Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Trademark
Diece-Lisa Industries, Inc. v. Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Plaintiff appealed the district court's rulings in two consolidated actions alleging that various Disney corporate entities infringed on plaintiff's "Lots of Hugs" trademark by using the "Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear" (aka "Lotso") in the Toy Story 3 movie and in the sale of merchandise.The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff may obtain review of the adversary interlocutory rulings in its current appeal from the adverse final judgment in case No. 2:14-CV-00070. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that plaintiff lacked personal jurisdiction over the IP entities, because plaintiff's arguments were based on two novel theories that were without merit. The court set aside the district court's order pertaining to the third amended complaint and remanded, holding that the district court abused its discretion, by sua sponte and without hearing, vacating its order granting plaintiff leave to file the third amended complaint. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's decision striking the fourth amended complaint, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in striking the complaint. View "Diece-Lisa Industries, Inc. v. Disney Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Uptown Grill, LLC v. Camellia Grill Holdings, Inc.
This case involved ten years of litigation regarding an attempt to simultaneously sell a restaurant and license associated intellectual property. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the Bill of Sale assigned all Camellia Grill Trademark rights to Hicham Khodr; affirmed the district court's ruling that the Bill of Sale assigned the trade dress associated with the Carrollton restaurant; affirmed the district court's finding that infringement damages were unwarranted; reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment on the trade-dress breach of contract claim and remanded for proceedings to determine if Khodr breached the License Agreement by using the alleged trade dress at the Chartres restaurant; and affirmed the district court's compensable damages ruling. View "Uptown Grill, LLC v. Camellia Grill Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Alliance for Good Government v. Coalition for Better Government
In this trademark infringement action, the district court granted Alliance for Good Government summary judgment on its trademark infringement claim against Coalition for Better Government, enjoined Coalition from the use of both its logo and its trade name, and then awarded Alliance attorney's fees incurred in bringing the lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Alliance was entitled to fees. The court remanded for the district court to reassess the amount of fees, because the court has since modified the district court's injunction to permit Coalition to use its trade name. View "Alliance for Good Government v. Coalition for Better Government" on Justia Law
Express Oil Change, L.L.C. v. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors
In regulating the practice of engineering, Mississippi restricts the use of the term “engineer.” Express operates automotive service centers in Mississippi and other states under the Tire Engineers mark. The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors informed Express that the name Tire Engineers violated Miss. Code 73-13-39 and requested that it change its company advertisement name. Express sought a declaratory judgment, citing Express’s “rights of commercial free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment”; and “rights under preemptive federal trademark law” under 15 U.S.C. 1051–1127. The district court granted the Board summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Board’s decision violates the First Amendment’s commercial speech protections. Because its essential character is not deceptive, Tire Engineers is not inherently misleading. The name, trademarked since 1948, apparently refers to the work of mechanics using their skills “not usu[ally] considered to fall within the scope of engineering” to solve “technical problems” related to selecting, rotating, balancing, and aligning tires. Nor is the name actually misleading. Because the name is potentially misleading, the Board’s asserted interests are substantial but the record does not support the need for a total ban on the name. Other states with similar statutes have not challenged the use of the trademark and the Board did not address why less-restrictive means, such as a disclaimer, would not accomplish its goal. View "Express Oil Change, L.L.C. v. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors" on Justia Law
Springboards to Education, Inc. v. Houston Independent School District
Springboards filed suit against the school district under the Lanham Act, alleging that the school district used the company's marks in the course of operating a summer reading program. At issue was the school district's use of "Houston ISD Millionaire Club" on its incentive items and informational material.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the school district, holding that a reasonable jury could not find that the allegedly infringing use of the marks created a likelihood of confusion. The court held that no reasonably jury could conclude that it was likely potential purchasers of Springboards' products would have believed that Springboards was affiliated with HISD's summer reading program. View "Springboards to Education, Inc. v. Houston Independent School District" on Justia Law
Alliance for Good Government v. Coalition for Better Government
Alliance filed suit seeking to enjoin Coalition's use of its logo for federal trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Alliance and enjoined Coalition from using both its name and logo in political advertisements.The Fifth Circuit affirmed and held that Coalition failed to properly raise threshold questions concerning the applicability of the Lanham Act to what it characterized as political non-commercial speech. Therefore, the court declined to reach those questions. The court also held that the district court did not err in deciding that the birds on the logos at issue were identical. The panel held that the evidence established without dispute that Alliance's logo was a valid composite mark and that the use of Coalition's logo infringed Alliance's composite mark as a matter of law. The panel did modify the court's injunction in one respect, finding that the injunction restrained Coalition from using its name as well as its logo. Therefore, that aspect of the injunction was overbroad. View "Alliance for Good Government v. Coalition for Better Government" on Justia Law
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
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
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