Justia Trademark Opinion Summaries
Iancu v. Brunetti
Brunetti sought federal registration of the trademark FUCT. The Patent and Trademark Office denied his application under a Lanham Act provision that prohibits registration of trademarks that consist of or comprise "immoral[ ] or scandalous matter,” 15 U.S.C. 1052(a). The Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit in holding that the provision violates the First Amendment. The Court noted that it previously invalidated the Act’s ban on registering marks that “disparage” any “person[ ], living or dead.” The “immoral or scandalous” bar similarly discriminates on the basis of viewpoint. Expressive material is “immoral” when it is “inconsistent with rectitude, purity, or good morals”; “wicked”; or “vicious”; the Act permits registration of marks that champion society’s sense of rectitude and morality, but not marks that denigrate those concepts. Material is “scandalous” when it “giv[es] offense to the conscience or moral feelings”; “excite[s] reprobation”; or “call[s] out condemnation”; the Act allows registration of marks when their messages accord with, but not when their messages defy, society’s sense of decency or propriety. The statute, on its face, distinguishes between ideas aligned with conventional moral standards and those hostile to them. The Court rejected an argument that the statute is susceptible of a limiting construction. The “immoral or scandalous” bar does not draw the line at lewd, sexually explicit, or profane marks. Nor does it refer only to marks whose “mode of expression,” independent of viewpoint, is particularly offensive. To cut the statute off where the government urges would not interpret the statute Congress enacted, but fashion a new one. View "Iancu v. Brunetti" on Justia Law
Posted in: Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Intellectual Property, Trademark, US Supreme Court
Bodum USA, Inc. v. A Top New Casting Inc.
Bodum produces and sells what design magazines and art museums have recognized as an iconically designed houseware product—the Chambord French press coffee maker. Bodum sued Top for selling a French press that Bodum claimed infringes on its unregistered trade dress in the Chambord, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1)(A). The court excluded evidence of various utility patents covering French press coffee makers and rejected Top’s argument that Bodum failed to prove the Chambord design was nonfunctional. A jury awarded Bodum $2 million in damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Bodum presented sufficient evidence for the jury to have found Bodum’s claimed trade dress was non‐functional. The district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence of utility patents that do not claim any of the features that comprise the claimed Chambord trade dress. View "Bodum USA, Inc. v. A Top New Casting Inc." on Justia Law
Uncommon, LLC v. Spigen, Inc.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has, on a few occasions, found that “capsule” was “merely descriptive” of cellphone cases, a finding that precludes registration on the Principal Register. The Office has also found otherwise and allowed Uncommon to register “capsule.” Rival case manufacturers still use the term. Uncommon sued Spigen for trademark infringement and unfair competition, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125(a). Spigen sought cancellation of the mark. In discovery, Spigen produced a survey to prove that consumers did not associate “capsule” with Uncommon’s cases, and disclosed the person who conducted the survey as a “non-testifying expert,” but without foundational expert testimony to explain the survey’s methodology, it was inadmissible, FRCP 26(a). The district court excused Spigen’s error and granted Spigen summary judgment on the merits. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Spigen’s disclosure was inaccurate but harmless. Spigen carried its burden to defeat Uncommon’s presumption of inherent distinctiveness. Spigen demonstrated that there is no issue of material fact regarding the descriptiveness of the “capsule” mark. With the survey, there was no genuine issue of material fact as to the mark’s invalid registration. Nor was there an issue of fact regarding the unlikelihood of consumer confusion. View "Uncommon, LLC v. Spigen, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Intellectual Property, Trademark, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Barrington Music Products, Inc v. Music & Arts Center
Guitar Center, which sells musical instruments, created a new brand of woodwind and brass instruments produced by Eastman, “Ventus.” Barrington owns the trademark “Vento,” which is used in relation to instruments it sells. Barrington began using its mark in commerce in 2009 and achieved gross sales just under $700,000. Barrington filed for registration of its “Vento” mark in January 2010. In March 2011, Guitar Center began selling instruments using the “Ventus” mark, with gross sales totaling about $5 million. Barrington filed suit against Eastman, Music & Arts, Guitar Center, and Woodwind. A jury found that only Guitar Center's sales infringed and awarded Barrington the total amount of Guitar Center sales—$3,228. Barrington later discovered that Music & Arts and Woodwind were divisions of Guitar Center. Barrington moved the court to amend the damages award to $4,947,200, the total sales for the “Ventus” mark by all of the Guitar Center owned stores. The district court denied the Rule 59(e) motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Barrington gave no reason to conclude that the jury’s verdict would be different if it were aware Music & Arts and Woodwind were merely divisions of Guitar Center; it found Music & Arts and Woodwind did not infringe on the “Ventus” mark and there was no basis to award Barrington their “Ventus” related sales. View "Barrington Music Products, Inc v. Music & Arts Center" on Justia Law
Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust v. Cori
This consolidated appeal stemmed from the trusts' motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining the use of Phyllis Schafly's intellectual property. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1) and held that the trusts would not be entitled to the traditional presumption of irreparable harm in trademark cases because they did not promptly seek preliminary injunctive relief concerning the trademark infringement, regardless of whether the presumption survived recent Supreme Court decisions emphasizing the movant's burden to show that irreparable injury was likely in the absence of an injunction. The court dismissed the appeal of the order staying litigation for lack of appellate jurisdiction, because the order was temporary and did not effectively end the litigation. View "Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust v. Cori" on Justia Law
Posted in: Intellectual Property, Trademark, Trusts & Estates, US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
PlayNation Play Systems, Inc. v. Velex Corp.
