Justia Trademark Opinion Summaries

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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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Atlas Movers federally registered the “Atlas” mark for “transportation of household goods of others,” first using “Atlas” in 1948 when it formed Atlas Van Lines, providing transportation and logistics services, primarily moving household goods. Since 1970, its division, STG, has provided logistics services for non-household goods shipments. Atlas Movers eventually focused more on logistics, forming Atlas Relocation Services in 1995. In 2007, Atlas Movers began marketing its service as “Atlas Logistics.” and renamed its logistics company Atlas Logistics, which can ship, or arrange the shipment of, any commodity.Eaton manufactures and distributes steel. Eaton created Atlas Trucking in 1999, then expanded to ship goods other than steel and metal for companies in addition to its own. It developed Atlas Logistics in 2003 as an adjunct to Atlas Trucking. Eaton knew of Atlas Van Lines. Atlas Movers sued in 2017 for infringement. Eaton answered and counterclaimed that it owned the Atlas Logistics mark.The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Atlas Movers, upholding findings that Atlas Movers marketed “Atlas” to an extent that the public recognized it, that the parties’ services are related because they engage in at least some of the same transportation services, that the marks were functionally identical, and that there was actual confusion. View "AWGI, LLC v. Atlas Trucking Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are the owners of the heavily advertised Select Comfort and Sleep Number brands of adjustable air mattresses and defendants are online retailers of their own brand of lower-priced adjustable beds. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants used similar and identical marks in several different capacities online to sell competing products, and that defendants compounded internet-related confusion by making fraudulent misrepresentations and failing to dispel confusion when consumers contacted defendants' call centers. After a trial resulted in a mixed verdict, both sides appealed.The Eighth Circuit reversed and concluded that the district court erred by finding as a matter of law that the relevant consumers were sophisticated and that a theory of initial-interest confusion could not apply. Therefore, the court concluded, based on Insty*Bit, Inc. v. Poly-Tech Indus., 95 F.3d 663, 671–72 (8th Cir. 1996), that limiting the infringement instruction to require confusion at the time of purchase was error. Given the strength of plaintiffs' evidence on the issue of confusion, the court cannot conclude that the summary judgment and instructional errors were harmless.In regard to the false advertising claim, the court concluded that the district court erred by instructing the jury in a manner that shifted the burden of proof on the materiality element based on a finding of literal falsity. Furthermore, based on the specific jury forms returned in this case, the court did not find the error to be harmless as to those claims where plaintiffs prevailed. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for a new trial on the seven false advertising claims on which plaintiffs prevailed. In regard to the remaining issues, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its substantial discretion in refusing to permit amendment of the counterclaim after the close of discovery and on the eve of trial; the court noted that an expert's testimony as to the structure and meaning of survey evidence or other factual matters generally should not usurp the court's role in defining the law for the jury; the court concluded that any infirmities as to the demonstration bed go to the weight rather than the admissibility of the evidence; and the jury instructions did not impermissibly shift the burden of proof on defendants' cross claim seeking a declaration that plaintiffs held no trademark rights in the phrase "NUMBER BED." View "Select Comfort Corp. v. Baxter" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Erik Underwood and My24HourNews.Com, Inc. owned two putative service marks: “E.R.I.C.A.” and “my24erica.com.” Underwood claimed to have used these marks in his business, which offered internet-based search engine and personal assistant services. Bank of America Corporation (“BofA”) owned a registered federal trademark for a mobile banking application known as “ERICA.” Underwood sued BofA for infringing his marks. BofA counterclaimed to cancel Underwood’s Georgia registration of his E.R.I.C.A. mark. The district court granted BofA’s motions for summary judgment on its cancellation counterclaim and on Underwood’s infringement claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. On BofA’s cancellation counterclaim, the Court affirmed summary judgment against Underwood. On Underwood’s infringement claims, the Court: (1) vacated summary judgment for BofA on the E.R.I.C.A. mark and remanded for the district court to apply the correct actual use standard; and (2) affirmed summary judgment for BofA on the my24erica.com mark. View "Underwood v. Bank of America Corporation" on Justia Law

