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Fifth Circuit Takes U-Turn, But Still Concludes Automotive Supplier Can’t Force SEP Holder to Issue License

In response to a petition for panel rehearing, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior decision finding that an automotive parts supplier did not have constitutional standing to pursue an antitrust lawsuit against owners of standard essential patents (SEPs). The Court issued a new opinion summarily affirming the district court’s original decision finding constitutional standing but dismissed the case based on lack of antitrust standing. Continental Automotive Systems, Inc. v. Avanci, LLC et al., Case No. 20-11032 (5th Cir. June 21, 2022) (Stewart, Ho, Engelhardt, JJ.) (per curiam).

Continental sued several SEP holders and their licensing agent, Avanci, for violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act based on Avanci’s refusal to license the SEPs on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms. Avanci moved to dismiss, arguing that Continental lacked both constitutional standing and antitrust standing. The district court found that Continental had constitutional standing because its lack of success obtaining licenses on FRAND terms was an injury. However, the district court found that Continental lacked antitrust standing and therefore dismissed the lawsuit. Continental appealed.

The Fifth Circuit issued its original opinion in March 2022, finding that Continental’s theory of injury was insufficient to confer constitutional standing. The Court explained that Avanci’s refusal to sell licenses did not result in a cognizable injury to Continental, and that Continental had no rights to enforce FRAND contracts between the individual patent holders and the standard setting organization (SSO) since Continental was not part of the SSO to which the SEP holders belonged. The Court also found that even if Continental was contractually entitled to a license on FRAND terms, the SSO contract had not been breached because the individual patent holders fulfilled their obligations to the SSO by actively licensing Continental’s customer, which meant that the SEP licenses were (derivatively) available to Continental on FRAND terms. Finding that Continental lacked constitutional standing, the Court did not reach the issue of whether Continental lacked antitrust standing.

Continental filed a petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc. Numerous third parties, including legal and economic scholars, industry associations and tech companies, also filed amici briefs supporting Continental, arguing that the Fifth Circuit wrongly found that Continental was not an intended beneficiary of the FRAND obligations that the SEP owners made to the relevant SSO.

On June 14, 2022, the Fifth Circuit issued an order withdrawing its March 2022 opinion. A week later, the Court issued a new opinion summarily stating that “[h]aving reviewed the district court’s detailed order, and considered the oral arguments and briefs filed by the parties and amicus curiae, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court that Continental failed to state claims under Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.”

Practice Note: Although the ultimate outcome did not change, the Fifth Circuit withdrew its previous finding that third-party beneficiaries to SSOs did not have constitutional standing to file a lawsuit.




Oh Snap: Sufficient Reasoning Must Support Declaratory Judgment Dismissal

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the dismissal of a declaratory judgment action because the district court failed to sufficiently support its decision. Mitek Systems, Inc. v. United Services Automobile Association, Case No. 21-1989 (Fed. Cir. May 20, 2022) (Dyk, Taranto, Cunningham, JJ.)

United Services Automobile Association (USAA) owns four patents directed to using a mobile device to capture and transmit an image of a bank check for deposit. Mitek created software for mobile check capture called MiSnap™, which it licenses in the form of a software development kit to financial institutions. In 2017, USAA sent letters to Mitek’s customers, some with claim charts and patent lists. The customers subsequently demanded indemnification by Mitek. In 2018, USAA sued Wells Fargo, a Mitek customer, in the Eastern District of Texas. As the case progressed, USAA served a subpoena on Mitek seeking documents, source code and testimony about MiSnap™. The case went to trial on two of the four patents, and Mitek and its products were frequently mentioned.

Shortly thereafter, Mitek filed a complaint in California seeking declaratory judgment of no infringement as to all four USAA patents. To support jurisdiction for its declaratory judgment claim, Mitek alleged that there was real and substantial apprehension of imminent litigation between Mitek and USAA for infringement of the patents-in-suit. In response, USAA argued that there was no case or controversy as required by Article III of the Constitution, and thus the case should be dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. USAA also argued that the California court should exercise discretion to decline to hear claims for declaratory relief. USAA requested alternatively that the action be transferred to the Eastern District of Texas.

The California court transferred the case to the Eastern District of Texas. The Texas court then dismissed the action for lack of a case or controversy and stated that the court would exercise discretion to decline to entertain the declaratory judgment action. Mitek appealed.

Addressing subject matter jurisdiction, the Federal Circuit explained that the question was “whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interest, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment.” Along these lines, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to establish jurisdiction at the time of the complaint, and a case or controversy must remain present throughout the course of the suit. The Court found that the Texas court’s decision provided insufficient reasoning for dismissal because it failed to identify first whether to treat the Rule 12(b)(1) motion as a facial or factual challenge, as required under Fifth Circuit precedent. The Federal Circuit instructed the district court on remand to explore any post-filing events that may have impacted jurisdiction, as well as similarities between Mitek’s relationships with Wells Fargo and other customers.

The Federal Circuit found that the district court’s case or controversy analysis was similarly inadequate. The Court explained [...]

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Déjà vu Decision on Likelihood of Confusion

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a trademark suit that was essentially identical to a previous lawsuit that was dismissed based on a finding of lack of confusion. Springboards to Education, Inc. v. Pharr San Juan Alamo Independent School District, Case No. 21-40336 (5th Cir. May 10, 2022) (Willett, Engelhardt, Wilson, JJ.)

Springboards sells products to school districts in connection with its “Read a Million Words Campaign.” The campaign builds excitement around reading by incentivizing school children to read books through promises of induction into the Millionaire’s Reading Club and access to rewards, such as t-shirts, backpacks and fake money. Springboards’ goods may typically bear any combination of trademarks that it registered with the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO), including “Read a Million Words,” “Million Dollar Reader,” “Millionaire Reader” and “Millionaire’s Reading Club.”

Pharr San Juan Alamo (PSJA) is a public school district in Hidalgo County, Texas. Springboards sued PSJA in 2016 in federal court, alleging trademark infringement based on the school district’s use of “millionaire”-themed reading incentive programs allegedly “using products and services bearing marks and branding identical to or confusingly similar to Springboards’ marks.” While the case was pending, the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Springboards to Education, Inc. v. Houston Independent School District, where it found that another public school district’s summer reading program did not infringe Springboards’ trademarks. Observing the parallels between the Houston case and the PSJA case, the district court granted PSJA’s motion for summary judgment that it did not infringe any of Springboards’ trademarks. Springboards appealed.

Calling it “déjà vu all over again,” the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that PSJA’s use of Springboards’ marks was not likely to cause confusion. The Court explained that distinguishing between Springboards’ catalog of “millionaire”-themed goods and unaffiliated “millionaire”-themed goods that other educational entities have elected to deploy is not difficult, and unique imprints on “millionaire”-themed reading challenges are widespread in the educational field. The Court noted that as in Houston, Springboards did not allege that PSJA itself is in the business of competing with Springboards by selling its own “millionaire”-themed products to the school districts that make up Springboards’ customer base. The Court thus concluded that PSJA’s use of a million-word reaching challenge did not confuse and was not intended to confuse the sophisticated school districts that Springboards targets with its marks.

Springboards tried to distinguish the Houston case by arguing that the Houston school district had one summer reading program whereas PSJA has had several year-long reading programs and that the requirements of PSJA’s reading program are identical—and not merely similar to—Springboards’ model program. Springboards also noted that its founder worked his entire career in Hildago County (where PSJA is located) and visited schools, teachers and administrators in the district—unlike Houston, which was over 300 miles away. The Court found that these facts did not move the needle, in light of its finding that sophisticated school district customers can [...]

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Self-Dealing Lawyer Held Jointly and Severally Liable in Trade Secret Misappropriation

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a judgment holding a lawyer jointly and severally liable for trade secret misappropriation and fraudulent transfer and enjoining any further use of the trade secrets until a money judgment against the lawyer-purchased client business was satisfied. Thomas v. Hughes, Case No. 20-50671 (5th Cir. Mar. 3, 2022) (Wilson, J.)

James Pearcy founded Performance Products, Inc., (PPI) to develop and sell probiotics for livestock. In 2006, Pearcy sold PPI to his lawyer, Lou Ann Hughes. Hughes paid cash for PPI’s stock and agreed that PPI would pay Pearcy a 14% licensing royalty for use of his proprietary formulations, up to $1.35 million over five years, at the end of which PPI would have the option to purchase Pearcy’s formulations for $100,000. When PPI did not fully pay the royalties, Pearcy brought a Texas state court action against Hughes and PPI for breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of fiduciary duty. The jury found for Pearcy, and the Texas court entered judgment against PPI in the amount of $1 million. Hughes and PPI appealed the Texas judgment and posted a supersedeas bond, but the appeal was unsuccessful. Pearcy received the supersedeas bond, but PPI never paid the balance of the judgment. Pearcy sought post-judgment discovery and set a hearing on a motion to compel. The day before the hearing, PPI filed for bankruptcy.

Earlier, in 2006, Hughes had formed a second entity called Performance Products International, LLC. At the time of the Texas judgment, the LLC had no assets. During pendency of the Texas appeal, Hughes changed the second entity’s name to Performance Probiotics, LLC, and obtained a license to sell and distribute commercial livestock feed. In January 2012, Hughes ceased selling products through PPI and began selling them through the LLC. Hughes also formed a third entity called Advance Probiotics International, LLC (API).

Shortly after PPI declared bankruptcy, Pearcy’s widow (also Pearcy) and PPI’s bankruptcy trustee (Thomas) sued Hughes, Performance Probiotics and API in federal court for misappropriation of trade secrets and fraudulent transfer of PPI’s assets in violation of the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (TUFTA). The plaintiffs sought to pierce the corporate veil of both Performance Probiotics and API, alleging that Hughes had used them to commit fraud. Thomas further alleged that Hughes had breached her fiduciary duty to PPI. At trial, the jury found for Pearcy and Thomas, awarding about $1.4 million plus interest in actual damages, which was derived from the amount then due under the Texas judgment. The jury further awarded $1.2 million in exemplary damages., The district court entered final judgment, further ordering Hughes to disgorge $860,000 in compensation from Performance Probiotics. The district court enjoined Hughes and Performance Probiotics from using Pearcy’s trade secrets until the judgment was fully satisfied and held Hughes and Performance Probiotics jointly and severally liable for “all relief granted” and “all amounts due” under the Texas judgment. The district court retained jurisdiction over API in case [...]

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Supplier Can’t Complain when SEP Holder Refuses to License

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit determined that an automotive parts supplier did not have constitutional standing to pursue an antitrust lawsuit against standard essential patent (SEP) owners that refused to directly license SEPs to the supplier on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms. Continental Automotive Systems, Inc. v. Avanci, LLC et al., Case No. 20-11032 (5th Cir. Feb. 28, 2022) (Stewart, Ho, Engelhardt, JJ.)

Continental supplies telematic control units that are embedded in connected cars. The telematic control units provide wireless connectivity using 2G, 3G and 4G cellular standards, allowing users to stream music, navigate to destinations and call for emergency assistance directly from cars. Nokia, PanOptis, and Sharp all claim to own or license SEPs essential to the 2G, 3G, and 4G cellular standards set by standard-setting organizations (SSO). In order to facilitate patent licensing, these individual patent holders (along with many others) entered into an agreement with Avanci, which acts as a licensing agent for the patent holders. Under the agreement, Avanci may sell patent licenses only to car manufacturers or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), both of which are downstream from Continental in the supply chain. The agreement permits the patent holders to individually license their SEPs to suppliers such as Continental at FRAND rates.

Continental unsuccessfully sought a license from Avanci at FRAND rates. According to Avanci, licenses were available to Continental on FRAND terms from individual SEP holders, and Continental did not need SEP licenses since Avanci sells licenses to OEMs that incorporate Continental’s products. Continental sued Avanci and the individual patent holders, arguing that Avanci’s refusal to sell a license to Continental on FRAND terms constituted anticompetitive conduct in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Avanci moved to dismiss the complaint. As to the threshold issue of constitutional standing, Continental presented two theories of injury that it asserted conferred standing. Continental’s first theory of injury was that if Avanci and the individual patent holders succeeded in licensing the OEMs at non-FRAND rates, the royalties owed on those licenses might be passed through to Continental via indemnity agreements. Continental’s second theory of injury was that Avanci and the individual patent holders declined to provide Continental with a license on FRAND terms, and this denial of property was sufficient injury to establish standing. The district court rejected Continental’s first theory but accepted the second theory, finding that Continental’s unsuccessful attempts to obtain licenses on FRAND terms was an injury that conferred constitutional standing. Even though the district court found that Continental had constitutional standing, it dismissed Continental’s Sherman Act claims for lack of antitrust standing and for failure to plausibly plead certain elements. Continental appealed.

The Fifth Circuit concluded that neither of Continental’s theories of injury were sufficient to confer constitutional standing. As to the first alleged injury, the Court agreed with the district court and found that was too speculative since it depended on several layers of decisions by the OEMs—namely, decisions to accept non-FRAND licenses and then invoke indemnification rights against [...]

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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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No Service, No Notice

Addressing the notice requirements of Fed. R. of Civ. Pro. 65(a)(1), the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated a preliminary injunction, finding that the aggrieved party did not have sufficient notice of the possibility of a preliminary injunction. Document Operations, L.L.C., v. AOS Legal Tech., Inc., Case No. 20-20388 (5th Cir. Aug. 23, 2021) (Per Curiam) (unpublished).