PlayNation filed suit against Velez for trademark infringement over the use of the Gorilla Gym mark and the district court entered judgment for PlayNation. The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err in holding that Velez infringed on PlayNation's trademark, and in cancelling Velex's trademark registration on that basis. However, the district court abused its discretion in holding that PlayNation was entitled to an accounting of Velex's profits due to willful infringement based solely on Velex's continued lawful use of its mark after Velex was served with the complaint. Therefore, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part. View "PlayNation Play Systems, Inc. v. Velex Corp." on Justia Law
Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC
Tempnology licensed Mission to use Tempnology’s trademarks in connection with the distribution of clothing. Tempnology filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and sought to reject its agreement with Mission as an “executory contract” under 11 U.S.C. 365, which provides that rejection “constitutes a breach of such contract.” The Bankruptcy Court approved Tempnology’s rejection, holding that the rejection terminated Mission’s rights to use Tempnology’s trademarks. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed, holding that rejection does not terminate rights that would survive a breach of contract outside bankruptcy. The First Circuit reinstated the Bankruptcy Court’s decision. The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that the case is not moot. Mission presented a plausible claim for damages, sufficient to preserve a live controversy. A debtor’s rejection of an executory contract under Bankruptcy Code Section 365 has the same effect as a breach of that contract outside bankruptcy and cannot rescind rights that the contract previously granted. A licensor’s breach cannot revoke continuing rights given under a contract (assuming no special contract term or state law) outside of bankruptcy; the same result follows from rejection in bankruptcy. Section 365 reflects the general bankruptcy rule that the estate cannot possess anything more than the debtor did outside bankruptcy. The distinctive features of trademarks do not mandate a different result. In delineating the burdens a debtor may and may not escape, Section 365’s edict that rejection is breach expresses a more complex set of aims than facilitating reorganization. View "Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC" on Justia Law
Swagway, LLC v. International Trade Commission
Segway filed a complaint (19 U.S.C. 337) with the International Trade Commission based on infringement of six patents and two trademarks--stylized and non-stylized SEGWAY marks, which cover “motorized, self-propelled, wheeled personal mobility devices, namely, wheelchairs, scooters, utility carts, and chariots.” The complaint alleged that Swagway’s self-balancing hoverboard products, marketed under the names SWAGWAY and SWAGTRON infringed Segway’s marks. Swagway proposed a consent order stipulating that Swagway would not sell or import “SWAGWAY-branded personal transporter products ... all components thereof, packaging and manuals.” Segway opposed the proposal as addressing only a subset of the claims and products at issue. After a hearing, the ALJ found that the accused products did not infringe certain patents and that use of the SWAGWAY designation, but not the SWAGTRON designation, infringed the trademarks. The Commission determined not to review the ALJ’s denial of Swagway’s consent order motion. The Federal Circuit upheld that determination and the trademark infringement determination based on the evidence supporting factors other than likelihood of confusion, including the degree of similarity between the two marks in appearance, the pronunciation of the words, and the strength of the SEGWAY marks. View "Swagway, LLC v. International Trade Commission" on Justia Law
Posted in: Intellectual Property, International Trade, Trademark, US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Landau v. Rheinold
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's confirmation of an arbitration award under 9 U.S.C. 9 for petitioners and other individuals. This case involved a dispute between two groups of the Bobov Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn that agreed to arbitration before a rabbinical tribunal. The tribunal ruled that petitioners owned the "Bobov" trademark, and the district court confirmed the ruling. The court held that district courts should "look through" a 9 U.S.C. 4 petition to the underlying controversy to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists to confirm the arbitration award pursuant to 9 U.S.C. 9. The court held that the district court properly looked through the arbitration petition here to the underlying controversy to determine that it had subject matter jurisdiction. In this case, the district court properly turned aside respondent's non-jurisdictional arguments, found the petition "effectively" unopposed and that no issue of material fact precluded confirmation, and did not err in confirming the award. View "Landau v. Rheinold" on Justia Law
Posted in: Arbitration & Mediation, Intellectual Property, Trademark, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Hard Candy, LLC v. Anastasia Beverly Hills, Inc.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Hard Candy's request for a jury trial in an action under the Lanham Act. In this case, Hardy Candy sought every remedy permitted by the Act besides actual damages: an injunction to prevent future infringement, an accounting and the disgorgement of profits that the defendant made from the allegedly infringing goods, and declaratory relief, along with fees and costs. The court held that the remedy of an accounting and disgorgement of profits for trademark infringement is equitable in nature and has long been considered that way, and thus a plaintiff seeking the defendant's profits in lieu of actual damages is not entitled to a jury trial. The panel also held that the district court did not err in its merits determinations on infringement and fair use. View "Hard Candy, LLC v. Anastasia Beverly Hills, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Intellectual Property, Trademark, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit