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Heightened Written Description Standard for Negative Limitations?

Addressing the issue of negative claim limitations, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted a petition for panel rehearing, vacated its prior decision (authored by now-retired Judge O’Malley) and reversed the district court’s finding that the patent was not invalid for inadequate written description. Novartis Pharms. v. Accord Healthcare Inc., Case No. 21-1070 (Fed. Cir. June 21, 2022) (Moore, C.J.; Hughes, J.) (Linn, J., dissenting).

This is the second time this Hatch-Waxman case has been before the Federal Circuit. Novartis sued HEC, alleging that HEC’s abbreviated new drug application infringed a patent directed to methods of treating remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) with fingolimod or a fingolimod salt at a daily dose of 0.5 mg without an immediately preceding loading dose. The district court found sufficient written description for the claimed 0.5 mg daily dose and no-loading dose negative limitation. In January 2022, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision finding adequate written description.

HEC petitioned for panel rehearing. The Federal Circuit granted the petition, vacated its January 2022 decision and reversed the district court’s judgment finding adequate written description for the no-loading dose negative limitation. The majority explained that “silence is generally not disclosure” because “[i]f it were, then every later-added negative limitation would be supported so long as the patent makes no mention of it.” The majority also explained that implicit disclosure cannot satisfy the written description requirement if it would render the limitation obvious to a skilled artisan. The majority emphasized that while a negative limitation need not be recited in the specification in haec verba, there generally must be something in the specification that conveys to a skilled artisan that the inventor intended the exclusion—for example, a description of a reason to exclude the relevant element. Here, the majority found that the specification made no mention of the presence or absence of a loading dose. This silence cannot support a later-added claim limitation that precludes loading doses, particularly where there was no evidence that the patentee precluded the use of a loading dose and skilled artisans agreed that loading doses are sometimes given to RRMS patients.

Judge Linn (a member of the majority in the January 2022 opinion) dissented, arguing that the majority applied a heightened written description standard requiring not only a “reason to exclude” but a showing that the negative limitation was also “necessarily excluded.” He stated that the question was not whether the patentee precluded the use of a loading dose, but whether the claim limitation that precluded a loading dose was supported by the specification’s written description that disclosed only a daily dose. Judge Linn argued that disclosure along with the testimony of Novartis’s experts implied an absence of a loading dose to a skilled artisan, and that is all that is required for adequate written description. Citing precedent and the US Patent & Trademark Office’s guidance in the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, he argued that newly added claims or claim limitations may be supported [...]

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This .SUCKS: Trademark Applications for Identical Characters Is a No-Go

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board) decision affirming the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) refusal to register two trademark applications for “.SUCKS.” In Re: Vox Populi Registry Ltd., Case No. 21-1496 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 2, 2022) (Lourie, Dyk, Stoll, JJ.)

Vox is a domain registry operator that maintains the master database of all domain names registered in each top-level domain. Vox filed two trademark applications for identical characters, one as a standard character and the other as a stylized form of .SUCKS, as shown below.

The PTO refused Vox’s applications on the grounds that, when used in connection with the domain services, each failed to function as a trademark. Vox appealed to the Board. The Board concluded that .SUCKS, whether as a standard mark or in the stylized form, would not be perceived as a source identifier. Vox appealed the Board’s decision only with respect to the stylized form of .SUCKS.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit noted that although Vox did not appeal the rejection of the standard character application, it spent much of its opening brief arguing that the standard character functions as a mark. As such, the Court reviewed the Board’s decision with respect to the standard character mark .SUCKS under the substantial evidence standard. Substantial evidence “means only such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” The Court found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that consumers will view .SUCKS as only a non-source identifying part of a domain name, rather than as a trademark. The Court cited evidence reviewed by the Board, including Vox’s website, online articles and advertisements showing that .SUCKS refers to a product rather than as an identifiable provider or service. Ultimately, the Court found that the Board reasonably weighed the evidence.

The Federal Circuit next addressed the question of whether the stylized design of .SUCKS is registerable. The Court found no error in the Board’s analysis of whether the stylized form creates a separate commercial impression, where “all of the characters in the mark are the same height and width and are merely displayed in a font style that was once mandated by the technological limitations of computer screens.” Because the stylized design was not inherently distinctive, the Court rejected Vox’s application, thus affirming the Board’s decision in full.




