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Not on My Watch: Disclosure of Restored Goods’ Source Obviates Consumer Confusion

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a ruling that a defendant’s use of a mark in connection with the sale of used goods did not create consumer confusion, finding that the district court adequately analyzed the relevant Polaroid factors and did not erroneously apply the 1947 Champion Spark Plug case. Hamilton Int’l Ltd. v. Vortic, LLC, Case No. 20-3369 (2d Cir. Sept. 14. 2021) (Cronan, J.)

Vortic is a watchmaker that specializes in the restoration and conversion of antique pocket watches into wristwatches. Hamilton International brought a trademark infringement suit against Vortic based on a watch that Vortic sold called the “The Lancaster.” The Lancaster name pays homage to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is where the Hamilton Watch Company was originally located. The watch was made with restored “Railroad-Era” movements (the internal mechanism of the watch with the hands and face attached) that were originally produced by Hamilton. The Hamilton mark could be seen both on the antique face of the watch and through the see-through back on the internal workings. Vortic’s mark, as well as “The Lancaster” and a serial number, were located on a ring on the rear of the watch.

The district court focused on the Polaroid factors in its likelihood of consumer confusion analysis and on the issue of disclosure under Champion. The district court found that Vortic’s labeling and disclosure were compliant with Champion, that there was no evidence of actual confusion or bad faith and that the buyers of these antique watches were sophisticated purchasers. The district court found no likelihood of confusion and entered judgment for Vortic on all claims. Hamilton appealed.

The main issue on appeal was whether the district court erred in finding no likelihood of consumer confusion. To show a likelihood of consumer confusion, “[a] plaintiff must show ‘a probability of confusion, not a mere possibility’ affecting ‘numerous ordinary prudent purchasers.’”

The Second Circuit considered the district court’s application of Champion. In that case, the Supreme Court determined that keeping the “Champion” logo on refurbished spark plugs would not mislead consumers as the plugs were originally Champion plugs and had the terms “Repaired” or “Used” stamped on them, which provided full disclosure. The Court explained that the lesson from Champion is that when a refurbished “genuine product” is resold, “the seller’s disclosures and the extent of a product’s modifications are significant factors to consider” in any infringement analysis.

Hamilton argued that the repair of the Hamilton parts that went into The Lancaster was so extensive that Champion should not have been applied. The Second Circuit disagreed, noting that the only modification to the original movement was a replacement lever, and that it was clear to consumers that The Lancaster was an “antique pocket watch modified into a wristwatch rather than an entirely new product.”

Hamilton also unsuccessfully argued that the district court erred by not first using the Polaroid factors before turning to the Champion analysis. The Second Circuit explained that since the plaintiff bears the burden [...]

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TTAB Judicial Appointments are Determined Constitutionally Sound

Addressing for the first time whether the Supreme Court of the United States’ recent decision in United States v. Arthrex, Inc. also applied to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that it did not, upholding the constitutionality of TTAB judicial appointments and affirming the TTAB’s cancellation of the SCHIEDMAYER trademark. Piano Factory Group, Inc. v Schiedmayer Celesta GMBH, Case No. 20-1196 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 1, 2021) (Bryson, J.)

Schiedmayer Celesta is the remaining corporate entity from a centuries-old line of German keyboard instrument manufacturers that uses the SCHIEDMAYER trademark in connection with the sale of its products. Sweet 16 Musical Properties and Piano Factory Group (collectively, Piano Factory) operated Hollywood Piano retail outlets where it sold “no-name” pianos purchased from China that were affixed with “Schiedmayer” labels. The owner of Piano Factory, believing the SCHIEDMAYER mark had been abandoned, applied to register the SCHIEDMAYER mark, and the registration issued in 2007.

In 2015, Schiedmayer filed a petition to cancel Piano Factory’s registration, alleging that it falsely suggested a connection with Schiedmayer and, thus, violated Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. After the TTAB granted the petition to cancel, Piano Factory appealed.

Between the time that the parties filed their appeal briefs and the Federal Circuit issued its decision, the Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Arthrex, holding that the appointment of Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) administrative judges violated the Appointments Clause of Article II of the Constitution. On appeal, Piano Factory argued that the appointment of TTAB administrative judges (specifically, the administrative judges who issued the decision Piano Factory was appealing) was likewise unconstitutional. However, the Court disagreed, citing language from the Arthrex decision that “effectively confirmed that . . . the statutory scheme governing TTAB decision-making is not subject to the Appointments Clause problem the Court identified with regard to the PTAB.”

