Fifth Circuit
Subscribe to Fifth Circuit's Posts

Thee I Dismiss: No Love for Failure to Add Necessary Party

After concluding that a trademark owner’s case for failure to add a necessary party was untenable, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of the case because the necessary party enjoyed sovereign immunity and could not be added. Lee et al. v. Anthony Lawrence Collection, L.L.C. et al., Case No. 20-30769 (5th Cir. Aug. 24, 2022) (Jolly, Elrod, Oldham. JJ.)

Curtis Bordenave and Paige Lee are in the business of owning trademarks. They petitioned the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) for a federal registration of the mark THEEILOVE. The phrase “Thee I Love” comes from Jackson State University, which has used the phrase for roughly 80 years. Collegiate Licensing Company is a licensing agent that handles the licensing of Jackson State’s trademarks to manufacturers that make and sell Jackson State merchandise.

Despite Jackson State’s decades-long use of the phrase, it never applied for a federal mark until after Bordenave and Lee had already done so. Jackson State did register a mark under Mississippi law in 2015 for use on vanity plates and in 2019 for use on other merchandise. It also claimed to have common-law rights to the mark under the Lanham Act.

Bordenave and Lee sued Collegiate Licensing Company and a few of the licensees in charge of producing and selling Jackson State’s merchandise for various claims related to their licensing, manufacturing and selling of “Thee I Love” merchandise, including trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act. Bordenave and Lee sought damages, a permanent injunction barring the defendants from producing or selling any more “infringing” merchandise, and a declaration that defendants infringed Bordenave and Lee’s registered marks. The defendants moved to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. Pro.12(b)(1) and (7), arguing that Jackson State was a required party, and because Jackson State enjoys sovereign immunity, Bordenave and Lee’s case should be dismissed. The district court dismissed the case without prejudice under Rule 12(b)(7). Bordenave and Lee appealed.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. First, the Court determined that Jackson State was a required party, stating that Jackson State had an interest in the action that would be impaired or impeded if Jackson State was not joined in the suit. The Court reasoned that even if Jackson State remained free to challenge Bordenave and Lee’s ownership of THEEILOVE elsewhere, it could still face challenges protecting its interest if it was not joined in this action.

Next, because Jackson State has sovereign immunity, the Fifth Circuit considered whether the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the case rather than proceeding without Jackson State. Jackson State enjoys sovereign immunity as an arm of the State of Mississippi. Because Jackson State had a non-frivolous claim here, the Court found that dismissal was required because of the potential injury to Jackson State’s interest as an absent sovereign.

Finally, the Fifth Circuit considered the four factors under Rule 19(b) that determine whether an action should continue without the absent party or be dismissed. [...]

Continue Reading




Bayou Jambalaya: Sanction Motions, Motions to Vacate and Trade Dress Injunctions

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a three-part ruling that affirmed the district court’s denial of a motion to vacate as void the judgment based on Rooker-Feldman doctrine because the earlier state and district court decisions were not “inextricably intertwined,” affirmed the district court’s permanent injunction because the district court based it on the Fifth Circuit’s prior decision, and affirmed the denial of a motion for Rule 11 sanctions because the filed motion was different from the Rule-11-mandated notice that was originally served. Uptown Grill, L.L.C. v. Camellia Grill Holdings, Inc., Case No. 21-30639 (5th Cir. Aug. 23, 2022) (Higginbotham, Higginson, Oldham, JJ.)

This dispute arises from three agreements between Uptown Grill and Camellia Grill: the “Cash Sale, the Bill of Sale and the License Agreement. The Cash Sale and Bill of Sale transferred property from Camellia Grill to Uptown Grill. The License Agreement granted a license to Uptown Grill to use certain trademarks and trade dress. In 2011, Camellia Grill sued Uptown Grill for breach of the License Agreement in state court. The state court found that the appellee breached the license and restored to the appellant all rights to the marks. The court did not, however, construe the Bill of Sale.

While the state court litigation was on appeal, Camellia Grill sued Uptown Grill in federal court for trademark infringement. The district court found that the Bill of Sale transferred the trademarks to Uptown Grill before execution of the License Agreement, and therefore found that Camellia Grill’s infringement claim failed. However, the district court also found that the License Agreement limited Uptown Grill’s use of the trade dress to a single restaurant, and the court issued an injunction to that effect. The Fifth Circuit affirmed these findings in a 2019 decision in Uptown Grill, LLC v. Camellia Grill Holdings, Inc., but remanded the issue of whether Uptown Grill’s use of the Camellia grill trade dress at the new restaurant location constituted a breach of the License Agreement.

On remand, Camellia Grill moved for summary judgment that Uptown Grill breached the License Agreement by using the Camellia Grill trade dress after the termination of the License Agreement. Uptown Grill moved for partial summary judgment on the trade dress injunctions, arguing that Camellia Grill lacked standing since Uptown Grill was not using any trade dress at any new locations. Camellia Grill also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which “inferior federal courts do not have the power to modify or reverse state court judgments’ except when authorized by Congress.” Finally, Uptown Grill moved for sanctions against Camellia Grill for “abusive and harassing conduct.” The district court denied both Camellia Grill’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and Uptown Grill’s motion for sanctions. The district court determined that Uptown Grill had breached the License Agreement’s post-termination provisions. The court also decided that the trade dress elements should be limited to that which is protectable under [...]

