Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Intellectual Property
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Hyatt is a prolific patent filer and litigant. In 1995, Hyatt filed “hundreds of extraordinarily lengthy and complex patent applications,” including the four at issue; he adopted an approach "that all but guaranteed indefinite prosecution delay” in an effort to submarine his patent applications and receive lengthy patent terms. The examination of these patents has cost the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) millions of dollars. After adverse results regarding the patents at issue, Hyatt sued the PTO under 35 U.S.C. 145. The PTO moved to dismiss the actions for prosecution laches. The district court ordered the PTO to issue a patent covering some of the claims.While an appeal was pending, Hyatt sought attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act as a “prevailing party” 28 U.S.C. 2412(b). The district court granted this motion in part. The Sixth Circuit vacated, holding that the PTO had carried its initial burden of demonstrating prosecution laches. The PTO sought reimbursement of its expert witness fees. Under 35 U.S.C. 145, “[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings shall be paid by the applicant.” The district court noted the American Rule presumption against fee-shifting and denied expert fees. The Federal Circuit vacated. Hyatt is not entitled to attorney’s fees under 28 U.S.C. 2412(b) and cannot be considered a prevailing party. The court affirmed the denial of expert fees because section 145 does not specifically and explicitly shift expert witness fees. View "Hyatt v. Hirshfeld" on Justia Law

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Spectrum filed suit against Lifetime and Jay Tuttle for trademark violations under the Lanham Act over a domain name. After Spectrum was awarded statutory damages, the district court declined to award attorneys' fees to Spectrum.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's admission of certain deposition testimony at trial and agreed with the Fourth Circuit that the plain text of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 32(a)(4)(B) is clear that "the place of trial" is the courthouse where trial takes place. In this case, the Lifetime Defendants were not prejudiced by the transfer of trial venue from San Antonio to Waco, and the court rejected the Lifetime Defendants' contention that the witness was not an unavailable trial witness. The court affirmed the district court's statutory damages award, concluding that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion, under 15 U.S.C. 1117(d), in awarding $100,000 for the Infringing Domain. However, the court reversed the district court's finding that Spectrum was not entitled to attorneys' fees in this exceptional case where the record confirms that the Lifetime Defendants engaged in willful, bad-faith infringement of Spectrum's trademarks, justifying an award of maximum statutory damages. The court remanded for a determination of reasonable attorneys' fees. View "Spectrum Association Management of Texas, LLC v. Lifetime HOA Management LLC" on Justia Law

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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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LHO owns a downtown hotel that it rebranded as “Hotel Chicago” in 2014. In 2016, Rosemoor renamed its existing westside hotel as “Hotel Chicago.” LHO sued Rosemoor for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act and for deceptive advertising and common-law trademark violations under Illinois law. The district court denied preliminary injunctive relief, finding that “LHO has failed, at this juncture, to show that it is likely to succeed in proving secondary meaning" and was unlikely to show that “Hotel Chicago” was a protectable trademark. LHO appealed but successfully moved to voluntarily dismiss its claims with prejudice before briefing.Rosemoor requested more than $500,000 in attorney fees, arguing that the case qualified as “exceptional.” The district court denied the request under the Seventh Circuit's “abuse-of-process” standard. The Seventh Circuit held that the district court should have evaluated Rosemoor’s attorney-fee request under the Supreme Court’s “Octane Fitness” holding. On remand, Rosemoor filed a renewed request for more than $630,000 in fees, arguing that the weakness of LHO’s position on the merits, LHO’s motives in bringing suit, and its conduct in discovery, made the case exceptional under Octane Fitness. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the request. The district court applied the Octane Fitness standard and reasonably exercised its discretion in weighing the evidence before it. View "LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Rosemoor Suites, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed.The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Quincy’s Prevagen® dietary supplement is sold through brick‐and‐mortar stores and online. Ellishbooks, which was not authorized to sell Prevagen® products, sold dietary supplements identified as Prevagen® on Amazon.com, including items that were in altered or damaged packaging; lacked the appropriate markings that identify the authorized retail seller; and contained Identification and security tags from retail stores. Quincy sued under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114. The court entered a $480,968.13 judgment in favor of Quincy, plus costs, and permanently enjoined Ellishbooks from infringing upon the PREVAGEN® trademark and selling stolen products bearing the PREVAGEN® trademark.The Seventh Circuit affirmed and subsequently awarded $44,329.50 in sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38. Ellishbooks’s arguments “had virtually no likelihood of success” on appeal and it appeared that Ellishbooks attempted to draw out the proceedings for as long as possible. View "Quincy Bioscience, LLC v. Ellishbooks" on Justia Law

