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IP Implications of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

On December 27, 2020, Congress signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, into law. The omnibus act includes new legislation affecting patent, copyright and trademark law. A brief summary of key provisions is provided below.

Patents – Section 325 Biological Product Patent Transparency

42 USC § 262(k) was amended to require that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide the public with more information about patented biological products. Within six months, the FDA must make the following information available to the public on its Database of Licensed Biological Products or “Purple Book,” and it must update the list every 30 days:

  • A list of each biological product, by nonproprietary name, for which a biologics license is in effect
  • The license date and application number
  • The license and marketing status (as available)
  • Exclusivity periods

The amendment requires that the holders of a license to market a biologic drug now disclose all patents believed to be covering that drug. The new law is designed to prevent errors that could delay biosimilars from coming to the market.

Copyrights – The CASE Act of 2020

The Consolidated Appropriations Act incorporates the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2020, as well as legislation designed to increase criminal penalties for the unauthorized digital streaming of copyright-protected content. The CASE Act includes revisions to the Copyright Act, 17 USC §§ 101 et seq., with the goal of creating a new venue for copyright owners to enforce their rights instead of having to file an action in federal court.

The Copyright Claims Board

The CASE Act established the Copyright Claims Board (a small claims court), which is designed to serve as an alternative forum where parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work. A party may opt out upon being served with a claim, choosing instead to resolve the dispute in federal court. A party to a proceeding before the Board may, but is not required to, be represented by a lawyer. A party may also be represented by a law student who is qualified under applicable law, and who provides such representation on a pro bono basis. The Board consists of three copyright claims officers who may conduct individualized proceedings to resolve disputes and must issue written decisions setting forth their factual findings and legal conclusions.

Procedural Matters

The Board must follow the law in the federal jurisdiction in which the action could have been brought if filed in federal court. Because jurisdictional conflicts may arise where a dispute may have been brought in multiple jurisdictions, the CASE Act provides that the Board may apply the law of the jurisdiction that the Board determines has the most significant ties to the parties and the conduct at issue.

Although formal motion practice is not permitted, discovery is allowed on a limited basis, including requests for documents, written interrogatories and written requests for admission. The Board may consider evidence, documentary and (non-expert) testimony, without the application of formal [...]

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Government Contractors May Include Restrictive Markings on ‘Unlimited Rights’ Data

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed an Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) denial of summary judgment and held that a federal contractor may include certain restrictive markings on “unlimited rights” data supplied to the US government. The Boeing Company v. Secretary of the Air Force, Case No. 19-2147 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 21, 2020) (Lourie, J.)

Boeing entered into two contracts with the US Air Force that required Boeing to deliver technical data to the Air Force with “unlimited rights” pursuant to Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement 252.227-7013 (-7013 clause). Boeing marked each technical data deliverable submitted to the Air Force with a legend that described Boeing’s data rights pertaining to third parties. The government rejected Boeing’s technical data deliverables in view of the legend Boeing placed on the data, and Boeing requested a Contracting Officer Final Decision (COFD) regarding the propriety of its marking. The Air Force issued a COFD for each contract, confirming the rejection of technical data marked with Boeing’s legend as a nonconforming marking because it was not in the authorized format pursuant to paragraph (f) of the -7013 clause (Subsection 7013(f)).

Boeing appealed the COFDs to the ASBCA and moved for summary judgment, arguing that Subsection 7013(f) only applies to legends that restrict the government’s rights in technical data and is inapplicable to legends that only restrict third-party rights. The ASBCA denied Boeing’s summary judgment motion because Boeing’s legend was not one of the four specific legends authorized under Subsection 7013(f). The ASBCA entered final judgment, and Boeing appealed.

The Federal Circuit reversed. The Court found that the plain language of Subsection 7013(f) makes clear that the two sentences describe the way in which a contractor “may assert restrictions on the Government’s rights,” and agreed with Boeing that Subsection 7013(f) applies only in situations when a contractor seeks to assert restrictions on the government’s rights. The Federal Circuit explained that under the ASBCA’s reading, the first sentence would be “entirely unnecessary” to the regulation, and the Court “cannot disregard the first sentence.” The Court also explained that its interpretation of Subsection 7013(f) is faithful to the overall purpose of the -7013 clause because the US Department of Defense intended the technical rights regulations to govern allocation of data rights between contractors and the government.

The Federal Circuit remanded the case back to the ASBCA for further proceedings on whether Boeing’s legend did in fact restrict the government’s rights.

Practice Note: This decision strengthens contractors’ ability to ensure that data supplied in a federal procurement remain protected from non-governmental access, particularly in light of evolving standards for the protection of “confidential information” pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act from the Supreme Court holding in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, 139 S. Ct. 2356 (2019).




This Mashup Is Not a Place You’ll Go – Seuss Copyright Will ‘Live Long and Prosper’

Presented with a publishing company defendant’s mashup of Dr. Seuss’ copyrighted works with Star Trek in a work titled Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit tackled claims of both copyright and trademark infringement, including the defense of fair use and the use of trademarks in expressive works. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of defendants on the copyright infringement claim and affirmed the district court’s dismissal and grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on the trademark claim. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. ComicMix LLC, et al., Case No. 19-55348 (9th Cir. Dec. 18, 2020) (McKeown, J.)

Seuss Enterprises owns the intellectual property in the works of late author Theodor S. Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Seuss Enterprises carefully yet prolifically licenses the Dr. Seuss works and brand across a variety of entertainment, media, art and consumer goods, including derivative works of Dr. Seuss’ final book, and graduation favorite, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! When Seuss Enterprises encountered a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! mashup work created by ComicMix (a company whose employees include an author of Star Trek episodes), it filed suit for copyright and trademark infringement. The district court granted ComicMix’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the Boldly work was a fair use of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and that Seuss Enterprises did not have a cognizable trademark infringement claim under the Lanham Act. Seuss Enterprises appealed.

On appeal, ComicMix asserted its defense of fair use by arguing that its copying of the Dr. Seuss works (described at one point in the record as painstaking attempts to create “identical” illustrations) resulted in a parody of the works. The Ninth Circuit examined the facts under the four non-exclusive factors of fair use reflected in § 107 of the Copyright Act:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

Remarking that the outcome of the purpose and character of the use factor influences the assessment of the third and fourth factors, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Boldly work was not transformative as a parody or otherwise, and that the “indisputably commercial” nature of the work weighed against fair use. The Court explained that a parody exists only if the resulting work critiques or comments on the underlying copyrighted work. The Ninth Circuit cited its decision in another Seuss case (Dr. Seuss Enters. v. Penguin Books), which involved the retelling of the O.J. Simpson murder trial through the lens of The Cat in the Hat. Here, the Court similarly found that Boldly only “evokes” Oh, the Places [...]

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Two Turntables, No Microphone: Using Technical Diagram Is Not Copyright Infringement

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment grant with respect to a copyright infringement claim related to technical drawings, and reversed the court’s summary judgment grant related to software source code. RJ Control Consultants, Inc. et al. v. Multiject, LLC, et al., Case No. 20-1009 (6th Cir. Nov. 23, 2020) (Donald, J.)

In 2008, Paul Rogers, through his company RJ Control Consultants (RJC), entered into an oral agreement with his friend Jack Elder, through Elder’s company Multiject. Rogers agreed to develop a rotary turntable control system (not for music, but to control a molding system) for Elder, calling the product “Design 3.”

In 2014, Elder asked Rogers for copies of Design 3’s technical diagrams as well as the software source code “in case something happened” to Rogers. Rogers provided the information to Elder, believing that Elder would not improperly use or disclose the information to others. Three days later, Elder informed Roger that he no longer needed Roger’s services and would instead use RSW Technologies for the assembly and wiring of the system. Elder claimed that he was increasingly concerned with Roger’s pricing and decided to switch out Rogers and RJC for RSW. Multiject and RSW used Design 3, both the technical drawings and the source code, in the assembly and wiring of identical new systems.

In 2016, Rogers obtained two copyright registrations, one for the technical diagrams and one for the source code. RJC filed a complaint for several federal and state law claims, including copyright infringement. Multiject and RSW filed motions for summary judgment on all claims, including dismissal of the copyright claims, which the district court granted. RJC appealed.