In 2017, Doc. Ops. entered into a licensing agreement by which AOS Japan would serve as the company’s exclusive representative and marketing provider in Japan for its virtual data room technology. Later, Doc. Ops. learned that a competing product known as AOS VDR had been developed by AOS Korea and would soon be marketed in the two Asian countries. Despite protests from AOS Japan that AOS Korea developed AOS VDR independently, Doc. Ops. filed suit alleging violation of the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act and for common law breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, conversion, civil conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty.

The licensing agreement mandated that AOS Japan protect Doc. Ops.’ confidential information and also prohibited AOS Japan from acting to “represent, promote, develop, or otherwise try to sell within [Japan] any lines of product that. . . compete with [the technology].” Doc. Ops. sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) as well as preliminary injunction and filed and emailed copies of the complaint and TRO motion to AOS representatives. Once a Zoom hearing was scheduled, Doc. Ops. again contacted AOS to inform it of the hearing date. When AOS failed to appear at the hearing, the district court chose to reschedule the hearing three weeks later in order to ensure that AOS was aware of the hearing.

During this three-week interval, Doc. Ops. continued to communicate relevant dates and filings with AOS, which had appointed Texas-based counsel. One of these communications included a letter from Doc. Ops. to the district court stating that if the district court granted its TRO motion, Doc. Ops. would seek to conduct limited expedited discovery to prepare for a subsequent preliminary injunction. AOS failed to appear at the second hearing, stating that it would not appear until served with process. Subsequently, the district court not only granted the TRO motion and the related request for expedited discovery but also issued a preliminary injunction against AOS. AOS appealed both the preliminary injunction and the order granting expedited discovery.

The Fifth Circuit first explained that Rule 65 requires sufficient notice for a preliminary injunction, which the Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted as implying a hearing where the defendant is given a fair opportunity to oppose the preliminary injunction. The Court contrasted the notice requirement for preliminary injunctions from the more informal notice requirement for TROs. While TRO hearings are sometimes converted into preliminary injunction hearings, this conversion has two requirements: Sufficient notice and an opportunity to meaningfully prepare and respond.

The Fifth Circuit found that while AOS certainly had notice that a preliminary injunction was looming, it lacked sufficient notice that this relief would [...]

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Publisher’s Co-Authorship Claim Arises Under Copyright Act, Invoking Exclusive Federal Jurisdiction

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a copyright authorship dispute, finding that the district court had exclusive jurisdiction over the case because a book publisher’s claim of co-authorship arose under the federal Copyright Act, not state contract law. Di Angelo Publ’ns, Inc. v. Kelley, Case No. 20-20523 (5th Cir. Aug. 12, 2021) (Higginbotham, J.)

Makeup artist Jentry Kelley and Di Angelo Publications entered into a publishing contract for Kelley’s cosmetics book. Kelley provided Di Angelo with an initial three-page manuscript, which Di Angelo claimed it then transformed into a book while communicating and collaborating with Kelley. The book listed Kelley only as the holder of the book’s copyright. After an initial 1,000-copy print run, Kelley asked Di Angelo to prepare an updated or revised version of the book for sale. Di Angelo claimed it had prepared the updated work when it discovered that Kelley was attempting to work directly with Di Angelo’s printer to reduce the costs she would incur selling the revised edition, which violated the parties’ contract.

After unsuccessful overtures to the printer, Kelley filed a complaint in Harris County, Texas, asking for rescission of the parties’ contract because Di Angelo intentionally misled her regarding publishing costs and overcharged her for publishing services. Kelley alleged that she was the sole copyright owner and that Di Angelo did not develop or have any intellectual property rights in connection with the book. Di Angelo counterclaimed for breach of contract, among other claims, and sought a declaratory judgment that Kelley failed to substantially perform under the contract. Di Angelo alleged that Kelley had prevented it from selling the updated edition of the book.

Following partial summary judgment in favor of Kelley, including on the declaratory judgment claim, Di Angelo filed suit in the Southern District of Texas. Di Angelo disputed Kelley’s claim to exclusive copyright ownership and asserted a single claim for relief: A declaration that Di Angelo owned the copyright in the two editions of the book, as well as any derivative works, and had rights in their printing and distribution. Additionally,Di Angelo alleged that it acquired copyrights in the books by “writing, editing, planning and taking all photographs and making all illustrations, and planning, designing, and arranging the layout” of the book. Kelley moved to dismiss Di Angelo’s declaratory relief claim, characterizing the suit as an end-run around the Harris County rulings against Di Angelo and arguing that there was no federal jurisdiction because Di Angelo’s claim was premised solely on Kelley’s alleged breach of the contract, which was governed by Texas law. Di Angelo responded that resolution of the authorship dispute required the district court to interpret federal copyright law, including definitional and ownership provisions, which the state court lacked jurisdiction to address. The district court agreed with Kelley on the jurisdictional question and granted the motion to dismiss. Noting that the parties’ contract referred to Kelley as the “author,” the district court found that that Di Angelo’s claim [...]