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Ironhawk filed suit against Dropbox for trademark infringement and unfair competition, alleging that Dropbox's use of the name Smart Sync intentionally infringes on Ironhawk's SmartSync trademark and is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the affiliation of Ironhawk's product with Dropbox. After the district court concluded that Ironhawk could not prevail because a reasonable trier of fact could not find a likelihood of consumer confusion, Ironhawk appealed based on a theory of reverse confusion.The Ninth Circuit held that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to the likelihood of consumer confusion under a reverse confusion theory of infringement and thus reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Dropbox, vacating the judgment, and remanding for trial. The panel first concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Ironhawk's potential consumers include commercial customers. Applying the Sleekcraft factors, the panel then concluded that a reasonable trier of fact could find a likelihood of confusion. Therefore, Dropbox has not met its high burden of establishing that no genuine disputes of material fact exist as to the likelihood of confusion between Smart Sync and SmartSync. View "Ironhawk Technologies, Inc. v. Dropbox, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the order of the district court dismissing this appeal, holding that the district court erred both in refusing to enforce the contested agreement and in dismissing the case after effectively declaring the agreement null and void.The Commonwealth School, Inc. brought suit against Commonwealth Academy Holdings, LLC under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114(A) and 1125(a), alleging that the School had trademarked the name "Commonwealth School" and that the Academy's name, "Commonwealth Academy," infringed that trademark. The parties achieved a settlement agreement, and the district court conditionally dismissed the case. When the parties failed to memorialize the agreement the School moved to reopen the case. The Academy, in response, moved for enforcement of the settlement agreement. The district court refused to enforce the settlement, finding that there had not been a meeting of the minds, and then dismissed the case. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) this Court had jurisdiction to hear and determine this appeal; (2) enforcement of the settlement agreement was within the district court's jurisdictional orbit; and (3) the settlement agreement was valid and enforceable, and therefore, the district court erred in refusing to enforce the agreement and in dismissing the case. View "Commonwealth School, Inc. v. Commonwealth Academy Holdings LLC" 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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In 1994, a California corporation purchased and registered the domain name and trademarks for “France.com.” Twenty years later, the corporation initiated a lawsuit in France, challenging a Dutch company’s use of the France.com trademark. The French Republic and its tourism office intervened, seeking to protect their country’s Internet identity and establish its right to the domain name. French trial and appellate courts declared the French Republic the rightful owner of the domain name. In the U.S., the corporation sued the French entities, which asserted sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1604. The district court denied a motion to dismiss, concluding that immunity “would be best raised after discovery.”The Fourth Circuit reversed, directing the district court to dismiss the complaint with prejudice. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the appeal because the district court rested its order not on a failure to state a claim but on a denial of sovereign immunity, which constitutes an appealable collateral order. Neither FSIA’s “commercial activity” exception nor its “expropriation” exception applies. It is not clear that the French State’s actions in obtaining the website in judicial proceedings constitute “seizure” or an “expropriation” and they clearly do not constitute “commercial activity.” The corporation itself invoked the power of the French courts; only because it did so could the French State intervene in that action to obtain the challenged result. View "France.com, Inc. v. The French Republic" on Justia Law

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The waiver language in 15 U.S.C. 1071 relates only to the choice of review options for the decision appealed from. The Fourth Circuit held that a party seeking review of a subsequent Trademark Board decision may seek review in either the Federal Circuit or the district court, even if the Trademark Board's initial decision was reviewed by the Federal Circuit.In this case, the parties' dispute concerns the registration of the mark "PRETZEL CRISPS." Plaintiff sought to register the mark in 2004, but the trademark examiner denied registration. Plaintiffs reapplied for registration in 2009, but Frito-Lay opposed the registration and argued that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic for pretzel crackers and not registrable. The Trademark Board sided with Frito-Lay in 2014. Plaintiffs opted for the section 1071(a) route and appealed the Trademark Board's 2014 decision to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit agreed with plaintiffs in 2015, remanding to the Trademark Board. On remand in 2017, the Trademark Board again concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic, and alternatively concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" lacked distinctiveness. Plaintiffs sought review of the Trademark Board's 2017 decision, but the district court dismissed the case without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that the statutory text of the Lanham Act, while ambiguous, favors plaintiffs' argument in favor of jurisdiction. Furthermore, this conclusion is bolstered by legislative history, the court's sister circuits' holdings in similar cases, and policy considerations. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Snyder's-Lance, Inc. v. Frito-Lay North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Army granted Authentic a nonexclusive license to manufacture and sell clothing bearing the Army’s trademarks. The agreement required the Army’s advance written approval of any products and marketing materials bearing the Army’s trademarks and included exculpatory clauses that exempted the Army from liability for exercising its discretion to deny approval. In 2011-2014, Authentic submitted nearly 500 requests for approval; the Army disapproved 41 submissions. During that time, Authentic received several formal notices of material breach for claimed failures to timely submit royalty reports and pay royalties. Authentic eventually paid its royalties through 2013. Authentic’s counsel indicated that Authentic would not pay outstanding royalties for 2014.Authentic's ensuing breach of contract suit cited the Army’s denial of the right to exploit the goodwill associated with the Army’s trademarks, refusal to permit Authentic to advertise its contribution to Army recreation programs, delay of approval for a financing agreement, denial of approval for advertising, and breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing by not approving the sale of certain garments. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The license agreement stated in no uncertain terms that the Army had “sole and absolute discretion” regarding approval of Authentic’s proposed products and marketing materials; the exercise of that broad approval discretion is not inconsistent with principles of trademark law. View "Authentic Apparel Geoup, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law