Multiject and RSW argued that copyright protection did not extend to the software at issue because the software embodied a procedure, a system and a method of operating an injection molding machine, and that is not eligible for copyright protection. They also argued that the use of copyrighted technical drawings to produce a control system did not constitute copyright infringement of the technical drawings for the same reasons that making a recipe out of a copyrighted cookbook does not constitute copyright infringement of the cookbook. Multiject and RSW asserted that to the extent Rogers sought to protect the “use” of his technical drawings to create something else, he should have sought protection under patent law—not copyright law.

The Sixth Circuit agreed. Because the source code and technical diagrams were registered, the validity of the copyrights was not contested. The Court first considered whether physical copying to reproduce the system contained in the drawings was copyright infringement. The Court noted that whether the drawings were themselves reproduced was a separate question from whether the drawings were used to create the system portrayed in that drawing. The Court found that the “manufacture of the control system from the copyrighted technical drawing was not copyright infringement because the recreation of a control system by using a copyrighted technical drawing is not ‘copying’ for [...]

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By the Book: Unauthorized Material Doesn’t Forfeit Training Guide’s Copyright Protection

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a copyright owner in a lawsuit alleging infringement of the copyright in a home-services training manual, finding that the jury was correctly instructed that a work’s incorporation of some copyrighted content does not invalidate the copyright in the work’s original parts. Hiller LLC v. Success Grp. Int’l Learning Alliance LLC, Case No. 19-6115 (6th Cir. Sept. 23, 2020) (Suhrheinrich, J.).

Hiller is a home-services company providing HVAC services. Hiller was a paying member of Success Group International, which offered customer service training to home services companies. Success Group conducted training courses using manuals copyrighted by its owner, Clockwork Home Services. Hiller sent its employees to Success Group’s courses and had access to the manuals. Clockwork later sold Success Group to another company, but retained ownership of the copyrights in the manuals and granted a perpetual license for use of the manuals in Success Group’s training business.

Hiller later hired a contractor to create a more interactive training guide for its technicians as a replacement for the manuals. To create the guide, the contractor conducted a two-day workshop with Hiller employees and representatives from Success Group. The workshop included a series of interactive brainstorming sessions. One of the manuals was referred to during the workshop. Ultimately the new guide incorporated some content generated at the design workshop. Other “gap-filling” content was taken directly from the manuals. The contractor also added other original content. The contractor assigned its copyright in the guide to Hiller.

The Success Group subsequently conducted a training class using a workbook that closely resembled the guide. Hiller ended its Success Group membership and sued Success Group for copyright infringement for its use of the workbook. Clockwork intervened, alleging that it owned the guide and seeking declaratory relief invalidating Hiller’s copyright in the guide. Following a seven-day trial, a jury concluded that Hiller had a valid copyright in the guide and that the Success Group workbook copied protected elements of the guide. Clockwork moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the district court denied. Success Group ultimately settled with Hiller. Clockwork appealed.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed. First, the Court found that sufficient evidence supported the jury’s verdict that Hiller owned a copyright in the guide. The Court rejected Clockwork’s two-pronged argument that the guide lacked independently created material (required to meet the Copyright Act’s originality requirement) and that Hiller should lose its copyright because the guide contained content taken from the manuals. Based on its selection and organization, the guide contained enough originality created independently by or on behalf of Hiller (through Hiller’s contractor) to meet the originality threshold for copyright protection. The original material included information and graphical depictions selected and organized at the design workshop. The Court also rejected Clockwork’s argument that Hiller should lose copyright protection because the guide was based on Clockwork’s “copyrighted system.” Copyright protection does not preclude others from copying or using the underlying ideas contained [...]

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“Can’t Hold Us” Liable: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Win Affirmance in Copyright Suit

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment on the issue of copyright infringement and an award of attorneys’ fees against the plaintiff under the Copyright Act. Although the Court noted that it lacked jurisdiction to review sanctions against the plaintiff’s attorney, it observed that counsel went beyond “vigorous representation.” Batiste v. Lewis, Case Nos. 19-30400, -30889 (5th Cir. Sept. 22, 2020) (Clement, J.).

