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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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10th Circuit Falls into Line on Exceptionality Doctrine in Lanham Act Cases

Addressing whether the term “exceptional case” in the Patent Act differs in meaning from the same term used in the Lanham Act, the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld an award of attorneys’ fees granted under a motion filed under 15 U.S.C. 1117(a) and clarified that the exceptional case standard in the Lanham Act parallels the standard in the Patent Act. Derma Pen, LLC v. 4EverYoung Limited, et al., Case No. 19-4114 (10th Cir. June 8, 2021) (Lucero, J.)

In 2013, Derma Pen sued several companies for infringement of the “DERMAPEN” mark. Four years later, Derma Pen was granted a permanent injunction prohibiting the companies and “their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, licensees, and anyone in active concert or participation with, aiding, assisting, or enabling Defendants” from using the mark. A few months later, Derma Pen filed for an order of contempt against one of the defendants, Stene Marshall, alleging that Marshall, with the help of other actors (related parties), had been violating the earlier-issued injunction. During the subsequent proceedings, despite being the plaintiff, Derma Pen routinely failed to meet its discovery obligations, causing the related parties to file as many as six discovery motions and resulting in the imposition of sanctions on Derma Pen.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court found Marshall in contempt of the injunction, but concluded that the related parties took no part in Marshall’s violation. Subsequently, the related parties moved for attorneys’ fees incurred in the contempt proceeding under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a). The district court granted the motion and awarded more than $190,000 in fees based on application of the “exceptional case” standard set forth in the Supreme Court of the United States’ 2014 decision in Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness. Specifically, the district court decided that the case was “exceptional” because:

  • Derma Pen produced “no evidence of damages.”
  • “[T]he evidence showed [Derma Pen] had no right to enforce the injunction.”
  • “[T]he evidence showed that [the] trademark was abandoned.”
  • “[M]onetary sanctions were imposed on” Derma Pen for misconduct and delay during discovery.
  • Derma Pen was “entitled to no relief against the [related parties].”

Derma Pen appealed.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding and fees award for the related parties, noting Derma Pen’s misconduct and delay during discovery. In so doing, the Court adopted the Octane Fitness standard as applicable to cases brought under the Lanham Act.

Practice Note: The 10th Circuit noted that it was acting consistently with other circuits that have considered application of the Octane standard to fee disputes under the Lanham Act, citing LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Perillo (7th Cir. 2019) (collecting cases); Xereas v. Heiss (DC Cir. 2021); and Safeway Transit LLC v. Disc. Party Bus, Inc. (8th Cir. 2020).




Use is ACTUALLY Measured by Benefit

Addressing whether a service mark owner had established a protectable interest in his marks through actual or analogous use, the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the alleged infringer, explaining that by focusing on sales, the district court applied the wrong legal standard for analyzing actual use. Underwood v. Bank of Am. Corp., Case Nos. 19-1349, 20-1087 (10th Cir. Apr. 30, 2021) (Matheson, J.)

In 2010, Erik Underwood and My24HourNews.com (collectively, Underwood) applied for, and were granted, registration of a service mark in Georgia for a computer-animated woman named Erica who verbally reports the news through cell phones and computer programs. In 2012, Underwood registered the domain name for a website, my24erica.com. On the website, E.R.I.C.A. could answer questions and offer recommendations regarding movies and television shows. In 2016, Bank of America filed an intent to use application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for ERICA, a mark for goods and services including voice-controlled information, personal assistant banking and finance services. Underwood sued Bank of America, alleging common law service mark infringement of two marks, E.R.I.C.A. and my24erica.com.

The district court granted summary judgment for Bank of America, concluding that Underwood had not established a protectable interest in either of the marks through actual or analogous use. Underwood appealed.

The 10th Circuit concluded that the district court applied the wrong legal standard and committed two legal errors in its analysis of the issue of actual use of the E.R.I.C.A. mark. First, the district court erred by assuming that in order to establish actual use, Underwood’s customers must have purchased the services offered or Underwood must have generated revenue, because actual use is measured by benefit—not sales to third parties. Second, the district court erred by limiting the services at issue to those listed on the Georgia registration (i.e., newscasting). Instead, the district court should have considered all services identified by the mark, including those on the my24erica.com website (i.e., search engine and personal assistant services). The Court remanded the issue of actual use to permit the district court to address the factual issues under the correct legal standard.

Analogous use of a mark is use in commerce that is non-transactional, e.g., promotional efforts for the goods or services, such as advertising brochures, catalogs, newspaper ads, and articles in newspapers and trade publications. Although actual use need not have a substantial impact on the purchasing public, analogous use must be “of such a nature and extent as to create public identification of the target term with the [user’s] product or service.” To qualify as analogous use, the use must be open and notorious, i.e., “of such a nature and extent that the mark has become popularized in the public mind so that the relevant segment of the public identifies the marked goods with the mark’s adopter.” Because the analogous use in terms of the E.R.I.C.A. mark had large gaps in time; consisted only of PowerPoint presentations at [...]

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