Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
by
Ezaki, a Japanese confectionery company, makes and sells “Pocky,” thin, stick-shaped cookies that are partly coated with chocolate or flavored cream. The end of each is left partly uncoated to serve as a handle. In 1978, Ezaki started selling Pocky in the U.S. and began registering U.S. trademarks and patents. It has two Pocky product configurations registered as trade dresses and has a patent for a “Stick Shaped Snack and Method for Producing the Same.” In 1983, the Lotte confectionery company started making Pepero stick-shaped cookies partly coated in chocolate or flavored cream. Pepero “looks remarkably like Pocky.”In 1993-1995, Ezaki sent letters, notifying Lotte of its registered trade dress and asking it to cease and desist. Ezaki took no further action until 2015, when it sued, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition, under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125(a)(1)(A). Under New Jersey law, it alleged trademark infringement and unfair competition. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Lotte, holding that because Pocky’s product configuration is functional, it is not protected as trade dress. Trade dress is limited to features that identify a product’s source. Patent law protects useful inventions, but trademark law does not. View "Ezaki Gliko Kabushiki Kaisha v. Lotte International America Corp." on Justia Law

by
AndroGel is a testosterone replacement therapy that generated billions of dollars in sales. The Federal Trade Commission sued under Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, alleging that AndroGel’s patent owners filed sham patent infringement suits against Teva and Perrigo and entered into an anticompetitive reverse-payment agreement with Teva. The FTC accused the patent owners of trying to monopolize and restrain trade over AndroGel. The District Court dismissed the FTC’s claims to the extent they relied on a reverse-payment theory but found the owners liable for monopolization on a sham-litigation theory and ordered disgorgement of $448 million in ill-gotten profits. The court denied the FTC’s request for an injunction.The Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that the district court erred by rejecting the reverse-payment theory and in concluding the owners’ litigation against Teva was a sham. The court erred by ordering disgorgement because that remedy is unavailable under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act. The court affirmed in part. The district court correctly concluded that the Perrigo litigation was a sham and that the owners had monopoly power in the relevant market but did not show the monopolization entitles the FTC to any remedy. The court did not abuse its discretion in denying injunctive relief. View "Federal Trade Commission v. AbbVie Inc" on Justia Law

by
Huber stole confidential information from his employer AFS (a manufacturer of hydraulic systems) for an AFS competitor, Livingston, and later for a company he created, INSYSMA, to compete against both AFS and Livingston. AFS eventually sued, alleging trade secret misappropriation claims under the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act. On summary judgment, the district court held as a matter of law that Huber and INSYSMA were liable under the Trade Secrets Act for misappropriating AFS’s trade secrets. Following a bench trial, the court held Livingston and two of its employees jointly and severally liable with Huber and INSYSMA for that misappropriation, and held all defendants except a Livingston employee and INSYSMA liable for breach of fiduciary duty or aiding and abetting that breach, and awarded compensatory damages, exemplary damages, and punitive damages from various defendants.The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that AFS does not “own” the purported trade secrets at issue; that the claimed trade secrets are not actually protectable under the Trade Secrets Act, that the Livingston Parties were prejudiced by their counsel’s conduct at and following the trial, and that the damages awards were unwarranted. The Act only requires that a plaintiff lawfully possess the trade secrets it wishes to vindicate. View "Advanced Fluid Systems Inc v. Huber" on Justia Law

by
The parties dispute the validity of a copyright in a full-body banana costume. The Third Circuit applied the Supreme Court's decision in Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 S. Ct. 1002 (2017), and held that the banana costume's combination of colors, lines, shape, and length (i.e., its artistic features) are both separable and capable of independent existence, and thus are copyrightable. The court held that the merger doctrine did not apply in this case, because copyrighting Rasta's banana costume would not effectively monopolize the underlying idea because there are many other ways to make a costume resemble a banana. Furthermore, the scenes a faire doctrine was inapplicable. Therefore, the district court did not err when it held that Rasta was reasonably likely to prove ownership of a valid copyright. View "Silvertop Associates Inc. v. Kangaroo Manufacturing Inc." on Justia Law

by
Hill built Commerce Bank from a single commercial bank location in 1973 by emphasizing customer loyalty through initiatives such as extended hours, quick account openings, and free perks. His success brought personal acclaim. The relationship between Hill and Commerce soured, culminating in Hill’s 2007 termination and TD Bank’s acquisition of Commerce for $8.5 billion. The publication of a book Hill had written during his Commerce tenure was canceled. In 2012, Hill wrote a new book. TD filed a copyright lawsuit alleging that parts of the 2012 book infringe the earlier book. In enjoining Hill from publishing or marketing his book, the district court concluded that TD owned the copyright under a letter agreement and that Hill’s book irreparably violated its “right to not use the copyright.” The Third Circuit vacated the injunction, reasoning that the district court had made “sweeping conclusions” that would justify the issuance of an injunction in every copyright case. Instead of employing “categorical rule[s]” that would resolve the propriety of injunctive relief “in a broad swath of cases,” courts should issue injunctive relief only upon a sufficient showing that such relief is warranted under particular circumstances. Although the agreement between the parties did not vest initial ownership of the copyright by purporting to designate the manuscript a work “for hire,” it did transfer any ownership interest Hill possessed to TD, so Hill’s co-ownership defense fails. View "TD Bank NA v. Hill" on Justia Law

by
Heraeus, a German company, develops and produces bone cement, using copolymers. Biomet also sells bone cement and uses the same copolymers, which it buys from Esschem, a Pennsylvania company. Heraeus holds trade secrets related to the bone cement, including specifications for the copolymers. The trade secrets changed hands during joint ventures before allegedly falling into Esschem’s possession. Heraeus analyzed samples of Biomet’s bone cement in 2005 and discovered that it was virtually identical to Heraeus’ bone cement and that Esschem was manufacturing Biomet's copolymers. Heraeus sued Biomet in Germany in 2008, and brought discovery suits in the U.S. against Esschem and Biomet. By March 2011, Esschem produced e-mail chains between employees of Biomet and Esschem concerning the copolymers. During proceedings against Biomet, that information was corroborated. Heraeus contends it was not until then (December 2011), that it had sufficient information to believe that Esschem had actively participated in the misappropriation of its trade secrets. Less than three years later, Heraeus sued Esschem under the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act (PUTSA) which gives a plaintiff three years from when “the misappropriation was discovered or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered” to bring suit. The district court ruled that the limitations period had run because Heraeus was aware of the facts supporting its claims by January 2009. The Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that Pennsylvania applies the rule of separate accrual to continuing trade secret misappropriations, Heraeus may sue for misappropriations that occurred within the three-year period before filing. The court agreed that alleged misappropriations more than three years before Heraeus filed suit are time-barred. View "Heraeus Medical GMBH v. Esschem Inc" on Justia Law

by
Sköld coined the name “Restoraderm” for a proprietary drug-delivery formulation that he developed for potential use in skin-care products. He entered into a 2001 letter of intent with CollaGenex, a skin-care company, stating that “[a]ll trademarks associated with the drug delivery system … shall be applied for and registered in the name of CollaGenex and be the exclusive property of CollaGenex.” Their 2002 contract reiterated those provisions and stated that termination of the agreement would not affect any vested rights. With Sköld’s cooperation, CollaGenex applied to register the Restoraderm mark. Under a 2004 Agreement, Sköld transferred Restoraderm patent rights and goodwill to CollaGenex, without mentioning trademark rights. After Galderma bought CollaGenex it used Restoraderm as a brand name on products employing other technologies. In 2009, Galderma terminated the 2004 Agreement, asserting that it owned the trade name and that Sköld should not use the name. Sköld markets products based on the original Restoraderm technology that do not bear the Restoraderm mark. Galderma’s Restoraderm product line has enjoyed international success. Sköld sued, alleging trademark infringement, false advertising, unfair competition, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. Only Sköld’s unjust enrichment claim was successful. The Third Circuit reversed in part, absolving Galderma of liability. The 2004 agreement, rather than voiding CollaGenex’s ownership of the mark by implication, confirmed that CollaGenex owned the Restoraderm mark. Galderma succeeded to those vested rights. View "Skold v. Galderma Laboratories L.P." on Justia Law

by
The Photographers entered into representation agreements with Corbis, a photography agency, providing Corbis authority to sub-license their works to third parties on a non-exclusive, fixed-duration basis. The agreements include forum selection clauses and give Corbis sole authority to make and settle claims for unauthorized use of images. If Corbis declines to bring such a claim within 60 days, the Photographers may bring actions. Corbis sub-licensed their photographs to McGraw-Hill. The invoices included the name of the photographer responsible for the work and incorporated Corbis’ standard “Terms and Conditions,” which included mandatory, exclusive forum selection clauses. The Photographers each brought a copyright action against McGraw-Hill in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. McGraw-Hill moved to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), arguing that the disputes implicate the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements, under which the proper venue was the Southern District of New York. One judge denied the motion, reasoning that the claims are based purely on copyright law, so the action is not a “dispute regarding th[e] Agreement[s],” and not subject to the forum selection clauses. Another judge reasoned that the copyright claims depend upon the interpretation of the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements so that the photographer was subject to the forum selection clause as an intended third-party beneficiary. In consolidated actions, the Third Circuit concluded that the photographers are not bound because they are not intended beneficiaries of the agreements, nor are they closely related parties. Because the erring district court’s mistakes were not clear or indisputable, the court declined to grant mandamus relief. View "In re: McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In 2005, Tanksley, a Philadelphia actor and producer, created a three-episode television pilot, Cream, for which he received a copyright. In 2015, Fox Television debuted a new series, Empire, from award-winning producer and director Lee Daniels. Tanksley sued, claiming that Empire infringed on his copyright of Cream. The district court found no substantial similarity between the two shows and dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed. Superficial similarities notwithstanding, Cream and Empire are not substantially similar as a matter of law. The shared premise of the shows—an African-American, male record executive— is unprotectable. These characters fit squarely within the class of “prototypes” to which copyright protection has never extended. Considering the protectable elements of Cream, “no reasonable jury, properly instructed, could find that the two works are substantially similar.” View "Tanksley v. Daniels" on Justia Law

by
Spireas earned $40 million in technology license royalties in 2007-2008s. Royalties paid under a license agreement are usually taxed as ordinary income at 35 percent but Spireas claimed capital gains treatment (15 percent) under 26 U.S.C. 1235(a), which applies to money received “in consideration of” “[a] transfer . . . of property consisting of all substantial rights to a patent.” The IRS disagreed and gave Spireas notice of a $5.8 million deficiency for the two tax years. The Tax Court and Third Circuit affirmed. To qualify for automatic capital-gains treatment, income must be paid in exchange for a “transfer of property” that consists of “all substantial rights” to a “patent.” Not every transfer of “rights” qualifies because the statute grants capital gains treatment only to transfers of property. Spireas’s original theory was that he reduced the formulation to practice in 2000, giving him the required property interest, and later assigned his interest. Spireas later abandoned that theory, arguing that he transferred his rights prospectively in 1998. Because that was two years before the invention of the formulation, Spireas’s second position cannot depend on the legal standard of reduction to actual practice to establish that he held a property right at the time of transfer. Spireas’s sole claim on appeal was, therefore, waived. View "Spireas v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law