Additionally, Piano Factory cited the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 (TMA)—which explicitly addressed this issue—for support. Piano Factory argued that since the TMA was not enacted until after the TTAB’s decision to cancel the SCHIEDMAYER registration, its enactment indicated that the TTAB was previously flawed. Again, the Federal Circuit disagreed, stating “the 2020 legislation itself makes clear that it merely confirmed, and did not alter” the framework that was in place prior to the TMA.

Piano Factory also challenged the merits of the TTAB’s decision, including its application of the four-factor test for false association, which considers:

  1. Whether the challenged mark is identical or nearly identical to a name previously used by another person;
  2. Whether the mark would be understood as a unique and unmistakable reference to that person;
  3. Whether the person referenced by the challenged mark was connected with the applicant’s activities and
  4. Whether the earlier user’s name has sufficient fame such that a connection with applicant would be presumed when the contested mark was used to identify the applicant’s goods.

Piano Factory disputed the [...]

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Foreign Company’s Purposeful US Activities Blemishes Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Defense

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a complaint, finding that the foreign defendant was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in the United States in light of the defendant’s marketing, sales and operations, each of which reflected a significant focus on the United States. Ayla, LLC v. Alya Skin Pty. Ltd., Case No. 20-16214 (9th Cir. Aug. 27, 2021) (Rakoff, J.)

Ayla is a beauty and wellness brand based in the San Francisco area that offers skincare and hair products through retail and online sales, as well as health and personal care advice on its website. Ayla has three registered trademarks “for use of the ‘AYLA’ word mark in connection with on-site beauty services, online retail beauty products and cosmetics services, and cosmetics.” Alya Skin is a skincare company with its place of incorporation and principal place of business in Australia. Alya Skin sells and ships its products worldwide but about 10% of its total sales are made to the United States.

Alleging a “confusingly similar” mark on its products and advertisements, Ayla sued Alya Skin for trademark infringement and false designation of origin pursuant to the Lanham Act, as well as unfair competition under the California Business & Professions Code and California common law. Alya Skin moved to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court granted Alya Skin’s motion to dismiss, finding that it did not have personal jurisdiction. Ayla appealed.

On appeal, Ayla challenged the district court’s determination that it did not have nationwide jurisdiction over Alya Skin under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 4(k)(2). The Ninth Circuit framed the issue on appeal as a question of whether the district court “erroneously held that the exercise of nationwide jurisdiction over Alya Skin does not comport with due process.” The Court noted that the due process analysis under 4(k)(2) is “nearly identical” to the traditional personal jurisdiction analysis but “rather than considering contacts between [the defendant] and the forum state, we consider contacts with the nation as a whole.” Because trademark infringement is “treated as tort-like for personal jurisdiction purposes,” the Court focused its specific jurisdiction analysis on whether Alya Skin “purposefully directed its activities toward the United States.”

The Ninth Circuit’s inquiry focused on a totality analysis surrounding Alya Skin’s marketing, sales and operations, each of which reflected a significant focus on the United States. The Court noted that Alya Skin promoted its allegedly infringing products specifically to US individuals through “significant advertising efforts.” These efforts included, for example, an Instagram post directly referencing the “USA,” Alya Skin’s advertising efforts during “Black Friday” and Alya Skin’s reference on its website that its products were featured in US magazines. Moreover, Alya Skin presented to consumers “that its products are FDA approved,” which the Court found to be “an appeal specifically to American consumers for whom the acronym ‘FDA’ has meaning.” The Court also noted that Alya Skin’s volume of sales reflected a purposeful direction toward the United States.

[...]

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Lanham Act Reaches Foreign Defendants’ Extraterritorial Conduct, but Worldwide Injunction Too Broad

The US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a district court’s injunction barring multiple foreign companies from directly or indirectly using a US remote control manufacturer’s trade dress based on the extraterritorial reach of the Lanham Act. However, the Court narrowed the scope of the worldwide injunction to countries where the US company currently markets or sells its products. Hetronic Int’l, Inc. v. Hetronic Germany GmbH, Case Nos. 20-6057, -6100 (10th Cir. Aug. 24, 2021) (Phillips, J.)

Hetronic International is a US company that manufactures radio remote controls for heavy-duty construction equipment. Hetronic Germany GmbH, Hydronic Steuersysteme GmbH, ABI Holding GmbH, Abitron Germany GmbH and Abitron Austria GmbH (collectively, the Distributers) are foreign companies that have distributed Hetronic’s products—mostly in Europe—for almost a decade. Based on an old research and development agreement between the parties, the Distributors concluded that they, not Hetronic, owned the rights to Hetronic’s trademarks and other intellectual property. The Distributors accordingly reverse-engineered Hetronic’s products and began manufacturing and selling their own copycat products, mostly in Europe. The copycat products were identical to Hetronic’s and were sold under the Hetronic brand and the same product names. Hetronic terminated the parties’ distribution agreements, but the Distributers continued to sell their copycat products. The Distributors attempted to break into the US market, selling several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of products before backing off after Hetronic sued. They then focused their efforts on Europe.

Hetronic sued the Distributors, along with their manager and owner Albert Fuchs, under the Lanham Act. The Distributors moved for summary judgment, arguing that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to resolve the Lanham Act claims because the conduct at issue occurred overseas. The Distributors asserted that Hetronic’s claims had to be dismissed because the Lanham Act applied extraterritorially only if a defendant’s conduct had a substantial effect on US commerce, and the Distributors’ conduct did not. The district court rejected that argument and denied summary judgment.

In a separate proceeding initiated by the Distributors in the European Union, the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) concluded that Hetronic owned all of the disputed intellectual property. Based on the EUIPO proceeding, the district court applied the doctrine of issue preclusion and granted Hetronic summary judgment on the Distributors’ ownership defense. After an 11-day trial, a jury found that the Distributors had willfully infringed Hetronic’s trademarks and awarded Hetronic more than $100 million in damages, mostly for trademark infringement. The district court also entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the Distributors’ infringing activities worldwide. The Distributors appealed.

On appeal, the Distributors accepted that the Lanham Act can sometimes apply extraterritorially but argued that the Lanham Act did not reach their activity as foreign defendants making sales to foreign consumers. Specifically, the Distributors argued that:

  • The district court erroneously concluded that the Lanham Act applied extraterritorially.
  • The injunction lacked the specificity required by Fed. R. of Civ. Pro. 65.
  • The injunction’s worldwide reach was too broad.

The Distributors challenged the district court’s exercise of personal [...]

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Greek God or Continent? Defining “Confusing Similarity” under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act

Examining whether a registered mark and a domain name were confusingly similar under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the trademark owner because the mark and domains are nearly identical in sight, sound and meaning. Boigris v. EWC P&T, LLC, Case No. 20-11929 (11th Cir. Aug. 6, 2021) (Marcus, J.) (Newsom, J. dissenting). The registered trademark is “European Wax Center” and the domain names in issue are “europawaxcenter.com” and “euwaxcenter.com.”

EWC runs a nationwide beauty brand titled European Wax Center that offers hair removal services and beauty products and also holds a trademark under the same name. Since 2015, EWC sold cosmetics under the marks “reveal me,” “renew me” and “smooth me.” Bryan Boigris has no direct background related to the production of beauty products, but in April 2016, he claimed an intent to begin selling such products and attempted to register trademarks at the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) for “reveal me,” “renew me” and “smooth me,” none of which had been used in commerce before by Boigris. Boigris also registered 11 domain names including, “euwaxcenter.com” and “europawaxcenter.com.” Upon discovery of Boigris’s pending applications, EWC filed for its own trademark applications for “reveal me,” “renew me” and “smooth me” and filed an opposition to Boigris’s pending applications at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). The TTAB sustained the oppositions.

Boigris elected to contest the TTAB’s decision in district court. Specifically, Boigris sought reversal of the TTAB’s decision and an affirmative declaration that he was entitled to register the disputed marks. EWC counterclaimed for an affirmation of the TTAB’s decision as well as declaratory judgment that it had priority rights in the disputed marks, that Boigris’s use constituted infringement under the Lanham Act, damages and an injunction under the ACPA against Boigris’s use of the two domains, “europawaxcenter.com” and “euwaxcenter.com.” EWC moved for summary judgment on all of its claims, which the district court granted. Boigris appealed the ACPA decision only.

