Trademark Claim for Profit Damages Means No Jury Trial

By on June 11, 2020

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a denial of a jury trial demand in a trademark infringement lawsuit where only a claim of disgorgement of profits was at issue. JL Beverage Company, LLC v. Jim Beam Brands Co., Beam Inc., Case No. 18-16597 (9th Cir. May 27, 2020) (Wallace, J.) (Friedland, J., concurring).

JL sued Jim Beam for trademark infringement. JL manufactured and sold vodka in bottles featuring stylized depictions of lips. Jim Beam also sells vodka in bottles featuring stylized depictions of lips. JL alleged that consumers would confuse its “Johnny Love Vodka” lip mark with Jim Beam’s Pucker line of flavored vodka products.

After JL failed to provide a computation of actual damages during discovery, Jim Beam sought to limit the damages JL could seek at trial. The district court found that JL’s failure prevented Jim Beam from preparing a responsive case and granted Jim Beam’s motion to exclude JL’s claims for actual damages. Jim Beam further argued that JL may not recover a royalty because 1) it is not appropriate in situations, like this one, where the parties did not have a previous royalty agreement and 2) as with actual damages, JL never identified a means of calculating a reasonable royalty or produced evidence upon which a fact finder could determine such a royalty. Again, the court agreed, and limited JL’s damage claims to equitable disgorgement of Jim Beam’s profits, as provided under the Lanham Act.

Without claims for actual damages or royalties, Jim Beam moved to strike JL’s demand for a jury trial. Since the Lanham Act does not afford the right to a jury trial, the district court considered whether the Seventh Amendment affords such a right in a trademark dispute. The Seventh Amendment provides that “[i]n Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” The district court found controlling law in Ninth Circuit precedent Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, which held that that the Seventh Amendment does not afford the right to a jury calculation of profits for two reasons: disgorgement is an equitable remedy, and the specific issue of profit determination cannot be said to be traditionally tried by a jury. The district court denied JL’s demand for a jury trial, held a two-day bench trial and ultimately determined that Jim Beam did not infringe JL’s marks. JL appealed the district court’s order granting Jim Beam’s motion to strike its jury trial demand and the district court’s judgment.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order and judgment, finding no error in the court’s likelihood of confusion analysis on any of the factors, nor in its denial of the jury trial.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Friedland wrote separately to address the tension between the Court’s holdings in Fifty-Six Hope Road Music (a trademark case) and Sid & Marty Krofft (a copyright case). In Krofft, the Ninth Circuit found a right to a jury trial in a copyright case where there was only a claim for disgorgement of profits. Judge Friedland noted that if a disgorgement of profits is an equitable remedy, not a legal one, then the inquiry should not change whether sought under the Lanham Act or under the Copyright Act.

Judge Friedland cited case law back to 1916 to describe how the application of ex maleficio to trademark and copyright cases prevents infringers from unjust enrichment. Judge Friedland noted that although she thinks that the rule in Krofft incorrectly concluded that disgorgement is a legal remedy, the Court had no occasion in this trademark case to decide the applicability of the jury trial right in copyright cases. She closed by stating, “If and when we are presented with an appeal in which a copyright plaintiff’s right to a jury trial on a claim for disgorgement of profits is contested, I think the rule we adopted more than 40 years ago in Krofft would be worth revisiting.”

Jodi BenassiJodi Benassi
Jodi Benassi focuses her practice on litigation and investigations. Jodi has experience in federal court district actions in California, Texas, Florida and Michigan and actions before the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). She has also conducted internal investigations on behalf of audit committees from high profile Fortune 500 organizations to Silicon Valley start-ups. Jodi Benassi's full bio.

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