Articles Posted in Intellectual Property

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Design Basics claims rights to about 2700 home designs and sued Lexington for copyright infringement, contending that Lexington built homes that infringed four Design Basics’ designs. The district court granted Lexington summary judgment, finding no evidence that Lexington ever had access to Design Basics’ home plans. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Design Basics has no evidence of access and stating that no reasonable jury could find that Lexington’s accused plans bear substantial similarities to any original material in Design Basics’ plans. The court noted that its owner acknowledged in his deposition that “potential copyright infringement cases influence[d his] decision to become an owner of Design Basics.” He testified that proceeds from litigation have become a principal revenue stream for Design Basics. “Design Basics’ business model of trawling the Internet for intellectual property treasures is not unique.” View "Design Basics, LLC v. Lexington Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sells personal care kits. Plaintiff’s products include a line of “Minimergency Kits,” which come in small fabric bags designed to look like men’s Dopp Kits (a now-cancelled trademark for travel kits, originally for men’s shaving gear, used widely by the military in World War II). Urban Aid also sells personal care kits. It agreed to create a custom kit for a shoe distributor, for use in a sales promotion. The distributor wanted the kits to come in a bag similar to plaintiff’s bag and gave Urban Aid a picture of plaintiff’s bag to work from. After the distributor began its sales promotion, plaintiff filed suit, alleging that the shape and design of its bag were protected trade dress, that Urban Aid’s bag violated the Lanham Act, the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and that Urban Aid’s bag tortiously interfered with plaintiff’s prospective business relations. The district court found that plaintiff’s claimed trade dress was functional as a matter of law and granted Urban Aid summary judgment on the Lanham Act and the related state-law claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; the undisputed evidence shows that the claimed design features affect product quality. View "Arlington Specialties, Inc. v. Urban Aid, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Amazon, claiming that it permitted third parties to advertise counterfeit copies of books, Vagabond Natural and Vagabond Spiritual, that the plaintiff wrote and self‐published, detailing his experiences as a vagabond homeless man. He says Amazon refused repeated requests to remove the advertisements, although Amazon did eventually remove them. He insists that legitimate sales would have generated “millions of dollars for Amazon” and allowed him “to end homelessness,” but that Amazon “forcefully exploited” his books by counterfeiting them. He claims to have examined copies of each book purchased through Amazon by his cousin and determined that all were unauthorized reproductions because genuine copies would bear his fingernail indentations on the covers. The district judge dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the books at issue are hard copies, rather than online copies, and are almost certainly Hart’s self‐published books because they are identical to those books. Only six copies were sold by Amazon. There is no plausible allegation that, even if the books sold by Amazon are counterfeits, Amazon was aware of the fact. Counterfeiting cannot be presumed; Hart’s claims did not meet even a minimum standard of plausibility. View "Hart v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the 1980s, a wilderness guide, Maine developed and bottled an all-natural bug repellant under the mark “BUG OFF.” She did not conduct trademark searches. Maine sold BUG OFF at craft fairs, by catalog and website, and at trade shows. From 1992-1998, she took orders for BUG OFF from every state. In 1994, Smith & Hawken began carrying BUG OFF in its catalog and stores. In 1998 Chervitz, who later assigned to Kaz, filed an application for the BUG OFF trademark, which was registered in 2000. In 1999, Kaz sold millions of BUG OFF wristbands. In 2002, Maine sought to register the BUG OFF mark. The PTO refused, based on the Chervitz-Kaz registrations; Maine did not then assert pre-dating rights. In 2003, S.C. Johnson filed an intent-to-use application for the BUG OFF mark. Maine’s attorney communicated that she had used the mark since at least 1992. The PTO refused S.C. Johnson’s application. In 2007 Kaz assigned its rights to S.C. Johnson. In 2010, S.C. Johnson began using the mark. In 2011 Maine sold to Nutraceutical; S.C. Johnson’s application advanced to registration. S.C. Johnson sued Nutraceutical. Afte the bench trial, S.C. Johnson asserted that Nutraceutical had not shown continuous use after 2012. The court found that while Nutraceutical had proved that it was the senior user and was using the mark nationally from 1995-1998 and continued sales through 2012, it did “not demonstrate continued sales after 2012, which constitutes non-use for more than one year.” The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion in considering the post-trial argument. Trademark ownership is not acquired by registration, but from prior appropriation and actual use in the market. View "S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. v. Nutraceutical Corp." on Justia Law

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In 1984, Jesus Muhammad‐Ali painted a portrait of the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Ali later testified that his agreement with Farrakhan included only the portrait, not lithographs, and that Farrakhan never asked him to produce lithographs. In 2013, Ali sued Final Call, a newspaper that describes itself as the “propagation arm of the Nation of Islam,” for copyright infringement. Final Call admittedly had sold 115 copies of a lithograph of Ali’s Farrakhan portrait, but claimed it had authority to do so. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment in favor of Final Call. The law places the burden of proof on the party asserting license or authorization. Ali proved all he was required to prove, a prima facie case of infringement. A plaintiff is not required to prove that the defendant’s copying was unauthorized in order to state a prima facie case of copyright infringement. View "Ali v. Final Call, Inc." on Justia Law

