Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Skilken, the owner of Max Rack, Inc., invented a piece of gym equipment that he named the “Max Rack.” For years, his company sold Max Racks through a licensing agreement with Core. When Max Rack’s last patent expired, Core decided to sell an identical machine under a new name, “Freedom Rack.” Max Rack alleged that Core continued to sell “Max Racks” without authorization, and attempted to sell Freedom Racks by free-riding off the “Max Rack” name, Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114(1), 1117(a), 1125(a)(1)(A). A jury awarded Max Rack $1 million in damages and $250,000 in Core’s profits. The district court doubled the profits award to $500,000, and granted Max Rack attorney’s fees but overturned Max Rack’s damages award.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the $250,000 profits award as supported by sufficient evidence and the court’s rejection of the $1 million damages award, reversing the court’s decision to double the profits award and its decision to grant Max Rack attorney’s fees. This case does not qualify as “exceptional” and Core did not litigate in an “unreasonable manner.” Core’s unauthorized sales ended before trial. View "Max Rack, Inc. v. Core Health & Fitness, LLC" on Justia Law

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NOCO manufactures and sells battery chargers and related products. Although it sells these products itself, NOCO also authorizes resellers if they sign an agreement. NOCO discovered that OJC was selling NOCO’s products on Amazon without authorization. NOCO complained to Amazon that OJC was selling NOCO’s products in violation of Amazon’s policy. Around the same time, another company (Emson) also complained to Amazon about OJC. Amazon asked OJC for proof that it was complying with its policy concerning intellectual property rights. OJC did not provide adequate documents. Amazon temporarily deactivated OJC’s account.OJC claimed that NOCO submitted false complaints, and sued for defamation, tortious interference with a business relationship, and violation of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of OJC’s claims. To succeed on those claims, OJC must establish that NOCO was the proximate cause of its injury. It cannot do this because three intervening causes broke the causal chain, relieving NOCO of any liability: Emson’s complaint, Amazon’s independent investigation and decision, and OJC’s opportunity to prevent the harm to itself. View "NOCO Co. v. OJ Commerce, LLC" on Justia Law

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Sunless sells tanning booths and spray tan solution under the “Mystic Tan” mark. Sunless claims that applying Mystic Tan solution in a Mystic Tan booth results in a “Mystic Tan Experience.” Palm Beach owns and franchises tanning salons. It owns several Mystic Tan-branded booths, and previously bought Mystic Tan-branded tanning solution to use in them; the booths were designed to accept only Mystic Tan solution. Palm Beach jury-rigged the booths so that they will operate with its own distinctly branded spray tan solution, unapproved by Sunless.Sunless sought a preliminary injunction under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125, arguing that the jury-rigging is likely to confuse consumers into believing they are getting a genuine “Mystic Tan Experience” when they are not. The district court denied the motion, finding that Sunless had failed to show, at this stage of the litigation, that Palm Beach’s salon customers would be confused. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Palm Beach never conceded that it sells a “Mystic Tan Experience” as an indivisible whole. Palm Beach argued there are two products: booths and solutions, each displaying its own distinct mark. Palm Beach continues to use the Mystic Tan-branded booths (which it owns outright), but neither uses nor claims to use Mystic Tan solutions. View "Sunless, Inc. v. Palm Beach Tan, Inc." on Justia Law

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McKeon has sold “MACK’S” earplugs to retail consumers since the 1960s. In the 1980s, Honeywell's predecessor began marketing and selling MAX-brand earplugs to distributors. The brand names are phonetically identical. In 1995, McKeon sued. The parties entered a settlement agreement that the district court approved by consent decree. To prevent customer confusion, Honeywell agreed not to sell its MAX-brand earplugs into the “Retail Market” but could continue to sell its earplugs in “the Industrial Safety Market and elsewhere." The agreement and the consent decree never contemplated the internet. In 2017, McKeon complained about sales of MAX-brand earplugs on Amazon and other retail websites.The district court ruled in favor of McKeon. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and remanded. Laches is available to Honeywell as an affirmative defense but does not apply to these facts. Parties subject to consent decrees cannot scale their prohibited conduct over time, using minor undetected violations to justify later larger infringements. Honeywell did not establish that McKeon should have discovered the breaching conduct before Honeywell drastically increased online sales. McKeon’s interpretation of the consent decree is the better reading. Concluding that Amazon is a “retail establishment” makes sense given the parties’ intent. View "McKeon Products, Inc. v. Howard S. Leight & Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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Atlas Movers federally registered the “Atlas” mark for “transportation of household goods of others,” first using “Atlas” in 1948 when it formed Atlas Van Lines, providing transportation and logistics services, primarily moving household goods. Since 1970, its division, STG, has provided logistics services for non-household goods shipments. Atlas Movers eventually focused more on logistics, forming Atlas Relocation Services in 1995. In 2007, Atlas Movers began marketing its service as “Atlas Logistics.” and renamed its logistics company Atlas Logistics, which can ship, or arrange the shipment of, any commodity.Eaton manufactures and distributes steel. Eaton created Atlas Trucking in 1999, then expanded to ship goods other than steel and metal for companies in addition to its own. It developed Atlas Logistics in 2003 as an adjunct to Atlas Trucking. Eaton knew of Atlas Van Lines. Atlas Movers sued in 2017 for infringement. Eaton answered and counterclaimed that it owned the Atlas Logistics mark.The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Atlas Movers, upholding findings that Atlas Movers marketed “Atlas” to an extent that the public recognized it, that the parties’ services are related because they engage in at least some of the same transportation services, that the marks were functionally identical, and that there was actual confusion. View "AWGI, LLC v. Atlas Trucking Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Redbubble operates a global online marketplace. Around 600,000 independent artists, not employed by Redbubble, upload images onto Redbubble’s interface. Consumers scroll through those images and order customized items. Once a consumer places an order, Redbubble notifies the artist and arranges the manufacturing and shipping of the product with independent third parties. Redbubble never takes title to any product shown on its website and does not design, manufacture, or handle these products. The shipped packages bear Redbubble's logo. Redbubble handles customer service, including returns. Redbubble markets goods listed on its website as Redbubble products; for instance, it provides instructions on how to care for “Redbubble garments.” Customers often receive goods from Redbubble’s marketplace in Redbubble packaging.Some of Redbubble’s artists uploaded trademark-infringing images that appeared on Redbubble’s website; consumers paid Redbubble to receive products bearing images trademarked by OSU. Redbubble’s user agreement states that trademark holders, and not Redbubble, bear the burden of monitoring and redressing trademark violations. Redbubble did not remove the offending products from its website. OSU sued, alleging trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, and Ohio’s right-of-publicity law. The district court granted Redbubble summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Redbubble’s marketplace involves creating Redbubble products and garments that would not have existed but for Redbubble’s enterprise. The district court erred by entering summary judgment under an overly narrow reading of the Lanham Act. View "The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc." on Justia Law