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ECT sued ShoppersChoice for infringement of its 261 patent, directed “to systems and methods that notify a party of travel status associated with one or more mobile things. ShoppersChoice challenged claim 11 as patent-ineligible, 35 U.S.C. 101. ShoppersChoice moved to join a patent eligibility hearing set in a parallel lawsuit, in which ECT alleged claim 11 infringement against other companies. The court conducted a consolidated hearing and invalidated claim 11 as directed to the abstract idea of providing advance notification of the pickup or delivery of a mobile thing. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that “the claim only entails applying longstanding commercial practices using generic computer components and technology.” ShoppersChoice sought attorney fees, citing evidence that ECT sent standardized demand letters and filed repeat infringement actions to obtain low-value “license fees” and force settlements. Before the court ruled, a California District Court awarded attorney fees against ECT in another case related to the patent.The Federal Circuit vacated a holding that the case was not exceptional. A pattern of litigation abuses characterized by the repeated filing of patent infringement actions for the sole purpose of forcing settlements, with no intention of testing the merits of one’s claims, is relevant to a district court’s exceptional case determination. The court clearly erred by failing to consider the objective unreasonableness of ECT’s alleging infringement of claim 11 against ShoppersChoice. View "Electronic Communication Technologies, LLC v. ShoppersChoice.Com, LLC" on Justia Law

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Apple owns Madison, Wisconsin vitamin stores. Knott, a former Apple employee, was fired in 2017. Knott founded his own vitamin shop, Embrace Wellness, in Middleton, Wisconsin. Embrace allegedly shared design features and a similar layout with Apple’s locations and carried comparable products. Apple sued, alleging infringement of its trademark, trade dress, and copyrights. The defendants filed counterclaims for tortious interference and retaliation. Apple sought a preliminary injunction on the trademark and trade dress claims, which the court denied, explaining that Apple had failed to show a likelihood of irreparable harm. Apple then moved to dismiss its own claims without prejudice. Because the defendants had already expended resources litigating an injunction, the court ordered Apple to withdraw its motion or accept dismissal with prejudice, expressing its opinion that no party’s claim was strong. Apple agreed to dismiss its claims with prejudice.The court subsequently denied defendants’ motion for fees; they appealed with respect to the copyright claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Apple’s copyright claims were frivolous—common-law copyright was abolished in 1976—but the totality of the circumstances did not warrant fees. There was no evidence that Apple had filed suit with an improper motive, and no need to deter future frivolous filings. The case was primarily about trademark and trade dress. no motions were filed related to copyright. Apple dismissed the copyright claims voluntarily before defendants had to argue against them. View "Timothy B. O'Brien LLC v. Knott" on Justia Law

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Munchkin sued LNC for trademark infringement and unfair competition claims based on LNC’s spill-proof drinking containers. A year later, the court allowed Munchkin to amend the complaint to include new trademark infringement claims, trade dress infringement claims, and patent infringement claims based on the 993 patent which is directed to a spill-proof drinking container. While the litigation was ongoing, Munchkin voluntarily dismissed all of its non-patent claims with prejudice. Munchkin’s 993 patent was held unpatentable through an inter partes review initiated by LNC. The Federal Circuit affirmed that Patent Trial and Appeal Board decision; Munchkin then dismissed its patent infringement claims. The district court subsequently granted LNC’s motion for attorney’s fees under 35 U.S.C. 285 and 15 U.S.C. 1117(a), finding the case to be “exceptional” because the trademark and trade dress infringement claims were substantively weak, and Munchkin should have been aware of the substantive weakness of its patent’s validity.The Federal Circuit reversed. LNC’s fee motion insufficiently presented the required facts and analysis needed to establish that Munchkin’s patent, trademark, and trade dress infringement claims were so substantively meritless to render the case exceptional. None of those issues were fully adjudicated before the court on the merits; the district court abused its discretion in granting the motion. View "Munchkin, Inc. v. Luv n' Care, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Quincy’s Prevagen® dietary supplement is sold at stores and online. Quincy registered its Prevagen® trademark in 2007. Ellishbooks, which was not authorized to sell Prevagen®, sold supplements identified as Prevagen® on Amazon.com, including items that were in altered or damaged packaging; lacked the appropriate purchase codes or other markings that identify the authorized retail seller; and contained tags from retail stores. Quincy sued under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114. Ellishbooks did not respond. The court entered default judgment. Ellishbooks identified no circumstances capable of establishing good cause for default. The district court entered a $480,968.13 judgment in favor of Quincy, plus costs, and permanently enjoined Ellishbooks from infringing upon the PREVAGEN® trademark and selling stolen products bearing the PREVAGEN® trademark.The Seventh Circuit affirmed and subsequently awarded Rule 38 sanctions. Ellishbooks’ appellate arguments had virtually no likelihood of success and its conduct during the course of the appeal was marked by several failures to timely respond and significant deficiencies in its filings. These shortcomings cannot be attributed entirely to counsel’s lack of experience in litigating federal appeals. A review of the dockets suggests that Ellishbooks has attempted to draw out the proceedings as long as possible while knowing that it had no viable substantive defense. View "Quincy Bioscience, LLC v. Ellishbooks" on Justia Law