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Federal Circuit Lacks Appellate Jurisdiction over Standalone Walker Process Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ordered the transfer of a case asserting standalone Walker Process antitrust claims involving an unenforceable patent to the regional circuit, in this case the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Chandler v. Phoenix Services LLC, Case No. 20-1848 (Fed Cir. June 10, 2021) (Hughes, J.) The case originated in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, over which the Fifth Circuit has appellate jurisdiction. The decision to transfer was based on a subject matter jurisdiction analysis for Walker Process claims. The Federal Circuit reiterated that its precedent does not mandate exclusive Federal Circuit jurisdiction over all Walker Process cases.

In 2006, Phoenix Services and Mark Fisher (collectively, Phoenix) acquired a company called Heat On-The-Fly and its patent to protect a purported proprietary fracking process. Heat-On-The-Fly, and later Phoenix, sought to enforce the patent against numerous parties. During the patent application process, however, Heat On-The-Fly had failed to disclose numerous public uses of the fracking process prior to the application filing. In 2018, in an unrelated case, Energy Heating, LLC v. Heat On-The-Fly, the Federal Circuit, held that “failure to disclose prior uses of the fracking process rendered the . . . patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.” The plaintiffs in the case at hand, Ronald Chandler, Chandler MFG., Newco Enterprises and Supertherm Heating Services (collectively, Chandler), alleged that Phoenix’s continued enforcement of the patent violated Walker Process pursuant to § 2 of the Sherman Act.

Walker Process monopolization claims originate from a 1965 Supreme Court decision that recognized an antitrust cause of action under the Sherman and Clayton Acts when a party fraudulently obtains a patent for the purpose of attempted monopolization. Walker Process Equipment, Inc. v. Food Machinery & Chemical Corp. To succeed on a Walker Process claim, a plaintiff must satisfy two elements:

  • The plaintiff must show that the defendant obtained the patent through knowing and willful fraud on the US Patent & Trademark Office and enforced that patent with knowledge of its fraudulent procurement.
  • The plaintiff must be able to satisfy all other elements for a Sherman Act monopolization claim.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1), the Federal Circuit retains jurisdiction over any civil case arising under any act of Congress relating to patents. In this instance, the Federal Circuit stated that Walker Process antitrust claims may relate to patents “in the colloquial use of the term,” but under 1988 Supreme Court precedent, Christianson v. Colt Indus., the Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction only extends to cases where the cause of action is created under federal patent law, or where the plaintiff’s right to relief “necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law.”

Here, the Federal Circuit relied on its own 2018 precedent where it analyzed subject matter jurisdiction for Walker Process claims. Xitronix Corp v. KLA-Tencor Corp. (Xitronix I). Xitronix I involved alleged fraud by the defendants to obtain a patent. The Court acknowledged [...]

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Failure to Mitigate Not a Complete Defense to Statutory Damages Under Copyright or DMCA

On an issue of first impression in a copyright infringement dispute out of the Southern District of Texas, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit confirmed that failure to mitigate is not a complete defense to copyright or Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claims for statutory damages. Energy Intelligence Grp., Inc. et. al., v. Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, LP, et. al., Case No. 18-20350 (5th Cir., January 15, 2020) (Higginson, J.).

In 2014, energy industry publisher Energy Intelligence Group, Inc. and its affiliated entity in the United Kingdom (together, EIG) filed suit against energy securities investment firm Kayne Anderson Capital Advisers (KA), alleging copyright infringement and abuses of the DMCA based on a KA partner’s violation of US copyright law and violation of his subscription agreement for EIG’s Oil Daily newsletter, which provides news and analysis about the North America petroleum industry. The jury in the district court proceeding found that EIG could have reasonably avoided almost all of the alleged copyright and DMCA violations through real-time investigations and enforcement efforts, and thus awarded EIG just over $500,000 in statutory damages for the infringement of 39 works of authorship. The district court, however, still applied the Copyright Act’s fee shifting provisions and awarded EIG over $2.6 million in attorney’s fees and costs. The parties’ consolidated appeals to the Fifth Circuit thus presented an issue of first impression: namely, whether the failure to mitigate copyright infringement is a complete defense to liability for statutory damages under the Copyright Act and the DMCA.

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