Golden State of Mind: Witness Convenience Isn’t Based Solely on Travel Distance

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ordered a district court to transfer a patent infringement case from Texas to California because the district court had wrongly assessed facts relating to the convenience of witnesses when it originally denied a motion to transfer venue. In re: Apple Inc., Case No. 22-128 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 22, 2022) (Dyk, Reyna, Chen, JJ.) (non-precedential).

CPC Patent Technologies PTY Ltd. filed a lawsuit against Apple in the Western District of Texas, alleging that Apple’s mobile phones, tablets and computing products equipped with Touch ID, Face ID or Apple Card features infringed three of CPC’s patents relating to biometric security. Apple moved to transfer to the Northern District of California, arguing that its employees responsible for the design, development and engineering of the accused functionality resided either in California or outside of the United States, and that the employees most knowledgeable about the marketing, licensing and financial issues relating to the accused products resided in California. Apple explained that no employees with relevant information worked in Western Texas.

The district court denied Apple’s motion. After acknowledging that the action might have been brought in Northern California, the district court analyzed the private and public interest factors governing transfer determinations. The court determined that the factor concerning the convenience of willing witnesses slightly favored transfer. However, the court determined that the factor accounting for the availability of compulsory process weighed strongly against transfer. The district court also determined that court congestion and practical problems factors weighed against transfer based on its ability to quickly reach trial and the fact that CPC had another pending infringement suit in Western Texas. The district court recognized that Apple had identified seven relevant witnesses in California who would have to travel to Texas but found that inconvenience was counterbalanced by the presence of two Apple employees in Austin who CPC insisted had relevant information, and an Apple witness in Florida who would “find it about twice as inconvenient to travel to [Northern California] than to [Western Texas] because Texas sits halfway from Florida to California.” The district court also relied on its ability to compel the third-party Mac Pro manufacturer in Western Texas to attend trial. Finally, the Court noted that there was local interest in the dispute because Apple employs thousands of workers in Western Texas. Balancing these facts, the district court determined that Apple had failed to meet the burden of proving that Northern California was clearly more convenient that Western Texas, and thus denied the motion. Apple petitioned for mandamus review.

The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that Apple had shown clear entitlement to transfer to the Northern District of California. The Court found that the district court erroneously relied on two Apple employees in Austin whom CPC identified as potential witnesses and concluded that it was far from clear that either employee had relevant or material information. One employee had testified that he worked on authentication technology that was different from that accused by CPC, [...]

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PTO Updates DOCX Filings, Delays Surcharge Fee

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) recently announced that the surcharge fee for patent applications that are not filed in DOCX format will not go into effect until January 1, 2023. During the period before non-DOCX filings are hit with the surcharge fee, the PTO is encouraging applicants to begin filing patent applications in DOCX format (87 Fed. Reg. 25226). To address concerns some applicants have raised and to allow applicants to get acclimated to the process of filing applications in DOCX format, the PTO is providing applicants with the option to submit an applicant-generated PDF version of their application along with the DOCX file(s) when filing an application in the Patent Center without having to pay additional fees, such as application size fees.

Applicants who choose to submit an applicant-generated PDF with the validated DOCX file(s) will be able to rely on the applicant-generated PDF if a discrepancy occurs during the filing process. Once the non-DOCX filing surcharge fee officially goes into effect, applicants who submit an applicant-generated PDF with the validated DOCX file(s) will need to pay the surcharge fee and any other additional fees as a consequence for filing the applicant-generated PDF. This new document description is called “Auxiliary PDF of application,” and the corresponding document code is AUX.PDF.

The PTO advises:

Applicants are strongly encouraged to review their applications, including the USPTO-generated PDF, shortly after filing the application to identify any errors or discrepancies in the record, as discussed above. The applicant should file any necessary petition to correct the record early in prosecution and promptly after discovering any errors or discrepancies.