Batiste, a local musician, sued Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, an internationally famous hip-hop duo, for copyright infringement. Batiste alleged that the duo sampled his songs without authorization. As support, Batiste submitted the expert report of a musicologist, Milton, but Milton later admitted that Batiste had conducted the analysis and written the report, and that Milton did not even have access to the necessary software. The district court excluded the report, which Batiste then sought leave to resubmit in his own name. The district court denied leave because Batiste had not disclosed himself as an expert and because the new report was untimely. The district court subsequently granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that Batiste had failed to submit sufficient evidence of Macklemore and Lewis’s alleged access to Batiste’s work or of probative similarity between Macklemore and Lewis’s works and Batiste’s. The district court then awarded fees to Macklemore and Lewis under the Copyright Act (17 USC § 505) and made Batiste’s attorney (Hayes) jointly and severally liable for the fees award as a sanction under 28 USC § 1987. Batiste appealed.

Addressing the district court’s summary judgment of no infringement, the Fifth Circuit considered Batiste’s proofs as to access and similarity.

Batiste tried to prove access through “widespread dissemination” and “chain of events” theories. The Court held that Batiste’s evidence of widespread dissemination was insufficient because it only established “quite limited” dissemination of Batiste’s music. Batiste’s chain of events theory—under which Macklemore and Lewis allegedly accessed Batiste’s work by playing a concert at a venue near a record store that sold Batiste’s music—raised only a “bare possibility” of access and was therefore also insufficient.

On the issue of similarity, the Court explained that because of Batiste’s failure to show access, he needed to show “striking similarity” to withstand summary judgment. The Court rejected Batiste’s argument that “overwhelming evidence of access” obviated any need for him to show similarity. The Court compared the allegedly infringing songs to Batiste’s and found them insufficiently similar for a jury to find striking similarity. The Court also rejected Batiste’s invitation to adopt the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in Bridgeport, which held a showing of similarity unnecessary in some circumstances. The Fifth Circuit noted that Bridgeport has been widely criticized, and pointed out that Bridgeport considered the issue of substantial similarity (which dictates whether factual copying, once established, is legally actionable), whereas the issue in this case was probative similarity (which raises an inference of factual copying).

Batiste challenged the award of attorneys’ fees as erroneous absent a [...]

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Jersey Boys Don’t Cry: No Copyright Protection for Facts “Based on a True Story”

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of judgment as a matter of law finding that the musical Jersey Boys did not infringe a copyright held in an autobiography of band member Tommy DeVito. Donna Corbello v. Frankie Valli, et al., Case No. 17-16337 (9th Cir. Sept. 8, 2020) (Berzon, J.).

In the 1990s, Rex Woodard ghostwrote an autobiography of Tommy DeVito, one of the original members of the 1950s quartet the Four Seasons. Woodard and DeVito agreed to split the profits equally. However, shortly after finishing the book, and before finding a publisher, Woodard died. Donna Corbello, Woodard’s widow, became the successor-in-interest to the book, and she continued the search for a publisher. Almost 15 years later, Corbello still had not published the book.

DeVito’s autobiography reads as a straightforward historical account of the Four Seasons. At the beginning of the book, DeVito, as the narrator, describes his autobiography as a “complete and truthful chronicle of the Four Seasons,” and he promises not to let “bitterness taint the true story.” Corbello also sent letters to potential publishers emphasizing that the book provided a “behind-the-scenes” look at the Four Seasons. In all accounts, the book is a non-fiction, historical chronicle of events of the Four Seasons.

In 2005, the musical Jersey Boys debuted on Broadway. Jersey Boys also depicts the history of the Four Seasons from its origins in New Jersey to its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. DeVito admitted to working with people involved in developing Jersey Boys and sharing the book with the individuals researching the history of the band.

In 2007, Corbello sued DeVito and 14 defendants, including the band members and the writers, directors and producers of Jersey Boys. The complaint included 20 causes of action, including various forms of copyright infringement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on most of the claims. Corbello appealed. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, vacated its assessment of costs against Corbello, and remanded for further proceedings.

On remand, the case proceeded to a jury trial where the jury found that the musical infringed the book and that use of the book was not fair use. After the verdict, the district court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, concluding that any infringement was fair use. Corbello appealed.

On appeal, the central disagreements were whether the musical was substantially similar to the book and whether the defendants copied any protectable portions of the book. The Ninth Circuit analyzed the similarities under the extrinsic test for substantial similarity. The appellate court found that each of the similarities failed because they involved only non-protectable elements of the book. Those non-protectable elements included DeVito depicting himself in the musical (a character based on a historical figure is not protected); Bob Gaudio arriving late to rehearsal, excited about a new song he just [...]