Continue Reading




Fifth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Walker Process Claim, Disagrees with Federal Circuit Transfer of Action

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a summary judgment order dismissing a Walker Process monopolization action brought by Ronald Chandler and his oilfield service company Chandler Manufacturing (collectively, Chandler). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s tossing of the action, holding that the alleged claims lacked a nexus to antitrust injury and were time barred under the four-year statute of limitations. Ronald Chandler et al. v. Phoenix Services, LLC, Case No. 21-10626 (5th Cir. Aug. 15, 2022) (Wiener, Graves, Duncan, JJ.)

A Walker Process monopolization action involves antitrust claims regarding fraudulently obtained patents. Chandler alleged that even though Phoenix Services’ patent for fracking technology was declared unenforceable in separate federal litigation in 2018, Phoenix Services continued to enforce the patent to exclude competitors from the market (for example, by sending cease-and-desist letters to Chandler’s clients that attempted to utilize the technology). A Walker Process claim requires a showing of the following:

  • The defendant obtained its patent by “knowing and willful fraud on the patent office and maintained and enforced the patent with knowledge of the fraudulent procurement.”
  • The plaintiff can satisfy all other elements of a Sherman Act monopolization claim.

In the district court, a Texas federal judge granted summary judgment to Phoenix Services, finding that Chandler filed the lawsuit too late and that the defendants involved ultimately could not be held liable. Chandler appealed.

The Fifth Circuit first addressed its appellate jurisdiction. The Court made it clear that it did not agree with the Federal Circuit’s transfer of this Walker Process case (on the basis that it did “not present a substantial issue of patent law” since the underlying patent had already been declared unenforceable in earlier litigation), but that under the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp. it did not find the transfer “implausible.” It therefore accepted jurisdiction but noted that its acceptance did not mean that it found the Federal Circuit’s decision correct.

The Fifth Circuit acknowledged that unlike the situation in Xitronix v. KLA-Tencor, where it and the Federal Circuit debated the appellate jurisdiction issue of Walker Process claims, the patent involved here had already been declared unenforceable. However, the Fifth Circuit pointedly noted its position that Walker Process claims should fall under the appellate purview of the Federal Circuit.

On the merits, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the Texas district court that Chandler did not sufficiently demonstrate that its alleged lost profits were caused by Phoenix Services’ alleged antitrust behavior. The Court found that Chandler failed to present substantial evidence that the cease-and-desist letters materially harmed Chandler’s business.

Antitrust plaintiffs must show the following:

  • Injury-in-fact, e., an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the defendants’ conduct
  • Antitrust injury
  • Proper plaintiff status, which ensures that other parties are not better situated to bring suit.

Only injury-in-fact was analyzed in the appeal. Chandler argued that the cease-and-desist letter sent to its clients eventually drove the client out of business. However, the Fifth Circuit [...]

Continue Reading




Tableware Designer Gets Heavenly Results on Its Pearly Plates

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court decision, reversing the dismissal of a copyright claim based on lack of standing and finding ownership of the copyright in the claimant based on an assignment of that claim. The Fifth Circuit also found that the plaintiff had a protectible trade dress under the Lanham Act based on secondary meaning. Beatriz Ball, LLC v. Barbagallo Co., LLC, Case No. 21-30029 (5th Cir. July 12, 2022) (Jones, Haynes, Costa, JJ.) (per curiam).

Beatriz Ball, the founder of Beatriz Ball, LLC, alleged that Pampa Bay was marketing and distributing products that infringed on Ms. Ball’s registered copyrights and unregistered trade dress for its “Organic Pearl” line of tableware. Ms. Ball brought suit against Pampa Bay in Louisiana federal court, asserting claims for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act and unfair competition under § 43 of the Lanham Act.

Pampa Bay has marketed and distributed products similar to the Organic Pearl collection but made with cheaper materials since 2016. Ms. Ball alleged that Pampa Bay infringed upon her copyright and its unregistered trade dress because the products are confusingly similar and look and feel like the Organic Pearl trade dress in every way. The district court ruled against Ms. Ball, finding that it had not established that its unregistered trade dress acquired “secondary meaning” as is required for protection of an unregistered trade dress under the Lanham Act. The district court further held that Ms. Ball lacked standing to bring the copyright claims as a result of a lack of legal interest because when “Beatriz Ball Collection” transferred ownership in the copyrights to “Beatriz Ball, LLC,” the language of the assignment did not specifically transfer the right to a cause of action for prior infringements predating the assignment. The assignment clause in issue read:

Assignment. Assignor [Beatriz Ball and Beatriz Ball Collection] hereby irrevocably conveys, transfers, and assigns to Assignee [Beatriz Ball, LLC], and Assignee hereby accepts, all of Assignor’s right, title and interest in and to any and all copyrights, whether registered or not and whether or not applications have been filed with the United States Copyright Office or any other governmental body. This assignment expressly includes any and all rights associated with those copyrights.

The district court found that because the assignment did not specifically transfer the assignor’s right to causes of action for prior infringements, the LLC lacked standing to challenge infringements pre-dating the assignment. The district court therefore never reached the merits of the copyright claim.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit first reviewed the standing issue to determine if the LLC owned the copyrights at the time of the alleged infringement or if the right to vindicate prior infringements had been effectively assigned to Ms. Ball. Reversing the district court’s ruling, the Court concluded that the LLC had standing to bring the suit as the actual copyright holder. The Court reasoned that § 411(b)(1), which provides that a registration with “inaccurate information” can support an infringement action [...]

Continue Reading




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 [...]

Continue Reading




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 [...]

Continue Reading




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 [...]

Continue Reading




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 [...]

Continue Reading




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 [...]

Continue Reading




BLOG EDITORS

STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES