Articles Posted in Intellectual Property

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Tawas, Michigan hosts an annual festival called “Perchville.” Its Chamber of Commerce obtained federal trademark registration for the term “Perchville,” in 2003. Trading Post allegedly was selling merchandise depicting the term “Perchville.” The Chamber filed suit against Agnello, a Trading Post employee, and obtained an ex parte injunctive order prohibiting sales of t-shirts with the mark, which stated: “this order shall be binding upon the parties to this action, their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys and on those persons in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice of this order by personal service [or] otherwise.” Agnello appeared at a hearing without an attorney, indicated that he had spoken to Trading Post's partial owner about the lawsuit, but repeatedly stated that he was confused. Agnello consented to a permanent injunction. The judge stated that the order would be binding on anyone acting in concert with Agnello. Trading Post filed suit, challenging the Chamber’s trademark of “Perchville.” The district court found the challenge barred by res judicata because a final determination on the merits occurred in the state court. The Sixth Circuit reversed. There may be circumstances when an employee’s interests are so aligned with his employer as to be in privity for purposes of res judicata, that was not true here. Agnello was an hourly employee given a few days’ notice of an injunction. View "AuSable River Trading Post, LLC v. Dovetail Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sixth Circuit finds little likelihood of confusion between the trademarks “OrderLink” and “UPS OrderLink.” Progressive, located in Michigan, provides logistical services to online businesses. Under the trademark “OrderLink,” Progressive develops clients’ websites and handles deliveries. Progressive registered the OrderLink trademark in 2004, but alleges that it has used the mark for at least 19 years and spent $2.5 million dollars advertising the mark. UPS also serves small volume shippers who operate businesses on Amazon and eBay. In 2012, UPS developed a new interface to enable those customers to import their orders directly into UPS’s shipping application. UPS initially concluded that the name “orderlink” was not available, but determined that the terms “order” and “link” were commonly used together by other companies. UPS concluded that Progressive’s services differed substantially from tits application UPS and chose the name “UPS OrderLink.” Its USPTO application was rejected based on a likelihood of confusion with Progressive’s mark. Nonetheless, UPS launched UPS OrderLink as a free service, accessible only through UPS’s website. Progressive sent a cease-and-desist letter. UPS changed the name of its service to “Ship Marketplace Orders.” Progressive alleged violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051, the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, and the common law. The district court granted UPS summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The balance of eight factors, particularly the strength of the mark and the similarity of the marks, indicate little likelihood of customer confusion. View "Progressive Distribution Services, Inc. v. United Parcel Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kibler, a disc jockey, uses turntables and others’ vocals to produce music containing jazz and funk elements. He released several albums under the name “DJ LOGIC” since 1999, but currently has no record deal. Kibler registered “DJ LOGIC” as a trademark in 2000, allowed the registration to lapse, and re-registered it in 2013. He has also been known as “LOGIC.” Hall has performed under the name “LOGIC” since 2009. In 2012, Kibler’s attorney sent Hall’s management company and booking agent an email ordering them to stop using the name “LOGIC” and to recall any product or advertisement that did, claiming infringement on Kibler’s mark. Hall’s company applied to register “LOGIC” as a trademark. Kibler sued, alleging trademark infringement, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a); breach of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act; unfair competition under Michigan law; and trademark dilution under the Lanham Act. In 2014, defendants delayed Hall’s tour and first album release due to ongoing settlement negotiations that ultimately collapsed. Defendants then released the album, which sold over 170,000 copies. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Kibler did not provide evidence sufficient to find that relevant consumers are likely to confuse the sources of his and Hall’s products or that Hall diluted Kibler’s mark. View "Kibler v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Albert Brumley, author of the gospel song “I’ll Fly Away,” assigned the song’s 1932 copyright to a company. The company subsequently became the property of his son, Robert. Albert died in 1977. Albert’s widow also executed an assignment to Robert. During the term of a copyright, an author may use, assign, sell, or license the copyright, 17 U.S.C. 201(d), but songwriters and their descendants may terminate the songwriter’s assignment of a copyright to another party, Sections 203, 304(c). In 2008, four of Brumley’s six children filed notice to terminate the assignment to their brother, Robert. The copyright was then generating about $300,000 per year. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed their right to terminate the assignment, rejecting arguments that the song was a “work made for hire,” which is not eligible for termination, 17 U.S.C. 304(c); and that Albert’s widow relinquished any termination rights. View "Brumley v. Brumley & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1969, the Flynt brothers opened “Hustler Club” nightclub, in Cincinnati. Larry later created the Hustler conglomerate, producing sexually explicit magazines. Jimmy opened his retail store, Hustler Cincinnati, in 2000, using the “HUSTLER” trademark (owned by Larry’s corporation) and began paying licensing in 2004. Jimmy and Larry had a falling out. Larry's Hustler fired Jimmy in 2009. Jimmy’s Hustler stopped paying fees, but continued to use the mark. Larry sued. The court enjoined Jimmy from “using in commerce any HUSTLER trademark” and “using any trademark or any variation thereof owned by” Larry or his corporations. Later, Larry complained that Jimmy had opened a new store in Florence, Kentucky, “FLYNT Sexy Gifts.” The court denied the contempt motion because the injunction did not directly prohibit Jimmy’s conduct. but modified the injunction, reasoning that Jimmy’s use of “FLYNT Sexy Gifts” was “likely to cause confusion with the LARRY FLYNT trademark.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed a modification that prohibits Jimmy from “[u]sing the name ‘Flynt’ in connection with the sale, promotion or advertising of adult entertainment products or services unless it is accompanied by the first name ‘Jimmy’ in the same font size, color, and style and on the same background color,” and required Jimmy, when using the name “Flynt” anywhere except on “store signage,” to incorporate “a conspicuous disclaimer stating that the goods or services are not ‘sponsored, endorsed by, or affiliated with Larry Flynt or Hustler, or any business enterprise owned or controlled by Larry Flynt.’” View "LFP IP, LLC v. Hustler Cincinnati, Inc." on Justia Law

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Allied, founded in 1973 by Ramun, competes with Genesis in the field of industrial dismantling and scrap processing, including the design, development, and manufacture of related specialized equipment. From 1992-2001, Ramun’s son Mark worked at Allied. By 1999, Allied developed innovative multi-use demolition machine attachments, called MT. Various sizes and types of jawsets, including a steel beam cutter and a concrete crusher, were available, allowing the MT operator to perform different tasks with just one tool. The jawset could be changed without removing the main pin, saving time and enhancing productivity. Mark had detailed information regarding the design and function of the attachment, which was highly confidential. In 2001 Mark left Allied, taking a laptop containing 15,000 pages of Allied documents, including detailed technical information about the MT. Mark joined Genesis in 2003. Genesis later released its own multiuse tool. Genesis brought trade secret claims, based on similarity to the MT. A jury rendered a verdict in favor of Allied. The court awarded damages but refused to enter an injunction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a subsequent suit under the Ohio Uniform Trade Secrets Act, alleging misappropriation after that verdict, citing issue preclusion. View "Allied Erecting & Dismantling Co. Inc. v. Genesis Equip. & Mfg., Inc." on Justia Law

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Varsity manufactures cheerleading and athletic apparel. Its designers sketch concepts: “original combinations, positionings, and arrangements of elements which include V’s (chevrons), lines, curves, stripes, angles, diagonals, inverted V’s, coloring, and shapes,” but do not consider functionality or the ease of actually producing a uniform. Varsity decides whether to implement the completed design concept. Varsity advertises in catalogs and online, inviting customers to choose a design concept before selecting the shape, colors, and braiding for the uniform. Varsity received copyright registration for “two-dimensional artwork” for some designs. Star sells sports and cheerleading uniforms and advertised cheerleading uniforms that looked similar to five of Varsity’s registered designs. Varsity sued, alleging violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101. The court entered summary judgment in Star’s favor, concluding that Varsity’s designs were not copyrightable because their graphic elements are not physically or conceptually separable from the utilitarian function of a uniform because the “colors, stripes, chevrons, and similar designs” make the garment “recognizable as a cheerleading uniform.” The court did not address whether Varsity’s designs were unprotectable as unoriginal. The Sixth circuit reversed, finding that the graphic features of Varsity’s designs are more like fabric design than dress design, and are protectable subject matter under the Copyright Act View "Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC" on Justia Law

