Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Intellectual Property
Viacom International, Inc. v. IJR Capital Investments, LLC
Specific elements from within a television show—as opposed to the title of the show itself—can receive trademark protection. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Viacom on its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims related to the common law trademark of The Krusty Krab. The Krusty Krab is a fictional restaurant in the "SpongeBob SquarePants" animated television series, and IJR took steps to open seafood restaurants using the same name. The court held that The Krusty Krab's key role in "SpongeBob SquarePants" coupled with the consistent use of the mark on licensed products established ownership of the mark because of its immediate recognition as an identifier of the source for goods and services; Viacom's mark has acquired distinctiveness through secondary meaning as a matter of law; and Viacom met its burden by proving that IJR's use of The Krusty Krab created a likelihood of confusion as to source, affiliation, or sponsorship. View "Viacom International, Inc. v. IJR Capital Investments, LLC" on Justia Law
Motion Medical Technologies, LLC v. Thermotek, Inc.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law to defendants, concluding that federal law preempted ThermoTek's unfair competition claim and that ThermoTek failed to prove its damages for fraud. ThermoTek designs, manufacturers, and sells the VascuTherm system, which consists of a medical device and specially designed wraps that provide thermal and compression therapy. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in reaching the preemption defense on the merits. On the merits, the court held that federal copyright and patent laws preempted the unfair-competition-by-misappropriation claim. View "Motion Medical Technologies, LLC v. Thermotek, Inc." on Justia Law
BWP Media USA, Inc. v. T & S Software Associates, Inc.
Plaintiffs, BWP Media and National Photo Group, filed suit against T&S, an internet service provider, for direct and secondary infringement. Plaintiffs alleged that T&S hosted an internet forum on which third-party users posted images that infringed copyrights owned by plaintiffs. The district court granted summary judgment for T&S. The court adopted the volitional-conduct requirement in direct-copyright infringement cases, and found that BWP did not contend that T&S did, in fact, engage in such conduct. In this case, the court explained that T&S hosts the forum on which infringing content was posted, but its connection to the infringement ends there. Rather, the users posted the infringing content. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "BWP Media USA, Inc. v. T & S Software Associates, Inc." on Justia Law
Streamline Production Systems, Inc. v. Streamline Manufacturing, Inc.
Streamline Production filed a trademark infringement suit against Streamline Manufacturing, seeking damages under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., and Texas common law. The parties stipulated to an injunction and a jury returned a verdict finding that Streamline Manufacturing infringed on Streamline Production's valid trademark in its name and awarded damages for lost royalties, unjust enrichment, and exemplary damages. The district court denied Streamline Manufacturing's motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), as well as its renewed JMOL, or in the alternative, for a new trial. The court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the royalty award where, given the limited nature of the expert testimony on royalty damages and the other evidence presented at trial on the nature of Streamline Manufacturing's infringement and customers, the royalty award does not bear a rational relationship to the infringing use; the unjust enrichment award was not supported by sufficient evidence; and, because the court vacated the royalty and unjust enrichment awards for insufficient evidence, the court also vacated the exemplary damages award. The court otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "Streamline Production Systems, Inc. v. Streamline Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law
Vetter v. McAtee
Plaintiff owned AIA-LOGO! Promotions, LLC and defendant owned Insignia Marketing, Inc. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, claiming breach of a partnership agreement, and defendant counterclaimed for breach of the same partnership agreement. Insignia then initiated a separate suit against plaintiff and Logo Promotions for trademark infringement, copyright infringement, cyber piracy, false advertising, and civil conspiracy. The jury found that plaintiff, but not defendant, had breached the partnership agreement, and awarded $60,000 in damages; found, however, that neither plaintiff nor Logo Promotions had infringed Insignia's trademark; found that Insignia had obtained registration of the "Communicat-R" trademark through fraud, that the mark was not in use on the day it was registered, and that Insignia had abandoned the mark after registration, all supporting cancellation of the registration; and found plaintiff and Logo Promotions liable for false advertising, but not cyber piracy or civil conspiracy. The trial court subsequently denied plaintiff attorneys' fees and reaffirmed its finding of waiver and, in the alternative, that the case was not "exceptional" enough to warrant such an award under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq. Defendant moved for a partial new trial and plaintiff moved for a renewed judgment as a matter of law, both of which the trial court denied. The court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion for a new trial to the extent that the motion was based on errors in the trial and jury instructions; affirmed the denial of defendant's motion for a new trial to the extent that the motion challenged the jury’s verdict as against the great weight of the evidence; affirmed the denial of plaintiff's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law; affirmed the trial court's equal division of the interpleaded funds; and affirmed the denial of attorneys' fees. View "Vetter v. McAtee" on Justia Law
Ultraflo Corp. v. Pelican Tank Parts, Inc.
