. Soarus sought to protect its rights in G-Polymer while also allowing for its potential entry into the lucrative 3D printing market. The parties executed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). Soarus then provided Bolson with confidential information regarding G-Polymer and samples. Shortly after executing the NDA, Bolson filed a provisional patent for the 3D printing process it developed using G-Polymer; the 171 Patent issued in 2013. Soarus claimed that Bolson’s patent application revealed confidential information about G-Polymer, in violation of the NDA. The district court granted Bolson summary judgment, concluding that the plain meaning of the NDA, while conferring generally broad confidentiality protection on Bolson’s use of information about G-Polymer, authorized Bolson to use such confidential information in pursuing a patent in the specific area of the fused deposition method of 3D printing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The NDA clearly authorise Bolson to freely patent and protect new applications of GPolymer in the specified 3D printing process, not confined by the NDA’s confidentiality restrictions. View "Soarus L.L.C. v. Bolson Materials International Corp." on Justia Law