Silence May Be Sufficient Written Description Disclosure for Negative Limitation

Addressing the issue of written description in a Hatch-Waxman litigation, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that the patent adequately described the claimed daily dose and no-loading dose negative limitation. Novartis Pharms. v. Accord Healthcare Inc., Case No. 21-1070 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 3, 2022) (Linn, O’Malley, JJ.) (Moore, CJ, dissenting).

Novartis’s Gilenya is a 0.5 mg daily dose of fingolimod hydrochloride medication used to treat relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). HEC filed an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) seeking approval to market a generic version of Gilenya. Novartis sued, alleging that HEC’s ANDA infringed a patent directed to methods of treating RRMS with fingolimod or a fingolimod salt at a daily dosage of 0.5 mg without an immediately preceding loading dose.

The specification described the results of an Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE) experiment induced in Lewis rats showing that fingolimod hydrochloride inhibited disease relapse when administered daily at a dose of 0.3 mg/kg or administered orally at 0.3 mg/kg every second or third day or once a week, and a prophetic human clinical trial in which RRMS patients would receive 0.5, 1.25 or 2.5 mg of fingolimod hydrochloride per day for two to six months. The specification did not mention a loading dose associated with either the EAE experiment or the prophetic trial. It was undisputed that loading doses were well known in the prior art and used in some medications for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

The district court found that HEC had not shown that the patent was invalid for insufficient written description for the claimed 0.5 mg daily dose or the no-loading dose negative limitation. The district court also found sufficient written description in the EAE experiment and/or prophetic trial and credited the testimony of two of Novartis’s expert witnesses. HEC appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Turning first to the daily dose limitation, the majority held that the prophetic trial described daily dosages of 0.5, 1.25 or 2.5 mg and found no clear error by the district court in crediting expert testimony converting the lowest daily rat dose described in the EAE experiment to arrive at the claimed 0.5 mg daily human dose. Reciting Ariad, the Court explained that a “disclosure need not recite the claimed invention in haec verba” and further, that “[b]laze marks” are not necessary where the claimed species is expressly described in the specification, as the 0.5 mg daily dose was here.

Turning to the no-loading dose negative limitation, the majority disagreed with HEC’s arguments that there was no written description because the specification contained zero recitation of a loading dose or its potential benefits or disadvantages, and because the district court inconsistently found that a prior art abstract (Kappos 2006) did not anticipate the claims because it was silent as to loading doses. The Court explained that there is no “new and heightened standard for negative claim limitations.” The majority acknowledged that silence alone is insufficient disclosure but emphasized that [...]

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Injunctive Relief Available Even Where Laches Bars Trademark Infringement, Unfair Competition Damage Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a district court’s conclusion that laches barred an advertising and marketing company’s claims for monetary damages for trademark infringement and unfair competition, but remanded the case for assessment of injunctive relief to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between two similarly named companies operating in the advertising sector. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, Inc. v. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, LLC, Case No. 19-15167 (11th Cir. Aug. 2, 2021) (Branch, J.)

Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Illinois) is an Illinois-based company and owner of two registered trademarks including the name “Pinnacle.” Pinnacle Illinois learned of a Florida-based company operating under almost the same name that was also in the advertising and marketing space—Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Florida) —through potential clients and a magazine’s accidental conflation of the two unrelated companies. Several years later, Pinnacle Illinois sued Pinnacle Florida for trademark infringement, unfair competition and cybersquatting. Pinnacle Florida filed a counterclaim seeking to cancel Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark registrations and also alleged that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by the doctrine of laches.

Following a jury trial, the district court granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on Pinnacle Illinois’s cybersquatting claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Pinnacle Illinois on its claims for trademark infringement and unfair competition, awarding Pinnacle Illinois $550,000 in damages. The district court then granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on its laches defense, concluding that Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark infringement and unfair competition claims were barred by laches because it waited more than four years to bring suit after it should have known that it had a potential infringement claim against Pinnacle Florida. The district court also cancelled Pinnacle Illinois’s registrations because it concluded that Pinnacle Illinois’s marks were merely descriptive and lacked secondary meaning. Pinnacle Illinois appealed.

