Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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A generic name—the name of a class of products or services—is ineligible for federal trademark registration. Booking.com, a travel-reservation website, sought federal registration of marks including the term “Booking.com.” Concluding that “Booking.com” was a generic name for online hotel-reservation services, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) refused registration. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court decision that “Booking.com”—unlike the term “booking” standing alone—is not generic.The Supreme Court affirmed. A term styled “generic.com” is a generic name for a class of goods or services only if the term has that meaning to consumers. Whether a compound term is generic turns on whether that term, taken as a whole, signifies to consumers a class of goods or services. Consumers do not perceive the term “Booking.com” that way. Only one entity can occupy a particular Internet domain name at a time, so a “generic.com” term could convey to consumers an association with a particular website. An unyielding legal rule disregarding consumer perception would be incompatible with a bedrock principle of the Lanham Act. The PTO’s policy concerns do not support a categorical rule against the registration of “generic.com” terms. Several doctrines ensure that registration of “Booking.com” would not yield its holder a monopoly on the term “booking.” View "Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V." on Justia Law

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Lucky Brand and Marcel market clothing. Marcel registered the trademark “Get Lucky.” Lucky Brand registered the trademark “Lucky Brand” and other marks with the word “Lucky.” In a 2003 settlement agreement, Lucky Brand agreed to stop using the phrase “Get Lucky.” Marcel released its claims regarding Lucky Brand’s use of its other trademarks.In 2005, Lucky Brand sued Marcel for violating its trademarks. Marcel filed counterclaims turning on Lucky Brand’s continued use of “Get Lucky,” but did not claim that Lucky Brand’s use of its other marks alone infringed that mark. The court enjoined Lucky Brand from copying or imitating Marcel’s “Get Lucky” mark.In 2011, Marcel sued Lucky Brand, arguing only that Lucky Brand’s post-2010 use of Lucky Brand’s other marks infringed Marcel’s “Get Lucky” mark. Marcel did not allege that Lucky Brand continued to use "Get Lucky." Lucky Brand argued, for the first time since early in the 2005 Action, that Marcel had released those claims in the settlement agreement. The Second Circuit vacated the dismissal of the action, concluding that “defense preclusion” prohibited Lucky Brand from raising that unlitigated defense.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. Any preclusion of defenses must, at a minimum, satisfy the strictures of issue preclusion or claim preclusion. Here, issue preclusion does not apply, so the causes of action must share a “common nucleus of operative fact[s]” for claim preclusion to apply. The 2005 claims depended on Lucky Brand’s alleged use of “Get Lucky.” In the 2011 suit, Marcel alleged that the infringement was Lucky Brand’s use of its other marks containing the word “Lucky,” not any use of “Get Lucky” itself. The conduct in the 2011 suit occurred after the conclusion of the 2005 suit. View "Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc. v. Marcel Fashions Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) includes the text of every Georgia statute currently in force. Non-binding annotations appear beneath each statutory provision, typically including summaries of judicial opinions construing each provision, summaries of pertinent attorney general opinions, and a list of related law review articles and other reference materials. The OCGA is assembled by the Code Revision Commission, a state entity composed mostly of legislators, funded through legislative branch appropriations, and staffed by the Office of Legislative Counsel. The current OCGA annotations were produced by a private publisher, pursuant to a work-for-hire agreement, which states that any copyright in the OCGA vests in the state, acting through the Commission. A nonprofit, dedicated to facilitating public access to government records and legal materials, posted the OCGA online and distributed copies. The Commission sued for infringement under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 102(a).The Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court held that OCGA annotations are ineligible for copyright protection. Under the government edicts doctrine, officials empowered to speak with the force of law cannot be the authors of the works they create in the course of their official duties. The Court noted long-standing precedent that an official reporter cannot hold a copyright interest in opinions created by judges; no one can own the law. The doctrine applies to whatever work legislators perform in their capacity as legislators, including explanatory and procedural materials they create in the discharge of their legislative duties. The sole “author” of the annotations is the Commission, which functions as an arm of the Georgia Legislature and creates the annotations in the discharge of its legislative duties. The Court focused on authorship, stating that Georgia’s characterization of the OCGA annotations as non-binding and non-authoritative undersells the practical significance of the annotations to litigants and citizens. View "Georgia v. Public Resource.Org, Inc." on Justia Law