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OverDrive, a digital reading platform, belonged to International Digital Publishing Forum, a trade association dedicated to the development of electronic publishing standards. International’s members developed EPUB, the leading eBook format. International's intellectual-property policy, approved by all its members, states that International’s members retain any copyrights in their independent contributions to EPUB but grants International a license to “reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform, display, and create derivative works” of any copyrighted contributions to EPUB. International may sublicense others to do the same. By a vote of 88% to 12%, International agreed to transfer its assets to the Consortium and to grant the Consortium a license to use International's intellectual property to carry out Internationa;'s digital publishing activities. International would commence dissolution, after which its intellectual property rights would be owned by the Consortium. The Consortium began developing improvements to EPUB. A second agreement affirmed the first, explaining that the license included International’s sub-licensable rights to any copyrights its members retained.OverDrive sought a declaratory judgment that International had violated, and would violate in the future, its copyrights in EPUB. The district court granted International summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. International validly licensed its intellectual property and it would be premature to resolve any claim about future transfers. Under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 106, OverDrive granted International the right to use any copyrights OverDrive had in EPUB. International an unrestricted right to grant sublicenses with respect to those copyrights. View "OverDrive Inc. v. Open E-Book Forum" on Justia Law

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Rogers owned RJ Control. Elder owns Multiject, which engineers and sells accessories for plastic injection molding. In 2008, the parties entered into an oral agreement. Rogers developed a control system for injection molding. RJ updated that system design in 2013 (Design 3). The parties dispute the invoicing for Design 3. In 2014, Elder asked for copies of Design 3’s diagrams and software source code. Rogers disclosed that information. Days later, Elder indicated that Multiject would no longer need Rogers’s services and would instead use RSW for the assembly and wiring of the control systems. RSW's quote explicitly referenced Design 3’s software code and technical drawings without any changes. RSW apparently believed Multiject had permission to use the software and technical drawings.Almost two years later, Rogers obtained Copyright Certificates of Registration for the software code and the technical drawings. RJ filed suit. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. The use of the Design 3 drawing to manufacture a control system is not an act of copyright infringement. Copyright protection extends to the drawing itself, 17 U.S.C. 106, but does not extend to the use of those drawings to create the described useful article. Patent law, with stricter standards requiring novelty, governs use protection. The court reversed with respect to the software code, finding that material questions of fact remain concerning whether the complex technology is properly protected under the Copyright Act. View "RJ Control Consultants, Inc. v. Multiject, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Hiller, the largest home-services company in Tennessee, became a paying “member” of Success Group, which offers management advice and customer-service training to home-services companies. Clockwork owned Success, which conducted training courses using manuals copyrighted by Clockwork. Hiller sent its employees to those courses; they had access to the Manuals. In 2014, Clockwork sold Success to Aquila. Clockwork retained ownership of the Manual copyrights but granted Aquila a perpetual license. In 2015, Hiller hired the Pike Group to create the Guide for use in place of the Manuals to train its technicians. Pike had no expertise in the home-services industry; to learn what Hiller wanted, Pike conducted a workshop attended by Hiller employees and representatives of Aquila and Success. The participants referred to at least one of the Manuals.The resulting Guide included some content taken directly from the Manuals. In 2016, Success conducted a class using a workbook that closely resembled the Guide. Hiller ended its Success membership, demanded that Success stop using the workbook, registered its copyright in the Guide, and sued Success for copyright infringement. Clockwork was allowed to intervene.A jury concluded that Hiller had a valid copyright in the Guide and that the Success workbook copied protected elements of the Guide. Clockwork’s request for declaratory relief invalidating Hiller’s copyright was rejected. The Third Circuit affirmed. The jury reasonably concluded that Hiller created enough original material to gain copyright protection and the jury was correctly instructed that the Guide’s incorporation of some Clockwork-copyrighted content did not invalidate Hiller’s copyright in the Guide’s original parts. View "Hiller, LLC v. Success Group International Learning Alliance, LLC" on Justia Law

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Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed[]” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law