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Slep-Tone has filed more than 150 suits under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051, challenging the unauthorized copying and performance of its commercial karaoke files. In addition to the registered Sound Choice trademark, Slep-Tone claims ownership of distinctive trade dress, consisting of typeface, style, and visual arrangement of the song lyrics displayed in the graphic component of the accompaniment tracks; a display version of the Sound Choice mark; and the style of entry cues that are displayed to signal when singers should begin to sing. Slep-Tone alleges that it has used this trade dress for decades and that it is sufficiently recognizable to enable customers to distinguish a Slep-Tone track from a track produced by a competitor. The pub operators own hard drives containing allegedly illegitimate “bootleg” copies of Slep-Tone tracks and, allegedly, are improperly “passing off” the copies as genuine Slep-Tone tracks. The district court dismissed claims of trademark infringement, reasoning that the complaint did not plausibly suggest that the unauthorized use of Slep-Tone’s trademark and trade dress is likely to cause confusion among customers as to the source of any tangible good containing the tracks, a prerequisite to relief under either cited section of the Lanham Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Slep-Tone’s real complaint concerns theft, piracy, and violation of Slep-Tone’s media policy rather than trademark infringement. View "Phoenix Ent. Partners, LLC v. Rumsey" on Justia Law

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Bell sued several defendants for copyright infringement, alleging that they impermissibly displayed a photo of the Indianapolis skyline that belongs to Bell on websites promoting their respective businesses. With respect to one defendant, Bell misidentified the photograph. As for the other defendants, the court concluded that although Bell had established ownership of the photo, he had failed to prove damages: Bell had not demonstrated the photo’s fair market value, nor had he shown that defendants profited from their use of his photo. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants on both damages and injunctive and declaratory relief. Bell filed a second copyright infringement lawsuit against some of the defendants in the same court. The district court dismissed the second case based on res judicata. The Seventh Circuit affirmed both decisions, noting that the photographs were removed from the websites long ago and that the websites no longer exist. The second lawsuit involved a common core of operative facts. View "Bell v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Consumer Health Information sued Amylin Pharmaceuticals,alleging copyright infringement. 17 U.S.C. 101, concerning patient-education materials Consumer Health developed for Amylin’s use in marketing its diabetes drug Byetta. The parties’ contract, executed in 2006, unambiguously assigns the copyright to Amylin. Consumer Health alleged that the contract was induced by fraud or economic distress and sought rescission. The district court dismissed the suit as untimely. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Consumer Health assigned the copyright to Amylin in 2006 but did not file this suit until 2013, several years too late under either a four-year limitations period that applies to claims for contract rescission under California law, or under the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations, 17 U.S.C. 507(b). Consumer Health’s cause of action accrued when the contract was executed; at that point Consumer Health knew that Amylin owned the copyright, and the limitations clock on a suit to reclaim ownership started ticking. View "Consumer Health Info. Co v. Amylin Pharma., Inc." on Justia Law

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Hugunin first sold fishing tackle in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, in 1997. Hugunin’s manufacturing enterprise now sells fishing tackle to retailers in several states. In 2000 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered LAND O LAKES as the trademark of his fishing tackle. A large agricultural cooperative named Land O’ Lakes is based in Minnesota and sells dairy products throughout the United States. It has used LAND O LAKES trademark since the 1920s. In 1997 the dairy company became the official dairy sponsor of a sport-fishing tournament and began advertising its products in fishing magazines. Three years later, having learned that Hugunin had registered LAND O LAKES as a trademark, the dairy company wrote him that he was infringing its trademark. He refused either to apply for a license or to give up the trademark. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board proceeding was suspended pending the outcome of litigation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of Hugunin’s suit, stating “It’s hard to believe that a giant dairy company wants to destroy or annex Hugunin’s tiny fishing-tackle business, or that Hugunin’s tackle sales are being kept down by Land O’ Lakes’ having an identical trademark.” View "Hugunin v. Land O'Lakes, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1956, Ephrem, a Catholic nun, experienced apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Devotions to Our Lady of America was launched. Ephrem joined a cloistered house, approved by the Pope. Fuller entered the cloister in 1965. In 1979 its three members (including Fuller and Ephrem) formed a new congregation. In 1993 Ephrem founded Our Lady of America Center. Upon her death in 2000, she was succeeded by Fuller and willed her property to Fuller. Most had been created by Ephrem or donated to the cloister or the Center. Fuller registered trademarks for artifacts, including Ephrem’s diary, medallions, and statues. In 2005 McCarthy, a lawyer, and Langsenkamp, “a Papal Knight,” began helping Fuller promote devotions to Our Lady. Fuller gave them a statue and other artifacts. In 2007, the three had a disagreement that resulted in this lawsuit. The men claim to be the authentic promoters of devotions to Our Lady and the lawful owners of the artifacts. Another layman, Hartman, began a campaign to smear McCarthy’s and Langsenkamp’s reputations. Fuller is no longer a nun. A jury returned a verdict in favor of McCarthy and Langsenkamp. The Seventh Circuit affirmed awards: $150,000 in compensatory damages, $200,000 in punitive damages (against Hartman only), plus $295,000 in attorney’s fees and sanctions and $281,000 in costs, to be paid by Fuller, Hartman, and their lawyer. The court vacated an injunction concerning the defamation. View "McCarthy v. Fuller" on Justia Law