Pinnacle Illinois argued that the district court abused its discretion in finding that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by laches, and that even if laches did bar Pinnacle Illinois’s claims for money damages, the district court should have considered whether injunctive relief was proper to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between the two companies. Pinnacle Illinois also argued that the district court erred when it cancelled its registrations without regard to the jury’s findings of distinctiveness and protectability or the presumption of distinctiveness afforded to its registered marks.

The 11th Circuit found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that laches barred Pinnacle Illinois from bringing its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims for monetary damages. Pinnacle Illinois sued after the Florida four-year statute of limitations had passed, and the Court found that the company was not excused for its delay because it did not communicate with Pinnacle Florida about the infringement until it filed suit. Pinnacle Florida also suffered economic prejudice because it invested significant time and money, including around $2 million, in developing its business under [...]

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Missed Connection: Avoid Claim Construction Rendering Independent Claim Narrower Than Dependent Claim

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a district court’s claim constructions concerning generic independent claims that were amended after a species restriction requirement, because the district court disregarded the doctrine of claim differentiation after incorrectly concluding that the examiner had mistakenly rejoined withdrawn claims. Littelfuse, Inc. v. Mersen USA EP Corp., Case No. 21-2013 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 4, 2022) (Prost, Bryson, Stoll, JJ.)

Littelfuse owns a patent directed to a fuse end cap for providing an electrical connection between a fuse and an electrical conductor. The specification teaches three embodiments of the invention:

  1. A single-piece machined end cap comprising a mounting cuff and a terminal
  2. A single-piece stamped end cap comprising a mounting cuff and a terminal
  3. A two-piece assembled end cap comprising a mounting cuff, a terminal and a fastening stem attaching the mounting cuff to the terminal.

The originally filed claims included independent claims covering an end cap with a mounting cuff and a terminal, and dependent claims directed to the three embodiments. The claims directed to the two-piece assembled end cap embodiment contained the limitation that the terminal is press-fit onto the fastening stem.

During prosecution, the examiner issued a restriction requirement, asserting that the independent claims were generic to the three species in the dependent claims. Littelfuse elected to prosecute the assembled end cap species and the examiner withdrew the claims directed to the other embodiments. In response to a novelty rejection, Littelfuse amended the independent claims by adding the fastening stem element without specifying that the terminal is press-fit onto the stem. After allowing the amended independent claims, the examiner concluded that the previously withdrawn claims “require all the limitations of the . . . allowable claims,” and thus rejoined them.

Littelfuse sued Mersen for selling allegedly infringing fuses. The parties asked the district court to determine whether the fastening stem element in the independent claims limited Littelfuse’s patent to multi-piece end caps, despite the rejoined dependent claims being directed to one-piece embodiments. The district court found that the claim language, the specification and the prosecution history required the invention to have a multi-piece construction. First, the district court determined that the plain meaning of “fastening stem” was “a stem that attached or joins the other two components of the apparatus.” The district court then noted that the fastening stem was only mentioned in the specification in relation to the multi-piece embodiment in which the terminal is joined to the mounting cuff by the fastening stem. While Littelfuse argued that the US Patent & Trademark Office’s rejoining of the withdrawn claims meant that the independent claims covered unitary and multi-piece embodiments, the district court reasoned that the claims were rejoined based on a “misunderstanding” because they referred to the original independent claim, which did not include a fastening stem. In light of the district court’s finding that the independent claims covered only a multi-piece apparatus, the parties stipulated to non-infringement. Littelfuse appealed.

Applying the doctrine of claim differentiation, the [...]

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#Blessed? Preliminary Injunction Related to Social Media Accounts Vacated

Addressing a dispute between a bridal designer and her former employer regarding the use of the designer’s name and control of various social media accounts, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction prohibiting the designer from using her name(s) in commerce, vacated the portion of the preliminary injunction granting the employer exclusive control over the social media accounts and remanded the case for further consideration by the district court. JLM Couture, Inc. v. Gutman, Case No. 21-870 (2d Cir. Jan. 25, 2022) (Park, J.) (Newman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (Lynch, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Hayley Paige Gutman worked for JLM Couture from 2011 to 2020, during which time she designed bridal and bridesmaid dresses and developed the Hayley Paige brand. Hayley Paige brand apparel generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, and Gutman’s fame (and social media account followers) grew alongside the brand’s sales revenue. Gutman and JLM’s relationship began to break down in 2019. Following the parties’ failed contract negotiations, Gutman locked JLM out of her Instagram account and changed the account bio to indicate that it was a “personal and creative” account.