Under the ACPA, a trademark holder must prove that: (1) its trademark was distinctive when the defendant registered the challenged domain name; (2) the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the plaintiff’s trademark and (3) the defendant registered the domain name with a bad faith intent to profit. Boigris challenged the second element only and did not contest that EWC’s trademarks were distinctive or that he registered the domains in bad faith. Specifically, Boigris argued that the issue of whether or not the “European Wax Center” mark and the “europawaxcenter.com” and “euwaxcenter.com” domains are confusingly similar should have been a question for the jury.

The 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, determining that no reasonable jury could conclude that Boigris’s domain names are not confusingly similar to EWC’s mark. The Court acknowledged the difference between the Lanham Act’s traditional multi-factor likelihood of confusion test for trademark infringement and the test for confusing similarity, noting [...]

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Texas Hammer Nails Trademark Infringement Appeal

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of an initial confusion trademark complaint, finding that the plaintiff alleged a plausible claim of trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. Adler v. McNeil Consultants, LLC, Case No. 20-10936 (6th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021) (Southwick, J.)

Jim Adler is a personal injury lawyer who trademarked and used several terms, including JIM ADLER, THE HAMMER and TEXAS HAMMER, to market his business, including via keyword advertisements. McNeil Consultants, a personal injury lawyer referral service, purchased keyword ads using Adler’s trademarked terms, which allowed McNeil’s advertisements to appear at the top of any Google search of Adler’s trademarked terms. McNeil’s advertisements used generic personal injury terms, did not identify any particular law firm and clicking on the ads placed a phone call to McNeil’s call center rather than directing the user to a website. The call center used a generic greeting so consumers did not realize with whom they were speaking.

Adler filed suit against McNeil, asserting Texas state law claims as well as trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. McNeil moved to dismiss, arguing that its keyword ads did not create a likelihood of confusion. The district court agreed and dismissed Adler’s complaint. Adler appealed.

To successfully plead a trademark infringement claim under Fifth Circuit law, the holder of a protectable trademark must establish that the alleged infringing use “creates a likelihood of confusion as to source, affiliation, or sponsorship.” To determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists, the Court weighs a non-exhaustive list of several confusion factors, including the similarity of the marks, the similarity of the products, the defendant’s intent and the care exercised by potential consumers.

The Fifth Circuit explained that Adler alleged initial interest confusion, which exists where the confusion creates consumer interest in the infringing party’s services even where no sale is completed because of the confusion. The Court noted that this case presented the first opportunity for the Fifth Circuit to consider initial interest confusion as it pertains to search engine keyword advertising. Relying on Ninth Circuit precedent and parallel reasoning to its own opinions on initial interest confusion in the context of metatag usage, the Court concluded that Adler’s complaint alleged a plausible claim of trademark infringement under the Lanham Act.

The Fifth Circuit noted that initial interest confusion alone is not enough to raise a Lanham Act claim. The Court explained that if a consumer searches TOYOTA and is directed to search results containing a purchased ad clearly labeled as selling VOLKSWAGEN products, a consumer who clicks on the VOLKSWAGEN ad has been distracted, not confused or misled into purchasing the wrong product. Distraction does not violate the Lanham Act. However, the Court explained that where the use of keyword ads creates confusion as to the source of the advertisement—not mere distraction—an infringement may have occurred. Because McNeil’s advertisements were admittedly generic and could have been associated with any personal injury law firm, the Court found that the keyword [...]

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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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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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Don’t Count Your Lamborghinis Before Your Trademark is in Use

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment, finding that a trademark registrant had alleged infringement of its trademark without having engaged in bona fide use of the trademark in commerce, as required by the Lanham Act. The Court found no material issue of fact as to whether the registrant had used the mark in commerce in a manner to properly secure registration, and the alleged infringer therefore was entitled to cancellation of the registration. Social Technologies LLC v. Apple Inc., Case No. 320-15241 (9th Cir. July 13, 2021) (Restani, J., sitting by designation)

This dispute traces back to a 2016 intent-to-use US trademark application filed by Social Technologies for the mark MEMOJI in connection with a mobile phone software application. After filing its application, Social Technologies engaged in some early-stage activities to develop a business plan and seek investors. On June 4, 2018, Apple announced its own MEMOJI software, acquired from a third party, that allowed users to transform images of themselves into emoji-style characters. At that date, Social Technologies had not yet written any code for its own app and had engaged only in promotional activities for the planned software.

