Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Intellectual Property
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The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) established many global standards for 3G, 4G, and 5G cellular communications technology. ETSI members that own standard-essential patents must provide “an irrevocable undertaking in writing that [they are] prepared to grant irrevocable licenses on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND)” terms. Ericsson holds patents that are considered essential to the ETSI standards and agreed to grant licenses to other companies to use its standard-essential patents on FRAND terms. HTC produces mobile devices that implement those standards; to manufacture standard-compliant mobile devices, HTC has to obtain a license to use Ericsson’s patents. Ericsson and HTC have previously entered into three cross-license agreements for their respective patents. Negotiations to renew one of those agreements failed.HTC filed suit, alleging that Ericsson had breached its commitment to provide a license on FRAND terms and had failed to negotiate in good faith. The jury found in favor of the defendants. The district court entered a separate declaratory judgment that the defendants had affirmatively complied with their contractual obligations. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the district court’s exclusion of HTC’s requested jury instructions, its declaratory judgment that Ericsson had complied with its obligation to provide HTC a license on FRAND terms, and the exclusion of certain expert testimonial evidence as hearsay. View "HTC Corp. v. Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson" on Justia Law

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Kelley wanted to publish “Hooker to Looker,” to promote her cosmetics business. Di Angelo agreed to publish and distribute Kelley’s then-unwritten Book, with Kelly receiving 50 percent of the net royalties. Kelley provided Di Angelo with a three-page manuscript, detailing her background and outlining the Book’s topics. Di Angelo claims it wrote the Book while “communicating and/or collaborating with Kelley.” The Book Di Angelo distributed lists only Kelley as the copyright holder. Di Angelo sold the initial 1,000-copy print run. Kelley asked Di Angelo for an updated version. Di Angelo alleges that it prepared the updated work, then discovered that Kelley was attempting to work directly with Di Angelo’s printer, in violation of the contract.Kelley sued, claiming that Di Angelo overcharged her and alleging that she “is the sole owner of all copyrights.” Di Angelo counterclaimed for breach of contract. That state court action is pending. Di Angelo filed a federal suit, seeking a declaration that it owns the copyrights. Kelley challenged federal jurisdiction, arguing the claim was premised solely on her alleged breach of the contract, a controversy governed by Texas law. Di Angelo claimed resolution of the authorship dispute required interpretation of federal copyright law, including the definitional and ownership provisions in 17 U.S.C. 101 & 201, which the state court lacks jurisdiction to address. The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Di Angelo’s claim necessarily implicates federal law definitions of “Initial ownership” and “Works made for hire.” View "Di Angelo Publications, Inc. v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that defendants purchased trademark terms as keywords for search-engine advertising, then placed generic advertisements that confused customers as to whether the advertisements belonged to or were affiliated with plaintiffs. Plaintiffs alleged claims for trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act and claims under Texas law.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim, vacated the denial of leave to amend, and remanded for further proceedings. The court agreed with Southwest Recreational, Ninth Circuit precedent, and the author of a leading treatise that in the context of internet searches and search-engine advertising in particular, the critical issue is whether there is consumer confusion and that distraction is insufficient. In regard to plaintiff's trademark infringement claims, the court concluded that whether an advertisement incorporates a trademark that is visible to the consumer is a relevant but not dispositive factor in determining a likelihood of confusion in search-engine advertising cases. In this case, plaintiff's complaint contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a Lanham Act claim that is plausible on its face. View "Jim S. Adler, PC v. McNeil Consultants, LLC" on Justia Law

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Spectrum filed suit against Lifetime and Jay Tuttle for trademark violations under the Lanham Act over a domain name. After Spectrum was awarded statutory damages, the district court declined to award attorneys' fees to Spectrum.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's admission of certain deposition testimony at trial and agreed with the Fourth Circuit that the plain text of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 32(a)(4)(B) is clear that "the place of trial" is the courthouse where trial takes place. In this case, the Lifetime Defendants were not prejudiced by the transfer of trial venue from San Antonio to Waco, and the court rejected the Lifetime Defendants' contention that the witness was not an unavailable trial witness. The court affirmed the district court's statutory damages award, concluding that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion, under 15 U.S.C. 1117(d), in awarding $100,000 for the Infringing Domain. However, the court reversed the district court's finding that Spectrum was not entitled to attorneys' fees in this exceptional case where the record confirms that the Lifetime Defendants engaged in willful, bad-faith infringement of Spectrum's trademarks, justifying an award of maximum statutory damages. The court remanded for a determination of reasonable attorneys' fees. View "Spectrum Association Management of Texas, LLC v. Lifetime HOA Management LLC" on Justia Law