JLM subsequently sued Gutman for breach of contract, trademark dilution, unfair competition, conversion of social media accounts and trespass to chattels on social media accounts, among other things. The district court agreed with JLM that Gutman had breached the contract but declined to decide “whether JLM had shown a likelihood of success on its conversion and trespass claims or opine on the ‘novel’ and ‘nuanced’ question of who owns the [social media accounts].” The district court granted a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction barring Gutman from changing, using and/or controlling the social media accounts and using the names “Hayley,” “Paige,” “Hayley Paige Gutman,” “Hayley Gutman,” “Hayley Paige” or any derivate thereof (collectively, the designer’s name) in commerce. Gutman appealed.

Gutman argued that the district court erred in concluding that she likely breached the noncompete and name-rights provisions of the employment contract, that JLM’s breach of the contract prohibited it from seeking injunctive relief and that the social media accounts should not have been assigned to JLM. The Second Circuit rejected Gutman’s contract-related arguments and disagreed with the proffered alternative interpretations of the text, concluding that the district court did not err in prohibiting Gutman from any use of the designer’s name in commerce. With respect to the social media accounts, however, the Court held that the preliminary injunction was overbroad because “the character of the district court’s relief—a grant of perpetual, unrestricted, and exclusive control throughout the litigation—sounds in property, not in contract. Yet the district court disclaimed any effort to ground the [preliminary injunction] on its evaluation of the ownership question.” The Court concluded it was “unclear on what basis the district court excluded Gutman from using the Disputed Accounts and granted total control to JLM.” Thus, the Court remanded the case for the district [...]

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Third Circuit Orders Second Look at Delays and Disgorgement of Profits

In a long-running trademark dispute between two charitable organizations, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the appellee did not preserve its challenge to the district court’s denial of summary judgment on its trademark cancelation claims, the appellant waived any challenge to the validity of the defendant’s mark and the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to award enhanced monetary relief or prejudgment interest. Kars 4 Kids Inc. v America Can!, Case Nos. 20-2813; -2900 (3rd Cir., August 10, 2021) (Shwartz, J.) The Court also vacated-in-part and remanded for the district court to reexamine its laches and disgorgement conclusions under applicable law.

As charitable organizations that sell donated vehicles to fund children’s programs, both America Can (as CARS FOR KIDS) and Kars 4 Kids have used similar trademarks since their respective starts in the early- to mid-1990s. In 2003 and 2013, America Can sent cease and desist letters to Kars 4 Kids after seeing its advertisements in the state of Texas. In 2014, Kars 4 Kids sued America Can for federal and state trademark infringement, unfair competition and trademark dilution claims. Less than one year later, America Can filed its own suit—alleging the same claims—plus a petition to cancel a Kars 4 Kids trademark registration and seeking a nationwide injunction and financial compensation.

Both parties appeal from a denial of their respective summary judgment motions as well as (1) the jury finding that Kars 4 Kids willfully infringed America Can’s trademark rights in Texas, (2) the rejection of America Can’s petition for cancellation of a KARS FOR KIDS trademark registration finding that the registration was not knowingly procured by fraudulent means, (3) the conclusion that laches did not apply against America Can’s claims, (4) disgorgement of Kars 4 Kids profits in Texas totaling about $10.6 million, (5) rejection of enhanced monetary relief and (6) an injunction against Kars 4 Kids with respect to use of its trademark in Texas and from using the carsforkids.com domain name. On appeal, Kars 4 Kids also renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law, including an argument that America Can’s trademark is invalid.