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Romag and Fossil signed an agreement to use Romag’s fasteners in Fossil’s leather goods. Romag eventually discovered that factories in China making Fossil products were using counterfeit Romag fasteners. Romag sued Fossil and certain Fossil retailers for trademark infringement, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a). Citing Second Circuit precedent, the district court rejected Romag’s request for an award of profits, because the jury, while finding that Fossil had acted callously, rejected Romag’s accusation that Fossil had acted willfully.The Supreme Court vacated. A plaintiff in a trademark infringement suit is not required to show that a defendant willfully infringed the plaintiff’s trademark as a precondition to a profits award. The Lanham Act provision governing remedies for trademark violations, section 1117(a), makes a showing of willfulness a precondition to a profits award in a suit under section 1125(c) for trademark dilution, but section 1125(a) has never required such a showing. The Act speaks often, expressly, and with considerable care about mental states, indicating that Congress did not intend to incorporate a willfulness requirement here obliquely. View "Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc." on Justia Law

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Inter partes review (IPR) permits a patent challenger to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reconsider the validity of earlier granted patent claims. If a request comes more than a year after a patent infringement lawsuit against the requesting party, IPR “may not be instituted,” 35 U.S.C. 315(b). The agency’s determination of whether to institute IPR is “final and nonappealable” under section 314(d).Thryv sought IPR of Click-to-Call’s patent. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board rejected Click-to-Call’s argument that the suit was untimely, instituted review, and canceled 13 of the patent’s claims as obvious or lacking novelty. Treating the Board’s application of section 315(b) as judicially reviewable, the Federal Circuit concluded that the petition was untimely and vacated the Board’s decision.The Supreme Court vacated. Section 314(d) precludes judicial review of the agency’s application of section 315(b)’s time prescription. A challenge based on section 315(b) constitutes an appeal of the agency’s decision “to institute” an IPR. Allowing section 315(b) appeals would unwind agency proceedings determining patentability and leave bad patents enforceable. Section 314(d)’s text does not limit the review bar to section 314(a)’s question of whether the petitioner has a reasonable likelihood of prevailing. Click-to-Call’s contention is, essentially, that the agency should have refused to institute IPR. View "Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LP" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Intersal, a marine salvage company, discovered the shipwreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge off the North Carolina coast. North Carolina, the shipwreck’s legal owner, contracted with Intersal to conduct recovery. Intersal hired videographer Allen to document the efforts. Allen recorded the recovery for years. He registered copyrights in all of his works. When North Carolina published some of Allen’s videos and photos online, Allen sued for copyright infringement, arguing that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA, 17 U.S.C. 511(a)) removed the states’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement cases.The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit, ruling in favor of North Carolina. Congress lacked the authority to abrogate the states’ immunity from copyright infringement suits in the CRCA. A federal court may not hear a suit brought by any person against a nonconsenting state unless Congress has enacted “unequivocal statutory language” abrogating the states’ immunity from suit and some constitutional provision allows Congress to have thus encroached on the states’ sovereignty. Under existing precedent, neither the Intellectual Property Clause, Art. I, section 8, cl. 8, nor Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which authorizes Congress to “enforce” the commands of the Due Process Clause, provides that authority. View "Allen v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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The Patent Act provides two methods for challenging an adverse decision by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO): direct appeal to the Federal Circuit, 35 U.S.C. 141, or a new civil action against the PTO Director in the Eastern District of Virginia, section 145. Under section 145, the applicant must pay “[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings.” NantKwest filed a section 145 civil action after its patent application was denied. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the PTO, which moved for reimbursement of expenses, including the pro-rata salaries of PTO attorneys and a paralegal who worked on the case. The Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the motion, concluding that the statutory language referencing expenses was not sufficient to rebut the “American Rule” presumption that parties are responsible for their own attorney’s fees. Reading section 145 to permit an unsuccessful government agency to recover attorney’s fees from a prevailing party “would be a radical departure from longstanding fee-shifting principles adhered to in a wide range of contexts.” The phrase “expenses of the proceeding” would not have been commonly understood to include attorney’s fees at the time section 145 was enacted. The appearance of “expenses” and “attorney’s fees” together across various statutes indicates that Congress understands the terms as distinct and not inclusive of each other. View "Peter v. NantKwest, Inc." on Justia Law

