Forum Non Conveniens
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Message Received: US Courts Are Appropriate, More Convenient Venue to Adjudicate US IP Disputes

Addressing personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens in a software licensing dispute, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over a Dutch entity and the court’s decision to not dismiss the case for forum non conveniens. dmarcian, Inc. v. dmarcian Europe BV, Case Nos. 21-1721; -2005 (4th Cir. Feb. 14, 2023) (Wilkinson, Heytens, Hudson, JJ.)

dmarcian is a North Carolina-based software company that developed software to help email users authenticate incoming emails. A Dutch businessman who owned Mailmerk contacted dmarcian to offer to market the software in Europe. While dmarcian was initially unreceptive to the offer, the two parties eventually reached an oral agreement for Mailmerk to rebrand as dmarcian Europe BV (dmarcian BV) and sell the dmarcian software in Europe and Africa.

A dispute arose when dmarcian BV claimed ownership of portions of the dmarcian source code. dmarcian BV filed suit in the Netherlands, eventually filing for and winning injunctive relief in the Netherlands when dmarcian terminated dmarcian BV’s license. dmarcian then filed suit in the Western District of North Carolina asking for a preliminary injunction against dmarcian BV, which dmarcian BV opposed with a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. The district court denied the motion to dismiss and entered a preliminary injunction that precluded dmarcian BV from operating outside of Europe and Africa and required dmarcian BV to stop using the registered “dmarcian” trademark without a disclaimer. The district court later found dmarcian BV in contempt for violating the preliminary injunction and ordered dmarcian BV to pay $335,000 in sanctions. dmarcian BV appealed the injunction and the sanctions.

dmarcian BV argued that the district court did not have personal jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument, finding that the North Carolina long-arm statute authorized jurisdiction over dmarcian BV. The Court found that the application of the long-arm statute to dmarcian BV complied with due process because dmarcian BV worked closely with the dmarcian team in North Carolina (e.g., receiving sales leads, attending virtual meetings, coordinating software development), dmarcian BV sought out dmarcian to initiate business, and there was a strong interest in protecting intellectual property rights in North Carolina.

The Fourth Circuit also upheld the denial of the dismissal for forum non conveniens because the Dutch court was not an adequate alternative forum since Dutch courts cannot effectively adjudicate US trademark claims. The Fourth Circuit found that any judgment by the Dutch court would have little effect in the United States and would deny relief to dmarcian for the infringement of its rights.

The Fourth Circuit upheld the preliminary injunction grant, finding that the district court properly applied US and North Carolina law extraterritorially and that dmarcian was likely to succeed on all claims. The Court found that US laws properly applied and that dmarcian was likely to succeed on the following claims:

  • Copyright infringement, because there was a registered copyright, dmarcian BV reproduced elements of the source code outside of the licensing agreement, and [...]

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First-to-File Rule Requires That Action Could Have Been Brought in Transferee Forum

After issuing a rare grant of a mandamus petition directing a district court to stay proceedings until ruling on a pending motion to transfer, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a subsequent mandamus petition to compel transfer after that district court denied the transfer. In re SK hynix Inc., Case No. 21-114 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 25, 2021) (Taranto, J.) (non-precedential). The Federal Circuit found that the doctrine of forum non conveniens and the first-to-file rule did not establish a basis for transfer because the action could not have initially been brought in the transferee forum and the patentee’s prior filings in that forum did not give consent for subsequently filed actions.

Netlist and SK hynix are competitors in the memory semiconductor space. Netlist sued SK hynix for patent infringement in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas. SK hynix moved to transfer the case to the US District Court for the Central District of California. With no ruling after eight months (while the case continued to move forward), SK hynix sought mandamus from the Federal Circuit to compel the district court to transfer the case. The Federal Circuit declined to transfer the case and instead stayed the district court proceedings until the district court ruled on the transfer motion. The district court then denied the transfer motion, rejecting SK hynix’s arguments that the doctrine of forum non conveniens and the first-to-file rule required transfer to the Central District of California. The district court also advanced the Markman hearing and trial dates. SK hynix again sought mandamus from the Federal Circuit to compel transfer and requested a stay of the district court proceedings because of the advanced Markman and trial dates.

Applying Fifth Circuit law, the Federal Circuit denied the mandamus petition, concluding that SK hynix had not shown that the district court clearly abused its discretion in denying the transfer motion. On the forum non conveniens issue, the Court found no clear abuse in the district court’s determination that SK hynix did not meet the threshold conditions for transfer under 28 USC § 1404(a), namely that the action “might have been brought” in the Central District of California or that, in the alternative, all the parties had consented to that venue for the action. As to the “might have been brought” inquiry, the Court found that the district court properly focused on whether the action might have been brought against SK hynix America, a domestic entity subject to the venue requirements of 28 USC § 1404(b) and headquartered in the Northern District of California, rather than SK hynix, a foreign entity not subject to the same venue requirements. The Court also found that SK hynix did not differentiate between the foreign and domestic SK hynix entities in its transfer motion. This was not an action that might have been brought against SK hynix in the Central District of California because SK hynix America lacked sufficient presence there to confer venue under [...]

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Where Should This Case Go? Appeals Court Tosses Venue Motion to Dismiss

Addressing for the first time whether a court must consider the adequacy of an alternative forum in its forum non conveniens analysis, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of a defendant’s motion to dismiss under forum non conveniens. In re Fortinet, Inc., Case No. 20-120 (Fed. Cir. May 1, 2020) (Dyk, J.).


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