The Third Circuit rejected Kars 4 Kids’ effort to overturn the jury’s liability verdict, concluding that Kars 4 Kids failed to preserve its challenge to the validity of the CARS FOR KIDS trademark when it left that issue out of its Rule 50(a) motion. Instead, evidence of America Can’s continuous use of the CARS FOR KIDS mark well prior to 2003 predated Kars 4 Kids’ first use of its trademark in Texas in 2003 and established America Can’s ownership of the CARS FOR KIDS trademark in Texas.

However, after examining the laches claim, the Third Circuit explained that it considered (1) the plaintiff’s inexcusable delay in bringing suit and (2) prejudice to the defendant as a result of the delay. With no statute of limitations under the Lanham Act, the parties agreed that their claims are properly analogized to New Jersey’s six-year [...]

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What You Say Can and Will be Used Against You – Prosecution History and Prior Infringement Arguments

Noting patent owner’s prior litigation statements, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a district court ruling that a clear and unmistakable disclaimer in the prosecution history affected claim construction of an asserted patent. SpeedTrack, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., Case No. 20-1573 (Fed. Cir. June 3, 2021) (Prost, J.)

In 2009, SpeedTrack filed suit against various online retailers alleging infringement of its patent directed to a method for accessing files in a filing system leveraging “category descriptions” to aid in organizing the files. The patent describes associating category descriptions with files using a “file information directory.” A “search filter” then searches the files using their associated category descriptions. A limitation that “the category descriptions hav[e] no predefined hierarchical relationship with such list or each other” was added during prosecution to overcome a prior art reference that leveraged hierarchical field-and-value relationships.

The district court initially adopted a proposed claim construction that lacked any reference to a field-and-value relationship, noting that the construction “account[ed] for the disclaimers made during prosecution.” Following a motion by SpeedTrack, the court concluded there was still a fundamental dispute about the scope of the claim term. After further analyzing SpeedTrack’s prosecution history, the court concluded that the history “demonstrate[d] clear and unambiguous disavowal of category descriptions based on hierarchical field-and-value systems” and issued a second claim construction order explicitly disclaiming “predefined hierarchical field-and-value relationships” from the scope of “category descriptions.” SpeedTrack subsequently stipulated to noninfringement under the second claim construction and appealed.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit stressed that prosecution-history disclaimer can arise from both claim amendments and arguments. Here, the prosecution history showed that the applicants “repeatedly highlighted predefined hierarchical field-and-value relationships” as a difference between the prior art and the patent claims in no uncertain terms. That SpeedTrack distinguished the prior art on other grounds did not moot its disclaimer statements.

The Federal Circuit also noted that SpeedTrack argued in litigation against another defendant that the purpose of the amendment was to distinguish the category descriptions from attributes that “have a ‘hierarchical’ relationship between fields and their values.” While the Court agreed with SpeedTrack that such litigation statements were not a disclaimer on their own (since they were not the inventors’ prosecution statements), these litigation statements further supported not accepting SpeedTrack’s arguments. The Court reminded SpeedTrack that it has cautioned (in Aylus and Southwall) that “the doctrine of prosecution disclaimer ensures that claims are not ‘construed one way in order to obtain their allowance and in a different way against accused infringers.’”

After assessing SpeedTrack’s prior statements, the Federal Circuit considered whether the disclaimer was clear and unmistakable. The Court concluded it was. In rejecting SpeedTrack’s argument that prior decisions not expressly finding disclaimer supported that prosecution statements were not clear and unambiguous, the Court noted the construction had not been fully considered in those judgments. Similarly, the Court rejected the notion that the district court’s issuance of a second claim construction order showed there was no clear and [...]

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Patent Extension Requires Board or Court Reversal, Multiple Examiner Actions Not Enough

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment for the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), holding that the statutory language authorizing so-called “C-delay” patent term adjustment requires an adverse patentability finding that is reversed by a court or the Patent Trial & Appeal Board. Chudik v. Hirshfeld, Case No. 20-1833 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 8, 2021) (Taranto, J.) C-delay adds to a patent’s term to account for delay experienced during appellate review of an adverse patentability finding. C-delay does not apply when the examiner reopens examination after final rejection (in this case, four times over an 11-year period) because appellate review is not triggered when an examiner, and not the Board or a court, undoes a final unpatentability decision by reopening examination.

