Justia Trademark Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Trademark
Springboards v. IDEA Public Schools
Springboards for Education (“Springboards”) brought trademark infringement claims against McAllen Independent School District (“MISD”), a public school district in Texas, and IDEA Public Schools (“IDEA”), a nonprofit organization operating charter schools in Texas. The district court dismissed the suit against IDEA, concluding it was an arm of the state and therefore shared Texas’s sovereign immunity. As for MISD, the court found that it did not have sovereign immunity but ultimately granted summary judgment in MISD’s favor. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment for MISD. The court explained that while it disagrees with the district court’s conclusion that IDEA has sovereign immunity, the court affirmed the judgment for IDEA on alternate grounds. The court reasoned that in determining whether an entity is an arm of the state, the court balances the so-called “Clark factors,” which our court first articulated decades ago in Clark v. Tarrant County. Those factors are: (1) whether state statutes and case law view the entity as an arm of the state; (2) the source of the entity’s funding; (3) the entity’s degree of local autonomy; (4) whether the entity is concerned primarily with local, as opposed to statewide, problems; (5) whether the entity has the authority to sue and be sued in its own name; and (6) whether it has the right to hold and use property. The court held that factors one and three favor sovereign immunity while factors two, four, five, and six do not. The court concluded that IDEA is not an arm of the state and does not share in Texas’s sovereign immunity. View "Springboards v. IDEA Public Schools" on Justia Law
Interprofession du Gruyere v. U.S. Dairy Export Council
Appellants are a Swiss consortium, Interprofession du Gruyère (“IDG”), and a French consortium, Syndicat Interprofessionel du Gruyère (“SIG”) (together, “the Consortiums”), who believe that gruyere should only be used to label cheese that is produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France. Seeking to enforce this limitation in the United States, the Consortiums filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to register the word “GRUYERE” as a certification mark. Appellees, the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Atalanta Corporation, and Intercibus, Inc. (together, “the Opposers”), opposed this certification mark because they believe the term is generic and, therefore, ineligible for such protection. The USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) agreed with the Opposers and held that “GRUYERE” could not be registered as a certification mark because it is generic. The Consortiums filed a complaint challenging the TTAB’s decision in the United States district court. The district court granted summary judgment for the Opposers on the same grounds as articulated in the TTAB’s decision. The Fourth Circuit affirmed and concluded that that the term “GRUYERE” is generic as a matter of law. The court explained that the Consortiums have not brought evidence bearing on whether, at an earlier point in history, the term “GRUYERE” was in common use in the United States. But even assuming that was the case, this argument still fails. In sum, the Consortiums cannot overcome what the record makes clear: cheese consumers in the United States understand “GRUYERE” to refer to a type of cheese, which renders the term generic. View "Interprofession du Gruyere v. U.S. Dairy Export Council" on Justia Law
Sherman Nealy, et al. v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al.
Plaintiffs in this case—Sherman Nealy and Music Specialist, Inc.—filed this copyright action seeking, among other things, damages for infringement they allege occurred more than three years before they filed this lawsuit. The defendants—Warner Chappell Music, Inc. and Artist Publishing Group, LLC—contend that Plaintiffs cannot recover damages for anything that happened more than three years before they filed suit. The district court certified the following question for interlocutory appellate review: whether damages in this copyright action are limited to a three-year lookback period as calculated from the date of the filing of the complaint. The Eleventh Circuit answered that question in the negative. The court wrote that given that the plain text of the Copyright Act does not support the existence of a separate damages bar for an otherwise timely copyright claim, the court held that a copyright plaintiff with a timely claim under the discovery rule may recover retrospective relief for infringement that occurred more than three years prior to the filing of the lawsuit. View "Sherman Nealy, et al. v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Dmarcian, Inc. v. Dmarcian Europe BV
Dmarcian, Inc. (dInc) and dmarcian Europe BV (dBV)—and a broken business relationship. The original dmarcian, dInc, is a Delaware corporation with headquarters in North Carolina. Its corporate homonym, dBV, is a Dutch entity based in the Netherlands. The two companies negotiated an agreement authorizing dBV to sell dInc’s software in Europe and Africa. The license was done on a handshake, and the parties now dispute its terms. Among other allegations, dInc accuses dBV of directly competing for customers, which prompted dInc to bring claims of copyright and trademark infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and tortious interference. The district court exercised personal jurisdiction over dBV and declined to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The district court also issued a preliminary injunction limiting dBV’s use of dInc’s intellectual property. The district court later held dBV in contempt for violating the injunction, and dBV appealed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed except as to one aspect of the contempt order, which the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings as to the proper amount of sanctions. The court explained that the district court did not err in exercising personal jurisdiction, in declining to dismiss for forum non conveniens, and in issuing a preliminary injunction. Further, the court held that the district court was also justified in issuing a contempt sanction; but the court requires a more thorough examination of the sanction amount. While the preliminary injunction may not be the final word on the merits, its entry was also not an abuse of discretion considering the weighty interests and detailed findings discussed at length above. View "Dmarcian, Inc. v. Dmarcian Europe BV" on Justia Law
SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION V. CEFCU
Defendant Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) petitioned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel a trademark registration belonging to plaintiff San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU). SDCCU procured a stay to the TTAB proceedings by filing an action seeking declaratory relief to establish that it was not infringing either of CEFCU’s registered and common-law marks and to establish that those marks were invalid. The district court granted SDCCU’s motion for summary judgment on noninfringement. After a bench trial, the district court also held that CEFCU’s common-law mark was invalid and awarded SDCCU attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court’s judgment and award of attorneys’ fees in favor of Plaintiff and remanded. The panel held that SDCCU had no personal stake in seeking to invalidate CEFCU’s common-law mark because the district court had already granted summary judgment in favor of SDCCU, which established that SDCCU was not infringing that mark. Hence, there was no longer any reasonable basis for SDCCU to apprehend a trademark infringement suit from CEFCU. After it granted summary judgment in favor of SDCCU, the district court was not resolving an actual “case” or “controversy” regarding the validity of CEFCU’s common-law mark; thus, it lacked Article III jurisdiction to proceed to trial on that issue. The panel therefore vacated the district court’s judgment and its award of attorneys’ fees, which was based, in part, on the merits of the invalidity claim over which the district court lacked Article III jurisdiction. View "SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION V. CEFCU" on Justia Law
SCOTT RIGSBY, ET AL V. GODADDY INC., ET AL
Plaintiff is a physically challenged athlete and motivational speaker who started the Scott Rigsby Foundation and registered the domain name “scottrigsbyfoundation.org” with GoDaddy.com. When Plaintiff and the Foundation failed to pay the annual renewal fee in 2018, a third party registered the then-available domain name. Scottrigsbyfoundation.org became a gambling information site. Plaintiff sued GoDaddy.com, LLC and its corporate relatives (collectively, “GoDaddy”), for violations of the Lanham Act and various state laws and sought declaratory and injunctive relief, including the return of the domain name. The Northern District of Georgia transferred the case to the District of Arizona, which dismissed all claims. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal and dismissed Plaintiff’s and the Foundation’s appeal of an order transferring venue. The panel held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia’s order transferring the case to the District of Arizona because transfer orders are reviewable only in the circuit of the transferor district court. The panel held that Plaintiff could not satisfy the “use in commerce” requirement of the Lanham Act vis-à-vis GoDaddy because the “use” in question was being carried out by a third-party gambling site, not GoDaddy. As to the Lanham Act claim, the panel further held that Plaintiff could not overcome GoDaddy’s immunity under the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. The panel held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shielded GoDaddy from liability for Plaintiff’s state-law claims for invasion of privacy, publicity, trade libel, libel, and violations of Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act. View "SCOTT RIGSBY, ET AL V. GODADDY INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
The Prudential Insurance Company of America v. Shenzhen Stone Network Information Ltd.
Appellant Shenzhen Stone Network Information Ltd. (“SSN”) appealed the district court’s order granting summary judgment on Appellee Prudential Insurance Company of America’s (“Prudential”) cybersquatting claim. Prudential owns several registered trademarks on the term PRU and other PRU-formative marks. Prudential initiated the underlying action after discovering that SSN had registered the domain name PRU.COM. Prudential alleged that SSN violated the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”), by registering a domain name identical to Prudential’s distinctive mark with the bad faith intent to profit. The district court determined that SSN could be held liable for cybersquatting because the ACPA is not limited to the initial registration of a domain name but encompasses subsequent re-registrations as well. The district court concluded that SSN possessed the bad faith intent to profit from the disputed domain name and granted Prudential’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, SSN contests the district court’s ruling that SSN acted in bad faith when registering the disputed domain name. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the totality of the circumstances supports the conclusion that SSN acted in bad faith and that SSN is not entitled to the benefit of the ACPA’s safe harbor provision. The court reasoned that SSN failed to satisfy the statute’s safe harbor provision. First, SSN’s self-serving denials of subjective belief that its use of the PRU.COM domain name was lawful are insufficient to defeat summary judgment absent objective corroboration. Further, SSN did not have reasonable grounds to believe that its registration of the PRU.COM domain name was otherwise lawful. View "The Prudential Insurance Company of America v. Shenzhen Stone Network Information Ltd." on Justia Law
H&R Block, Inc. v. Block, Inc.