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Best designs and markets exit signs and emergency lighting. Pace manufactured products to Best’s specifications. Best’s founder taught Pace how to manufacture the necessary tooling. There was no contract prohibiting Pace from competing with Best. By 2004, Best was aware that Pace was selling products identical to those it made for Best to Best’s established customers. Several other problems arose between the companies. When they ended the relationship, Pace was in possession of all of the tooling used to manufacture Best’s products and the cloned products, and Best owed Pace almost $900,000 for products delivered. Pace filed a breach of contract suit. Best requested a setoff of damages for breach of warranty and counterclaimed for breach of contract, tortious interference, misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, and fraud. Pace claimed that Best had misappropriated Pace’s trade secrets and had tortiously interfered with Pace’s contracts. The district court found that Best had breached its contractual obligations by failing to pay, but that Pace was liable for breach of warranties, breach of contract, tortious interference, misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, and false designation of origin and false advertising under the Lanham Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Pace is liable for breach of contract and tortious interference, but reversed or vacated as to the trade secrets, Lanham Act, conversion, and warranties claims. View "Kehoe Component Sales Inc. v. Best Lighting Prods., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is the marketer, distributor, and seller of 5-hour ENERGY (FHE), an “energy shot,” which is an energy drink sold and consumed in small portions. Plaintiff began selling FHE in 2004. FHE was not the first energy shot on the market, but was the first to achieve widespread success and was unique in being marketed FHE to adults as a replacement for an afternoon cup of coffee or a caffeinated soda. Plaintiff submitted “5-hour ENERGY” for trademark registration with the Patent and Trademark Office, which rejected the application in January 2005, deeming the mark too descriptive to be eligible for protection. Plaintiff placed FHE on the Supplemental Register in September 2005 and secured a trademark for “5-hour ENERGY” in August 2011. Plaintiff also protected its mark and market position through litigation. Defendants have marketed dietary supplements since the mid-1990s. In 2008, defendants began to market and sell “6 Hour Energy Shot,” in a bottle resembling the FHE bottle. In a suit under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051, the district court found infringement of plaintiff’s trademark and trade dress, then entered an order of contempt after the defendants violated a permanent injunction entered. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Innovation Ventures, LLC v. N2G Distrib., Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2001, ASC and Paragon entered into a contract to develop and support computer software for the Chicago Tribune. This software, called the “Single Copy Distribution System” (SCDS) would allow the Tribune to manage and track newspaper deliveries and subscriptions. Tensions emerged and Paragon terminated the contract in 2003. ASC successfully sued Paragon in Ohio state court, obtaining a declaration that ASC was the sole owner of the SCDS. In federal court, ASC alleged copyright infringement, trademark infringement, breach of contract, conversion, tortious interference with a business relationship, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition based on Paragon’s alleged copying of the SCDS software to use in its DRACI software, developed in 2004 for another newspaper. After eight years of litigation, the district court granted summary judgment to Paragon on all claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that ASC had never submitted any evidence identifying the unique protectable elements of SCDS, and that there was insufficient evidence to generate even an implication that DRACI is substantially similar to SCDS. View "Automated Solutions Corp. v. Paragon Data Sys., Inc." on Justia Law