Wild and Untamed Trademarks: Madrid Protocol Grants Right of Priority as of Constructive Use Date

Addressing for the first time the question of enforceability of a priority of right in a trademark granted pursuant to the Madrid Protocol where the registrant’s actual use in commerce began after the allegedly infringing use, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the Madrid Protocol grants priority as of the constructive use date, but to prevail on an infringement action based on that superior right of priority, the registrant must still establish the requisite likelihood of confusion under the Lanham Act. Lodestar Anstalt v. Bacardi & Co., Case No. 19-55864 (9th Cir. Apr. 21, 2022) (Baldock, Berzon, Collins, JJ.)

Under the Madrid Protocol, applicants with trademarks in another country may obtain an “extension of protection” (generally equivalent to trademark registration) in the United States without needing to first use the mark in US commerce. Instead, the grant may be based on an applicant’s declaration of bona fide intent to use its mark in the United States.

In 2000 and 2001, Lichtenstein-based company Lodestar developed a brand of Irish whiskey called “The Wild Geese,” which was marketed in the US as “The Wild Geese Soldiers & Heroes.” Around 2008 and 2009, Lodestar developed the idea for the “Untamed” word marks, and in 2009 the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) accepted for filing two applications on behalf of Lodestar seeking extension of protection under the Madrid Protocol for the internationally registered “Untamed” word marks. The PTO published the marks for opposition, then granted the extensions of protection in 2011. In 2013, Lodestar developed a rum under The Wild Geese Soldiers and Heroes brand that used the Untamed word mark on the label. The rum was shown at the April 2013 Rum Renaissance Trade Show in Florida, where consumers sampled the rum. The rum was also featured in print advertisements associated with the trade show. But by June 2013, Lodestar had “decided to park the USA rum project as [it was] getting better returns in other markets.”

In 2012, Bacardi began developing the ad campaign “Bacardi Untameable.” Before launching the campaign, Bacardi ran a trademark clearance search that turned up Lodestar’s “Untamed” trademarks. From 2013 to 2017, Bacardi ran its “Bacardi Untameable” campaign. In response, Lodestar began promoting a then-nonexistent product “Untamed Revolutionary Rum” in an effort “to complement the Wild Geese Rum and also to combat Bacardi’s attempts to take over our Untamed mark.” In January 2015, the first Untamed Revolutionary Rum was sold to US retailers. In August 2016, Lodestar sued Bacardi for trademark infringement, arguing injury based on reverse confusion, as well as associated claims for unfair competition. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Bacardi. Lodestar appealed.

The Ninth Circuit found that the district court erred on the threshold question of whether Lodestar’s Revolutionary Rum should be considered in the analysis of likelihood of confusion. The district court had found that the relevant products were those existing prior to launch of Bacardi’s campaign (excluding the later-created Revolutionary Rum). The Court found [...]

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It’s Not in the Bag: TTAB Refuses to Register Generic Handbag Design

Ending a hard-fought three-year campaign to secure registration of a popular handbag, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Trademark Trial & Appeal Board designated as precedential its decision refusing registration of the product configuration mark, deeming it a generic configuration not eligible for trademark registration. The Board also concluded that even if the bag design had not been generic, the applicant failed to make a necessary showing that the design of the bag had acquired distinctiveness. In re Jasmin Larian, LLC, Serial No. 87522459 (TTAB, Jan. 19, 2022; redesignated Mar. 29, 2022) (Cataldo, Lynch, Allard, ATJ).

Fashion brand CULT GAIA’s “ARK” handbag is composed of bamboo strips creating a creating a see-through “sunburst design,” and has been carried by celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jessica Alba. The brand’s founder and CEO Jasmin Larian sought registration on the Principal Register of the following mark for a three-dimensional handbag:

After several years of examination, the examining attorney ultimately issued a final refusal on the ground that the proposed configuration was a generic configuration, or alternatively, was a nondistinctive product design that had not acquired distinctiveness. Larian appealed to the Board.