Apple’s MEMOJI announcement triggered Social Technologies to rush to develop its MEMOJI app, which it launched three weeks later (although system bugs caused the app to be removed promptly from the Google Play Store). Social Technologies then used that app launch to submit a statement of use for its trademark application in order to secure registration of the MEMOJI trademark. The record also showed that over the course of those three weeks, Social Technologies’ co-founder and president sent several internal emails urging acceleration of the software development in preparation to file a trademark infringement lawsuit against Apple, writing to the company’s developers that it was “[t]ime to get paid, gentlemen,” and to “[g]et your Lamborghini picked out!”

By September 2018, Apple had initiated a petition before the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board to cancel Social Technologies’ MEMOJI registration. Social Technologies responded by filing a lawsuit for trademark infringement and seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement and validity of its MEMOJI registration. When both parties moved for summary judgement, the district court determined that Social Technologies had not engaged in bona fide use of the MEMOJI trademark and held that Apple was entitled to cancellation of Social Technologies’ registration. Social Technologies appealed.

Reviewing the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, the Ninth Circuit framed its analysis under the Lanham Act’s use in commerce requirement, which requires bona fide use of a mark in the ordinary course of trade and “not merely to reserve a right” in the mark. The issue on appeal was whether Social Technologies used the MEMOJI mark in commerce in such a manner to render its trademark registration valid.

The Ninth Circuit then explained the Lanham Act’s use in commerce requirement, which requires “use of a genuine character” determined by the totality of the circumstances (including “non-sales [...]

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Ninth Circuit Still Signals Shift in Arbitration Landscape for Non-Signatories

In a decision substantively the same as the now-withdrawn opinion entered on January 20, 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit once again affirmed denial of a non-signatory’s motion to compel arbitration. Setty v. Shrinivas Sugandhalaya LLP, Case No.18-35573 (9th Cir. July 7, 2021) (Nelson, J.) (Bea, J., dissenting).

Following the June 8, 2021, withdrawal of its original decision, the Ninth Circuit again found that federal rather than Indian law should apply, this time focusing on the New York Convention and its implementing legislation’s emphasis on “the need for uniformity in the application of international arbitration agreements.” The Court further reasoned that it applies “federal substantive law” in cases involving the New York Convention when determining the arbitrability of federal claims by or against non-signatories. The Ninth Circuit then pointed back to GE Energy, the decision that prompted the initial remand, stating that although the Supreme Court of the United States “specifically concluded” that “the New York Convention does not conflict with enforcement of arbitration agreements by non-signatories under domestic-law equitable estoppel doctrines,” the Supreme Court did not determine whether GE Energy could enforce the arbitration clauses under principles of equitable estoppel, nor did it determine which body of law governed.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that while “a non-signatory could compel arbitration in a New York Convention case,” the facts presented here did not implicate the agreement that contained the arbitration clause. Clarifying its prior holding, the Ninth Circuit stated explicitly that the claims here had “no relationship with the partnership deed containing the arbitration agreement at issue in this appeal.” Repeating its earlier ruling, the Court reasoned that the subject matter of the dispute was not intertwined and thus the doctrine of equitable estoppel was not applicable.

Judge Carlos Bea again dissented on the choice of law issue. Although most of his opinion was similar to his prior analysis, Judge Bea indicated that he disagreed with the majority’s notion that federal substantive law is applied in cases involving the arbitrability of federal claims by or against non-signatories under the New York Convention. Judge Bea argued that there was no basis to make such a choice of law analysis for a motion to compel dependent on whether the plaintiff’s claims sounded in federal or state law, and that whether an arbitration agreement is otherwise governed by the New York Convention is irrelevant to the choice of law for an equitable estoppel claim.

Practice Note: The Setty decision appears to demonstrate a shift in the US arbitration landscape, and parties may begin to see an increase in the use of equitable estoppel theories by non-signatories. Practitioners should keep in mind that non-signatories may use this theory affirmatively to attempt to compel arbitration, but it may open the door to enforcement of an obligation to arbitrate against non-signatories as well.




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