Chudik filed a patent application, and the examiner rejected all pending claims as unpatentable. Chudik declined to appeal, instead filing a request for continued examination. Over the next eight years, the examiner issued four more final rejections. After each rejection, Chudik filed a notice of appeal and opening brief, and after each notice of appeal, the examiner reopened prosecution rather than answering the appeal. The patent finally issued more than 11 years after Chudik filed the application. The PTO added time to the term of the patent for A-delay (where the PTO fails to meet certain prescribed deadlines) and B-delay (each day that the patent application’s pendency extends beyond three years), but not C-delay.

The C-delay provision of the Patent Act provides for a patent term adjustment where the delay is due to “appellate review by the [Board] or by a Federal Court in a case in which the patent was issued under a decision in the review reversing an adverse determination of patentability.” Chudik challenged the PTO’s calculation of the patent extension, arguing that he was entitled to C-delay patent term adjustment for the time his four notices of appeal were pending in the PTO. Chudik argued that the C-delay provision’s “appellate review” included the examiner’s decision to undo her final action through a reopening of prosecution. The PTO rejected that argument, concluding that the C-delay provision did not apply because the Board’s jurisdiction over the appeals never attached and no Board or reviewing court reversed an adverse determination of patentability.

Chudik then sued the PTO director in federal district court, again arguing that “appellate review” referred to the Board’s entire review process, starting when the notice of appeal is filed. Chudik also argued that “a decision in the review reversing an adverse determination of patentability” covered an examiner’s own decision, through a reopening of prosecution. Although characterizing it as “based on a reasonable construction of statutory text,” the court rejected Chudik’s challenge. Applying Chevron, the district court held that the PTO’s position must be affirmed because that position was reasonable. Chudik appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, finding that the PTO’s interpretation of the C-delay provision’s statutory language was [...]

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Fairness Is the Limit for Asserting False Advertising Claims

Addressing whether Lanham Act claims for false advertising or false association under § 43(a) (15 USC § 1125(a)) are subject to a statute of limitations, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that the sole time limit on bringing such claims is the equitable doctrine of laches. Belmora LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG, Case No. 18-2183 (4th Cir. Feb. 2, 2021) (Floyd, J.)

The facts of the underlying dispute are straightforward. Bayer has sold the pain reliever naproxen as FLANAX in Mexico since 1972 and in the United States as ALEVE. Belmora began selling naproxen under the name FLANAX in the United States in 2004, where it used similar packaging and described the drug as one sold successfully in Mexico. Both companies tried to register the mark with the US Patent & Trademark Office, where proceedings unfolded. Ultimately, in April 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled Belmora’s trademark registration, finding that Belmora had blatantly misused FLANAX by drawing on the popularity of Bayer’s Mexican product. Two months later, Bayer brought claims against Belmora under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act and California unfair competition law in the US District Court for the Central District of California. The suit was transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia, where Belmora moved to dismiss, arguing that § 43(a) and state law claims were barred by the statute of limitations. Bayer replied that § 43(a) had no statute of limitations, and that the time to bring the state law claims had been tolled during the Board’s proceedings. The district court granted both of Belmora’s motions, and the appeal followed.

Because there is no express statute of limitations for a § 43(a) claim, the question before the Court was whether to assume that Congress intended that the most analogous state law statute of limitations apply, or to apply either the most analogous federal statute or common law laches doctrine. “Conclud[ing] that § 43(a) is one such federal law for which a state statute of limitations would be an unsatisfactory vehicle for enforcement,” the Court held that laches was more appropriate, for primarily two reasons. First, the statutory text provides that § 43(a) damages are subject to the principles of equity, which would include the doctrine of laches. Second, the Court found persuasive the law of the Third, Seventh and Ninth Circuits, which each apply laches as to restrict the timeliness of as § 43(a) action. That said, the Court emphasized that on remand, the district court should consider the period for bringing a similar state action as part of the laches analysis, especially because the Fourth Circuit employs a presumption that claims brought after the expiration of the most-analogous statute-of-limitations are barred by laches.

The Court noted that Bayer could overcome a presumption of laches, and cited three factors for the district court to consider:

  • Bayer’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of Belmora’s adverse use
  • Whether Bayer’s delay was inexcusable or unreasonable
  • Whether Belmora had been unduly prejudiced by [...]

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