Acknowledging the commercial success of the CULT GAIA ARK bag, the Board explained that the issue before it was whether the proposed mark was generic (i.e., a common handbag design), or, alternatively, whether the bag constituted a nondistinctive product design that had acquired distinctiveness. The Board tackled both questions, since similar evidence was relevant to both inquiries.

A trademark must be distinctive to be eligible for registration. Such distinctiveness is measured on a spectrum, where one side of the spectrum is made up of generic terms or generic designs (i.e., non-distinctive and non-protectable as trademarks) and the other side is made up of registrable trademarks that are arbitrary or fanciful. Suggestive trademarks fall somewhere in the middle. In the context of product designs, genericness may be found where the design is so common in the industry that the design cannot be said to identify a particular source of the product. Generic product designs fail to function as a trademark. Genericness is assessed by determining the genus of the goods or services at issue, then determining whether the consuming public primarily regards the design sought to be registered as a category or type of trade dress for the genus of goods or services. For the ARK bag, the applicant and the examining attorney agreed that “handbags” was the genus of the goods at issue. The relevant consuming public was found to consist of ordinary consumers who purchase handbags.

The Board reviewed the evidence of record to assess the significance of the bag design to ordinary consumers, i.e., whether they viewed the configuration of the bag as a source-identifying trademark or merely as a common handbag design. The Board detailed eight different categories of evidence, which, according to the Board, showed that “in the decades leading up to and the years immediately preceding [...]

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Notice Letters, Related Communications May Establish Specific Personal Jurisdiction

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected a bright-line rule that patent infringement notice letters and related communications can never form the basis for specific personal jurisdiction. Apple Inc. v. Zipit Wireless, Inc., Case No. 21-1760 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 18, 2022) (Hughes, Mayer, Stoll, JJ.)

Zipit owns two patents directed to wireless instant messaging devices that send and receive instant messages via Wi-Fi. Since 2013, Zipit and Apple have communicated and met at Apple’s offices in Cupertino, California, to discuss the possible purchase or license of Zipit’s patents. Zipit also sent Apple an e-mail in 2015 about “Apple’s Ongoing Infringement” and another e-mail later that year about “Apple’s Ongoing Willful Infringement,” addressed to Apple’s Cupertino office. In 2020, Zipit sued Apple in Georgia for patent infringement, but ultimately moved to dismiss the case without prejudice. Apple subsequently filed a complaint in Northern District of California seeking a declaratory judgment of noninfringement. Zipit moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Although the district court found that Apple had established requisite minimum contacts and Zipit had not established a compelling case that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable, the court ultimately dismissed Apple’s action for lack of personal jurisdiction. Apple appealed.

The Federal Circuit began its analysis by considering Zipit’s contacts with California, finding that that this case was not “one of the ‘rare’ situations in which sufficient minimum contacts exists but where the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable.” The Court explained that that foreseeability (whether a defendant should reasonably anticipate being hauled into court) is a critical component is assessing specific personal jurisdiction. Citing the Supreme Court of the United States’ 1985 decision in Burger King v. Rudzewicz, the Court considered three factors relevant to assessing specific jurisdiction:

  • Whether a defendant purposefully directed its activities at residents of the forum
  • Whether the claim arose out of or related to the defendant’s activities within the forum
  • Whether asserting personal jurisdiction was reasonable and fair.

The Federal Circuit found that Apple had established that Zipit had minimum contacts with California by directing its activities to California by letters and claim charts, and traveling to Apple’s California offices for related discussions. The Court further noted Zipit’s escalation of its infringement allegations, going “so far as twice describing Apple’s infringement as willful” and keeping Apple apprised of the patents’ ongoing inter partes review status.

The Federal Circuit next found that the district court erred in finding that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable because Zipit’s contacts with California all related to the “attempted resolution of the status of the patents-in-suit, i.e., for the purpose of warning against infringement.” The Court explained that the “settlement-promoting policy” that a right holder trying settle disputes should be permitted to send a notice letter to a party in a particular forum without being hauled into court in that forum was relevant, but noted that this policy cannot “control the inquiry” and must be considered together with other Burger King factors [...]

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