Articles Posted in Intellectual Property

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Parks was founded in the 1950s and was the first African-American-owned company to be publicly traded on the NYSE. Parks engaged in radio and television advertising, using a well-known slogan, “More Parks Sausages, Mom, Please.” Though the PARKS brand had likely developed prominence sufficient for common law trademark protection before 1970, the name was not registered in the Patent and Trademark Office until 1970. In the early 2000s, Parks failed to renew the registration. Following the death of its owner, the company had fallen on hard times and had licensed the production and sale of its products. In 2014, Tyson, the owner of the BALL PARK brand, launched a premium frankfurter product called PARK’S FINEST. Parks sued, alleging false advertising and trademark infringement. The district court determined that the false advertising claim was a repetition of the trademark claim and that the PARKS mark was too weak to merit protection against Tyson’s use of PARK’S FINEST. The Third Circuit affirmed. The fact that the PARKS mark has existed for a long time and that it enjoyed secondary meaning half a century ago cannot overcome the factors against Parks. There is almost no direct-to-consumer advertising; Parks has a minuscule market share, and there is practically no record of actual confusion. View "Parks LLC v. Tyson Foods Inc" on Justia Law

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Covertech manufactures and sells reflective insulation under its rFOIL brand—its U.S. trademark, registered since 2001. The umbrella rFOIL brand includes ULTRA. In 1998, TVM, a distributor, and Covertech entered into a verbal agreement, designating TVM as the exclusive U.S. marketer and distributor of Covertech’s rFOIL products. In 2007, Covertech terminated the agreement. TVM was consistently late with payment; Covertech discovered TVM had been purchasing comparable products from Reflectix, and passing off some of them as Covertech’s. The parties entered a new agreement, under which Covertech manufactured products for TVM to sell under the TVM brand name; Covertech also continued to sell TVM rFOIL products for resale using Covertech’s product names. TVM violated its agreement to refrain from buying competitors’ products. After Covertech learned of TVM’s illicit purchases, the parties terminated their relationship. Covertech began to sell its products directly in the U.S. Covertech unsuccessfully tried to persuade TVM to stop using rFOIL brand names. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office registered the ULTRA mark in 2010. In 2011, TVM registered ULTRA as its U.S. trademark. Covertech filed an adverse petition with the PTO and filed suit. The district court granted Covertech judgment and awarded damages, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a), (c), applying the “first use test,” and rejecting a defense of acquiescence. The Third Circuit affirmed as to ownership, citing the rebuttable presumption of manufacturer ownership that pertains where priority of ownership is not otherwise established, but vacated as to damages. The district court incorrectly relied on gross sales unadjusted to reflect sales of infringing products to calculate damages. View "Covertech Fabricating Inc v. TVM Building Products Inc" on Justia Law

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The consolidated appeals involve allegations that the companies holding the patents for Lipitor and Effexor XR delayed entry into the market by generic versions of those drugs by engaging in an overarching monopolistic scheme that involved fraudulently procuring and enforcing the underlying patents and then entering into a reverse-payment settlement agreement with a generic manufacturer. In 2013, the Supreme Court recognized that reverse payment schemes can violate antitrust laws and that it is normally not necessary to litigate patent validity to answer the antitrust question. The district judge dismissed most of plaintiffs’ claims. The Third Circuit remanded after rejecting an argument that plaintiffs’ allegations required transfer of the appeals to the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over appeals from civil actions “arising under” patent law, 28 U.S.C. 1295(a)(1). Not all cases presenting questions of patent law necessarily arise under patent law; here, patent law neither creates plaintiffs’ cause of action nor is a necessary element to any of plaintiffs’ well-pleaded claims. The court remanded one of the Lipitor appeals, brought by a group of California pharmacists and involving claims solely under California law, for jurisdictional discovery and determination of whether remand to state court was appropriate. View "In re: Lipitor Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law

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Following a generally favorable result in the district court, Motel 6 appealed, arguing that the district court erred interpreting the Lanham Act’s anticounterfeiting penalties not to reach the use of the Motel 6 mark without permission and in failing to award prejudgment interest to Motel 6. The Third Circuit vacated as to those issues. The lower court interpreted the Lanham Act too narrowly and contrary to the weight of persuasive authority concerning treble damages under 15 U.S.C. 1117(b). On remand the court must determine whether “extenuating circumstances” exist such that treble damages would not be appropriate. While the court was not required to award prejudgment interest once it found the case exceptional for purposes of attorney’s fees and costs under Section 1117(a), it may do so after reconsidering the counterfeiting issue. View "Motel 6 Operating LP v. HI Hotel Group LLC" on Justia Law