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Alliance and Coalition are nonprofit organizations that endorse political candidates in New Orleans. Alliance filed suit against Coalition, seeking to enjoin use of its trade name and logo for federal trademark infringement under the Lanham Act, state trademark infringement, and unfair trade practices. The district court subsequently joined Darleen Jacobs as a third party to the case.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of attorney's fees to Alliance for federal trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. The court concluded that the district court's procedure for joining Jacobs met the demands of due process, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in holding her directly liable for the fee award. The court found it appropriate to extend the interpretation of the Patent Act fee-shifting provision to its interpretation of the Lanham Act and found that district courts do have the authority to award appellate fees under the Lanham Act. The court concluded that the district court's decision to award fees for further litigation of the attorney's fee award did not contravene the mandate rule; even if appellants are correct that Alliance's billing entries are flawed, the proper remedy is "a reduction of the award by a percentage intended to substitute for the exercise of billing judgment," which the district court did; and the district court considered each of appellants' objections to Alliance's fees motion. Finally, the court declined to address appellants' First Amendment argument, which was not addressed in Alliance I. View "Alliance for Good Government v. Coalition for Better Government" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Heinz for trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting, false designation of origin, and for violations of various Louisiana trademark laws. Heinz filed a counterclaim to have plaintiff's Metchup trademark registration canceled for abandonment or nonuse. The claims relate to plaintiff's mayonnaise and ketchup product and Heinz's Mayochup product. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claims because it found that there was no likelihood of confusion between Mayochup and Metchup and no confusion caused by Heinz's fleeting use of Metchup in advertising. The district court also canceled plaintiff's trademark registration after concluding that he failed to prove that he had made lawful, non-de minimis use of the Metchup mark in commerce.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against Heinz, agreeing with the district court that there is little chance that a consumer would confuse plaintiff's Metchup with Heinz's Mayochup or be confused by Heinz's use of Metchup in advertising. However, the court vacated the district court's cancelation of plaintiff's trademark and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that because plaintiff sold some Metchup and testified that he hoped to sell more, a finder of fact should determine whether his incontestable trademark should be deemed abandoned and canceled. View "Perry v. H. J. Heinz Company Brands, LLC" on Justia Law

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Future Proof filed suit against Coors for trademark infringement, claiming that consumers would confuse Coors' hard seltzer beverage "Vizzy" with Future Proof's hard seltzer beverage "Brizzy."The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Future Proof's motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Future Proof cannot determine a likelihood of success on the merits of its claims. In this case, the district court considered the digits of confusion and concluded that three digits supported the injunction and one weighed "marginally in favor of granting the injunction . . . ." But the district court correctly concluded that the other four factors did not support the injunction. The district court also notably concluded correctly that the two digits that have special importance, namely the sixth—which "may alone be sufficient to justify an inference that there is a likelihood of confusion,"—and the seventh—which constitutes the "best evidence of a likelihood of confusion,"—did not support the injunction. View "Future Proof Brands, LLC v. Molson Coors Beverage Co." on Justia Law

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Paul Batiste, a local jazz musician, brought a copyright infringement action against the world-famous hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. After the district court found no evidence of copyrighting, it granted summary judgment for defendants and then ordered both Batiste and his attorney to pay defendants' attorneys' fees.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court acted well within its discretion in denying Batiste's motion for leave to supplement his summary-judgment opposition. The court also held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment for defendants on the copyright infringement claims where Batiste failed to produce evidence for a reasonable jury to infer that defendants had access to his music or to find striking similarities between his songs and those of defendants. Therefore, he cannot prove factual copying and his copyright claims fail. The court further held that, given the objective unreasonableness of Batiste's claims, his history of litigation misconduct, and his pattern of filing overaggressive copyright actions, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees to defendants under the Copyright Act. Finally, the court lacked jurisdiction to review Batiste's challenge to the district court's decision to hold his attorney jointly and severally liable for the fee award as a sanction. View "Batiste v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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After ATOM filed for bankruptcy, plaintiff and ATOM initiated an adversarial proceeding against Petroleum Analyzer, alleging claims of misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, and civil theft. On the bankruptcy court's recommendation, the district court withdrew the reference to the bankruptcy court and asserted jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1334, and entered partial summary judgment for plaintiff and ATOM. Four years later, the district court held a bench trial and entered judgment in favor of Petroleum Analyzer and later awarded attorneys' fees to Petroleum Analyzer.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that Petroleum Analyzer did not use plaintiff's trade secrets in Petroleum Analyzer's sulfur-detecting excimer lamp called a MultiTek. Furthermore, the district court did not ignore the "law of the case" doctrine. The court also held that the district court did not err by awarding Petroleum Analyzer attorneys' fees under the Texas Theft Liability Act. The court remanded to allow the district court to make the initial determination and award of appellate attorneys' fees to Petroleum Analyzer. View "ATOM Instrument Corp. v. Petroleum Analyzer Co., LP" on Justia Law

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Digidrill filed suit against its competitor, Petrolink, alleging that Petrolink hacked into its software at various oil drilling sites in order to "scrape" valuable drilling data in real time. The district court granted Petrolink's motion for summary judgment on Digidrill's copyright claims. Digidrill's unjust enrichment claim proceeded to trial, where a jury returned a verdict in Digidrill's favor.In regard to the copyright infringement claim, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that Digidrill likely waived its "qualitative importance" argument but, even if not, the argument fails on the merits because no reasonable jury could find substantial similarity based on the qualitative importance of the copied schema to DataLogger as a whole. The court also affirmed the district court's judgment as to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act claims, holding that the USB dongle and Interface Process did not effectively control access to the protected database schema.The court also held that Digidrill's unjust enrichment claim is not preempted by the Copyright Act because the claim incorporates an element beyond mere unauthorized copying. The court held that the available Texas authorities do not foreclose the possibility that a litigant may show the taking of an undue advantage without showing the violation of a law or legal duty. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Petrolink's judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether Digidrill adduced sufficient evidence of the benefit Petrolink obtained from Digidrill. Finally, the court held that the district court failed to treat Petrolink as the prevailing party under the relevant statutes and failed to apply the correct legal standard. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's denial of Petrolink's motion for fees and remanded. View "Digital Drilling Data Systems, LLC v. Petrolink Services, Inc." on Justia Law