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Brunetti sought federal registration of the trademark FUCT. The Patent and Trademark Office denied his application under a Lanham Act provision that prohibits registration of trademarks that consist of or comprise "immoral[ ] or scandalous matter,” 15 U.S.C. 1052(a).The Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit in holding that the provision violates the First Amendment. The Court noted that it previously invalidated the Act’s ban on registering marks that “disparage” any “person[ ], living or dead.” The “immoral or scandalous” bar similarly discriminates on the basis of viewpoint. Expressive material is “immoral” when it is “inconsistent with rectitude, purity, or good morals”; “wicked”; or “vicious”; the Act permits registration of marks that champion society’s sense of rectitude and morality, but not marks that denigrate those concepts. Material is “scandalous” when it “giv[es] offense to the conscience or moral feelings”; “excite[s] reprobation”; or “call[s] out condemnation”; the Act allows registration of marks when their messages accord with, but not when their messages defy, society’s sense of decency or propriety. The statute, on its face, distinguishes between ideas aligned with conventional moral standards and those hostile to them.The Court rejected an argument that the statute is susceptible of a limiting construction. The “immoral or scandalous” bar does not draw the line at lewd, sexually explicit, or profane marks. Nor does it refer only to marks whose “mode of expression,” independent of viewpoint, is particularly offensive. To cut the statute off where the government urges would not interpret the statute Congress enacted, but fashion a new one. View "Iancu v. Brunetti" on Justia Law

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The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) of 2011 created the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, 35 U.S.C. 6(c), which conducts administrative review proceedings that enable a “person” to challenge the validity of a patent post-issuance: “inter partes review,” “post-grant review,” and “covered-business-method review” (CBM review). The Board either confirms or cancels the patent claims. Any dissatisfied party may then seek judicial review in the Federal Circuit. A patent can also be reexamined either in federal court during a defense to an infringement suit or in an ex parte reexamination by the Patent Office.USPS introduced an enhanced service to process undeliverable mail, which Return Mail asserted infringed its patent. USPS petitioned for ex parte reexamination. The Patent Office confirmed the patent’s validity. Return Mail then sued, seeking compensation for the unauthorized use of its invention. USPS petitioned for CBM review. The Patent Board concluded that the subject matter of Return Mail’s claims was ineligible to be patented. The Federal Circuit affirmed.The Supreme Court reversed. The government is not a “person” capable of instituting AIA review proceedings. Absent an express definition of “person” in the patent statutes, the Court applied a longstanding interpretive presumption that "person" does not include the sovereign, citing common usage, and the Dictionary Act. There are many references to “person[s]” in the Patent Act and the AIA: Sometimes “person” plainly includes or excludes the government, but sometimes it might be read either way. The mere existence of some government-inclusive references and the government's ability to obtain a patent do not overcome the presumption that the government is not a “person” eligible to petition for AIA review. Congress may have had good reason to authorize the government to initiate a hands-off ex parte reexamination but not to become a party to the AIA’s full-blown adversarial proceeding. View "Return Mail, Inc. v. United States Postal Service" on Justia Law

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Tempnology licensed Mission to use Tempnology’s trademarks in connection with the distribution of clothing. Tempnology filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and sought to reject its agreement with Mission as an “executory contract” under 11 U.S.C. 365, which provides that rejection “constitutes a breach of such contract.” The Bankruptcy Court approved Tempnology’s rejection, holding that the rejection terminated Mission’s rights to use Tempnology’s trademarks. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed, holding that rejection does not terminate rights that would survive a breach of contract outside bankruptcy. The First Circuit reinstated the Bankruptcy Court’s decision.The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that the case is not moot. Mission presented a plausible claim for damages, sufficient to preserve a live controversy. A debtor’s rejection of an executory contract under Bankruptcy Code Section 365 has the same effect as a breach of that contract outside bankruptcy and cannot rescind rights that the contract previously granted. A licensor’s breach cannot revoke continuing rights given under a contract (assuming no special contract term or state law) outside of bankruptcy; the same result follows from rejection in bankruptcy. Section 365 reflects the general bankruptcy rule that the estate cannot possess anything more than the debtor did outside bankruptcy. The distinctive features of trademarks do not mandate a different result. In delineating the burdens a debtor may and may not escape, Section 365’s edict that rejection is breach expresses a more complex set of aims than facilitating reorganization. View "Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC" on Justia Law