Ultraflo filed suit against Pelican, asserting an unfair competition by misappropriation claim under Texas law. Ultraflo alleged that Pelican stole its drawings showing how to design valves and then used them to make duplicate valves. The court previously held that copyright preempts this Texas cause of action when the intellectual property at issue is within the subject matter of copyright. Ultraflo contends that its claim escapes preemption because its valve design, when separated from the drawing itself, is afforded no protection under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq. Determining that Ultraflo did not waive its preemption challenge, the court concluded the district court correctly found that the state claim is preempted because copyright preemption prohibits interference with Congress’s decision not to grant copyright protection just as much as it protects a decision to provide protection. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Ultraflo Corp. v. Pelican Tank Parts, Inc." on Justia Law
Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton Dickinson & Co.
BD and RTI are competitors in the market for syringes of various types and IV catheters. This appeal arises from a $340 million jury verdict (after trebling) entered against BD for its alleged attempt to monopolize the United States safety syringe market in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 2. BD was also found liable for false advertising under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1)(B). The district court, relying on principles of equity, held that the treble damage award subsumed BD’s liability to disgorge profits from the false advertising, but the district court enjoined BD to stop using those ads and notify customers, employees, distributors, and others about the false claims. The court concluded that the Section 2 claim for attempt to monopolize is infirm as a matter of law where patent infringement, which operates to increase competition, is not anticompetitive conduct; false advertising is a slim, and here nonexistent, reed for a Section 2 claim; and the allegation that BD “tainted” the market for retractable syringes while surreptitiously plotting to offer its own retractable a few years later is unsupported and incoherent. The court affirmed the Lanham Act judgment of liability for false advertising but reversed and remanded for a redetermination of disgorgement damages, if any. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded the injunctive relief for reconsideration. View "Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton Dickinson & Co." on Justia Law
GlobeRanger Corp. v. Software AG
After GlobeRanger, a software maker, obtained a $15 million judgment in a trade secret misappropriation trial against competitor Software AG, Software AG appealed. The court found that the trade secret claim is not preempted but that a dismissed conversion claim was preempted and supports federal jurisdiction. In this case, GlobeRanger’s trade secret misappropriation claim requires establishing an additional element than what is required to make out a copyright violation: that the protected information was taken via improper means or breach of a confidential relationship. Because the state tort provides substantially different protection than copyright law, it is not preempted. As the complaint alleged only conversion of intangible property for which there is equivalency between the rights protected under that state tort and federal copyright law, complete preemption converted the conversion claim into one brought under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., that supported federal question jurisdiction at the time of removal and supplemental jurisdiction after it was dismissed. On the merits, the court concluded that GlobeRanger’s evidence is sufficient to show that Software AG used the Navy Solution in developing its own product. Therefore, the court upheld the jury's finding of trade secret use. Finally, the court rejected Software AG's claims of error in regard to the damages award and affirmed the award. View "GlobeRanger Corp. v. Software AG" on Justia Law
Snow Ingredients, Inc. v. SnoWizard, Inc.
SnoWizard and Southern Snow, sellers of flavored shaved ice confections, have been involved in litigation for the past ten years in state court, federal district court, and before the Patent and Trademark Office in the Federal Circuit. In this appeal, Southern Snow challenges the district court’s dismissal of its claims under Rule 12(b)(6) and SnoWizard cross-appeals the district court’s denial of its motions for sanctions against Southern Snow. Because the claims against SnoWizard are precluded, and because the claims against Morris and Tolar fail to satisfy the requirements for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, or malicious prosecution, the court affirmed the dismissal of all the claims. Given that Southern Snow advanced arguments that, although creative, were not “ridiculous,” the court affirmed the district court’s denials of sanctions. View "Snow Ingredients, Inc. v. SnoWizard, Inc." on Justia Law
JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Datatreasury Corp.
DTC filed suit against JPMC and others, alleging willful patent infringement relating to electronic check-processing systems. JPMC was the first bank to reach a settlement agreement with DTC in 2005. As part of the settlement, JPMC entered into a consent judgment in which it admitted the patents were valid and enforceable and that JPMC had infringed them. It also entered into a license agreement permitting JPMC unlimited use of DTC’s patented technology going forward. At issue in this appeal is the district court’s interpretation of a most favored licensee (MFL) clause in the license agreement allowing JPMC to use DTC's patented check processing technology. JPMC invoked its rights under the MFL clause based on DTC’s granting a similar unlimited license to another entity for a lesser lump sum than JPMC paid. The court agreed with the district court that after comparing these two lump-sum license agreements, the later agreement is indeed more favorable, and JPMC therefore is entitled to a refund from DTC for the difference between the amount it paid for its license and the lesser amount bargained for in the later license agreement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Datatreasury Corp." on Justia Law