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No Remix: Copyright Act Preempts Right of Publicity Claim

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the federal Copyright Act preempts a state right of publicity claim when the latter is merely “a thinly disguised effort to exert control over an unauthorized [use of a copyrighted] work.” Jackson v. Roberts, Case No. 19-480 (2d Cir. Aug. 19, 2020) (Leval, J.).

Both parties in this case are famous hip-hop artists more commonly known by their stage names: the plaintiff, Curtis James Jackson III, is known as 50 Cent, and the defendant, William Leonard Roberts II, is known as Rick Ross. In 2015, Roberts released a free mix tape that included samples from many famous songs, including Jackson’s hit “In Da Club.” The mix tape track at issue was titled “In Da Club (Ft. 50 Cent)” and included Rick Ross rapping over the “In Da Club” instrumentals, a 30-second sample of 50 Cent singing the “In Da Club” refrain, and multiple references to Rick Ross’s upcoming album.

Jackson sued Roberts, claiming that the unauthorized use of his name and voice violated his right of publicity under Connecticut common law. Pursuant to a recording agreement with his former record label, Shady Records/Aftermath Records, Jackson did not own a copyright interest in the “In Da Club” recording and therefore could not sue for copyright infringement. The district court granted Roberts’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Jackson had surrendered his publicity rights via the recording agreement and that the right of publicity claim was preempted. Jackson appealed.

The Second Circuit agreed that federal law preempted the right of publicity claim, but for different reasons than the district court: the Second Circuit found the state claim preempted under the doctrine of implied preemption or, alternatively, statutory preemption. The Court explained that “generally . . . implied preemption precludes the application of state laws to the extent that those laws interfere with or frustrate the functioning of the regime created by the Copyright Act. Statutory preemption preempts state law claims to the extent that they assert rights equivalent to those protected by the Copyright Act, in works of authorship within the subject matter of federal copyright.”

The Second Circuit used a two-part test to determine whether the state law claim was subject to implied preemption, asking (1) whether the state right of publicity claim asserted a sufficiently substantial state interest, distinct from those interests underlying federal copyright law, and (2) whether the state law claim would potentially conflict with rights established by the Copyright Act. Given that Roberts did not use Jackson’s name or persona to falsely imply Jackson’s endorsement of Roberts’ music, nor did Roberts invade Jackson’s privacy or use his persona in a derogatory nature, the Court reasoned that Jackson was not seeking to vindicate any distinct and substantial state interest. Likewise, the Court held that the second element was satisfied because Jackson’s right of publicity suit had the potential to interfere with the copyright holder’s exclusive control of its rights: “Jackson’s attempt to [control the use of the [...]

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Not Your Grandfather’s Internet Royalties? DMCA Favorable Rates Might Apply to Internet Offerings

Reversing the Copyright Royalty Board’s determination that a favorable grandfathered royalty rate did not apply to internet streaming audio transmissions, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that internet transmissions are not categorically excluded from the definition of “service” in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). Music Choice v. Copyright Royalty Bd., Case No. 19-1011 (DC Cir. Aug. 18, 2020) (Rao, J.).

In the late 1990s, Music Choice, a company best known for its cable television genre-specific music channels, also offered some digital audio transmissions over the internet. These audio transmissions—and their alleged continuation through today—are the subject of this case.

Seeking to establish a new regime governing royalties for digital music services, Congress required in the DMCA that service providers pay copyright holders a market-based rate for playing digital music, but set a generally lower “reasonable rate” for certain preexisting subscription services. A preexisting subscription service—i.e., a service offering digital audio subscriptions for a fee before July 31, 1998—was entitled to the lower rate for its subscription transmissions “made in the same transmission medium used by such service on July 31, 1998.” The question here was whether those transmissions could be made over the internet.

In 2016, the Royalty Board held proceedings to set the preexisting royalty rates for 2018 to 2022, during which it referred the legal question of whether Music Choice’s internet transmissions qualified for the grandfathered rates to the Copyright Register. The Register concluded that, based on the DMCA’s legislative history, the grandfathered rates were intended to apply only to cable and satellite offerings. Accordingly, when the Royalty Board set rates for Music Choice’s offerings, it excluded its internet transmissions from the more favorable grandfathered rate.