Block, Inc. appealed from an order granting in part H&R Block, Inc. and HRB Innovations, Inc.’s (collectively, “H&R Block”) motion for a preliminary injunction. H&R Block claims that the use of “Block” and a green square logo in connection with tax services: (1) is likely to cause confusion because H&R Block and Block, Inc. both offer overlapping services, including tax preparation and filing, other related financial services, and charitable services; (2) has confused consumers, the media, and investors; and (3) will cause irreparable harm, as it will undermine H&R Block’s ability to control its public image and perception and lead consumers to incorrectly believe Block, Inc’s tax service is connected to H&R Block or one of the “building blocks” in the Block, Inc. family of brands. The Eighth Circuit reversed and vacated the preliminary injunction. The court explained that H&R Block failed to satisfy its burden because the evidence in the record is inadequate to establish substantial consumer confusion by an appreciable number of ordinary consumers, nor irreparable harm that is concrete and imminent. The court wrote that if there is, in fact, trademark infringement, H&R Block will have a full opportunity to demonstrate that infringement at a trial on the merits. View "H&R Block, Inc. v. Block, Inc." on Justia Law
Cincinnati Insurance Company v. Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC
Five months after being sued in Oregon for trademark infringement, Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC provided notice to its liability insurer, Cincinnati Insurance Company. Due to Rieger’s delay, Cincinnati refused to reimburse Rieger’s legal fees for the five months that Cincinnati was unaware of the lawsuit. The Oregon case was ultimately dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Instead of waiting to be sued in a court that did have jurisdiction, Rieger’s parent company, GSP Licensing LLC, filed a new suit in Missouri as the plaintiff. GSP was not named under Rieger’s insurance policy, so Cincinnati denied coverage for the Missouri case. Cincinnati then filed this lawsuit, seeking a declaration of coverage. The district court granted summary judgment to Cincinnati. The Eighth Circuit reversed in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Cincinnati. The court affirmed the dismissal of Rieger’s tort claims and the imposition of sanctions. The court explained that under Missouri law, a tort claim is independent of a contract claim if the tort claim can succeed without regard to the outcome of the contract claim. In other words, the tort claim could succeed regardless of the outcome of the contract claim. Here, Rieger admits that its tort claims would fail if its contract claim succeeded. By Rieger’s own admission, the court found that the district court properly dismissed Rieger’s tort claims. View "Cincinnati Insurance Company v. Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC" on Justia Law
FCOA LLC v. Foremost Title & Escrow Services LLC
FIC was founded and started using FOREMOST branded marks to market and sell its insurance products. After FIC operated independently for several decades, Farmers Insurance Group acquired FIC in 2000. Now a subsidiary of Farmers, FIC continues to sell insurance in the United States and Florida under its FOREMOST-branded marks. At issue is whether parties’ FOREMOST trademarks at issue could confuse consumers into thinking that a relationship exists between the parties. The district court found at summary judgment that there was no likelihood of confusion (and thus no trademark infringement) between the FOREMOST marks of Foremost Insurance Company (“FIC”), a multi-billion dollar insurance company, and Foremost Title and Escrow (“FT&E”), a shell company set up to sell title insurance for a law firm. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment on FIC’s trademark infringement claim. The court explained that while the district court implicitly decided this case under the Nunez framework, it never actually decided whether all the material facts had been “incontrovertibly proved.” A district court may not ignore the traditional summary judgment standard merely by invoking the specter of Nunez. The court wrote, in this case, the parties should have eschewed moving for summary judgment, informed the court that discovery was complete and that the case was ready for trial, and then held a bench trial. Thus because the court held a reasonable factfinder could determine that a likelihood of confusion exists, the court reversed grant of summary judgment as to Count I of FIC’s complaint and remanded the case for trial on the merits. View "FCOA LLC v. Foremost Title & Escrow Services LLC" on Justia Law