Music Choice appealed, and the DC Circuit reversed the Royalty Board. The Court found nothing in the DMCA that required that the definition of “service” categorically exclude internet transmissions. As long as the entity existed as of July 31, 1998 (as Music Choice undisputedly did), internet transmissions could be eligible for the grandfathered rate so long as such transmissions were in the medium in existence on that date. The Court found that nothing in the clear and broad statutory definition of “transmission medium” excluded internet transmissions. The Court also concluded that the structure of the DMCA supported such a conclusion, because in other places it distinguished between particular types of transmissions, whereas in the grandfathered copyright rate at issue, the statute used language capturing all types of transmissions available before the key date.

Having concluded that the Royalty Board wrongly excluded internet transmissions per se, the DC Circuit remanded to the Board to consider “the extent to which Music Choice’s current internet offerings can be fairly characterized as included in the service offering Music Choice provided on July 31, 1998.”

Practice Note: It remains to be seen how narrowly the Royalty Board will define the service offered by Music Choice as of July 31, 1998. Regardless of what the Board finds, this case [...]

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Use of Infringing Product, Misappropriated Trade Secrets May Continue—for a Licensing Fee

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s stay of a permanent injunction against copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation, permitting the infringer to continue use of an infringing product and misappropriated trade secrets but requiring the infringer to pay a licensing fee. ECIMOS, LLC v. Carrier Corp., Case Nos. 19-5436, -5519 (6th Cir. Aug. 21, 2020) (Boggs, J.).

Carrier sold HVAC systems. ECIMOS designed and sold a quality-control-testing system that assessed each HVAC unit at the end of Carrier’s assembly line. ECIMOS’s system consisted of a software program, associated hardware and a database that stored results of runtests performed by the system. Carrier paid ECIMOS to maintain and periodically upgrade its software system. ECIMOS licensed Carrier to use the system but prohibited unauthorized copying, distributing or creating derivative works based in whole or in part on the software.

Years into the relationship, ECIMOS upgraded its software to run on a new operating system. ECIMOS expected Carrier to agree to the proposed upgrade just as it had done previously. Unbeknownst to ECIMOS and without its consent, Carrier had already installed ECIMOS’s software directly onto the new operating system. Carrier started a venture with a third party, Amtec, to develop a new quality-control software and storage database to replace the ECIMOS system.

ECIMOS sued Carrier for violating the copyright on the ECIMOS system’s database, breaching the parties’ software-licensing agreement and misappropriating ECIMOS’s trade secrets. At trial, ECIMOS alleged that Carrier improperly shared ECIMOS’s copyrights and trade secrets with Amtec, allowing Amtec to develop a competing system. The jury agreed, finding that the competing system incorporated ECIMOS’s trade secrets. The jury determined that Carrier infringed the copyright on ECIMOS’s runtest database script source code, that ECIMOS held a trade secret in its software source code and its assembled hardware drawings and wiring diagrams, and that Carrier misappropriated those trade secrets by sharing them with Amtec. The jury awarded ECIMOS copyright and contract damages.

The district court also imposed a permanent injunction against Carrier’s use of the infringing Amtec database, but stayed the injunction until Carrier developed a noninfringing database. The court also enjoined Carrier from further disclosure of ECIMOS’s trade secrets, but did not enjoin Carrier from using those trade secrets. To the contrary, the district court appointed a special master to supervise the redesign and permitted Carrier to continue using the infringing database that incorporated ECIMOS’s trade secrets until the redesigned system was complete. The district court further required Carrier to pay ECIMOS the licensing fees that ECIMOS would have charged in the course of an ongoing, mutually agreeable licensing relationship. ECIMOS objected to the stay and appealed.

ECIMOS argued that the stay was an abuse of discretion, that the injunction should have prohibited Carrier from using (not just disclosing) ECIMOS’s trade secrets, and that the injunction should have prohibited Carrier’s disclosure and use of ECIMOS’s assembled hardware, not just the hardware drawings and wiring diagrams. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, affirming in full the district court’s [...]

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