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Blueprint Blooper: Floor Plan Copyright Infringement Requires Virtually Identical Copying

Addressing whether a home builder’s floor plans infringed the plaintiff’s architectural copyrights, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a lower court’s entry of summary judgment against the plaintiff, finding that only a virtually identical design would infringe the plaintiff’s “thin copyright” in its floor plans. Design Basics, LLC v. Signature Construction, Inc., Case No. 19-2716 (7th Cir. Apr. 23, 2021) (Sykes, J.)

Design Basics, described bluntly by the Seventh Circuit as a “copyright troll,” holds copyrights in thousands of floor plans for suburban single-family homes. Design Basics sued Signature Construction (Signature) for infringement of 10 of its designs. Discovery showed that Signature held copies of four of Design Basics’ designs, one of which had been marked up by a Signature employee. Signature moved for summary judgment, relying on a 2017 Seventh Circuit opinion in Basic Designs v. Lexington Homes in which the Court found that Design Basics’ copyright protection in its floor plans was “thin.” The district court granted summary judgment against Design Basics, and this appeal followed.

Relying heavily on Lexington Homes, the Seventh Circuit took the opportunity to clarify the elements of a prima facie case of copyright infringement for works with “thin” copyright protection. The Court explained that to establish infringement, the plaintiff must prove (1) ownership of a valid copyright and (2) copying of original elements of the work. Because ownership was not contested in this case, the Court focused on the copying element. The Court explained that “copying” constitutes two separate questions: Whether the defendant actually copied the plaintiff’s protected work (as opposed to creating it independently) and whether the copying constituted wrongful copying, also known as unlawful appropriation.

Because there is rarely direct evidence of copying, circumstantial evidence may be used to infer actual copying, the Seventh Circuit explained. Proving actual copying by circumstantial evidence requires evidence of access to the plaintiff’s work and evidence of substantial similarity between the two works. The analysis of substantial similarity is not limited to the protected elements of the plaintiff’s work; any similarities may be probative of actual copying. However, the unlawful appropriation prong requires substantial similarities to the protected elements of the copyrighted work. The Court noted that the use of the same term for two different tests has caused confusion, and therefore implemented the term “probative similarity” when referring to actual copying, and “substantial similarity” in the case of unlawful appropriation. The Court went on to explain that in the case of thin copyright protection such as this, proving unlawful appropriation requires more than a substantial similarity; only a “virtually identical” plan will infringe.

The Seventh Circuit then turned to the issues of scènes à faire and merger. Citing its detailed analysis in Lexington Homes, the Court noted that arrangements of rooms in Design Basics’ floor plans were largely scènes à faire, deserving no copyright protection. For example, placement of the dining room near the kitchen and a bathroom near the bedrooms is rudimentary, commonplace and standard, and [...]

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Fourth Estate Registration Requirement Defeats Pro Se Copyright Infringement Plaintiff

The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed dismissal of a copyright infringement claim for failure to register the copyright, and affirmed summary judgment against plaintiff on related state law claims where the plaintiff was deemed to have admitted statements that undermined its claims. Foss v. Marvic Inc., Case No. 20-1008 (1st Cir. Apr. 12, 2021) (Lynch, J.)

In 2006, sunroom purveyor Marvic contracted with graphic designer Foss to create a marketing brochure. Foss presented a $3,000 estimate, which Marvic paid, and Marvic began using the brochure soon after. In 2018, Foss (pro se) filed suit, demanding $264,000 for alleged copyright infringement on the basis that in 2016, she discovered that Marvic had been using a modified version of the brochure in print and online without asking for or receiving her permission. Foss alleged inaccurately that she had “applied for official U.S. Copyright Registrations” for the brochure.

Marvic moved to dismiss, and Foss filed an amended complaint stating six causes of action, including copyright infringement and five state-law claims. Foss alleged that she had registered the brochure with the US Copyright Office, but in fact she had only applied (after filing the original complaint) for registration. Marvic moved to dismiss the copyright and breach of contract claims. Foss did not oppose, and the district court dismissed the case. Foss then moved to reopen the case, a motion that the district court granted. Foss filed an opposition to Marvic’s earlier motion to dismiss and retained counsel, who first appeared on the day the district court heard Marvic’s motions.

In support of dismissal, Marvic argued that Foss had not established registration of her copyright, noting the then-existing circuit split as to whether mere application or successful registration was required to support a claim of infringement in federal court. The First Circuit stayed the case pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Fourth Estate. After the Supreme Court held that successful registration is required, the district court lifted the stay and dismissed the copyright claim but not the breach of contract claim.

Later, Marvic served a request for admissions, to which Foss’s counsel failed to respond. Marvic moved that the statements in its request be deemed admitted. The district court granted the motion. Two weeks later, Foss’s counsel moved to withdraw, having been suspended from the practice of law.

Foss, pro se again, moved for reconsideration and for more time to respond to the request for admissions, but the district court denied the motions. Marvic moved for summary judgment on the state law claims, which the district court granted, largely relying on Foss’s deemed admissions. Foss appealed.

The First Circuit held that it was not error to dismiss Foss’s copyright claim under Fourth Estate. The Court rejected as waived Foss’s argument that the district court should have stayed the case pending registration since Foss had not sought such relief below. The Court also rejected Foss’s argument that dismissal became improper when the failure to register was cured since the [...]

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You Want Some “Metchup” with That?

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found no infringement by a large, well-known company that used the registered mark of an individual whose own use was local and generated only a few sales and minimal profits. The Court vacated and remanded the case to determine whether plaintiff had abandoned the mark. Dennis Perry v. H.J. Heinz Co. Brands, L.L.C., Case No. 20-30418 (5th Cir. Apr. 12, 2021) (Graves, J.)

In 2010, Dennis Perry created a condiment concoction in his home kitchen that he named “Metchup,” constituting a blend of private label mustard and ketchup, and a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup. Perry sold the concoction in the lobby of his small motel in Louisiana. The US Patent & Trademark Office granted registration for his trademark “Metchup” and after five years declared his mark “incontestable.” Perry had slow sales, however, only selling about 60 bottles with $50 total profit over the years. Perry had a Facebook page for his product, but did not advertise or sell the product in stores or online.

Meanwhile, Heinz produced a condiment called “Mayochup,” a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup, that it began selling in the United States in 2018. Heinz held an online naming contest to promote its product, and when one participant suggested the name “Metchup,” Heinz posted a mock-up picture with the “Metchup” name, along with other proposals. Heinz’s counsel saw Perry’s trademark registration, but because Heinz was not actually selling a product named “Metchup” and there were so few indications that Perry’s product was actually being sold, Heinz concluded that Perry’s mark was not in use and could be used in its promotion. When Perry saw Heinz’s posting, he sued for trademark infringement.

The district court found that while Perry may have once had a valid trademark registration for “Metchup,” there was no likelihood of confusion with the Heinz product and the mark had been abandoned as a consequence of de minimis use. Perry appealed.

The Fifth Circuit analyzed the dispute based on the eight-factor likelihood of confusion test. The Court found three factors weighed in Perry’s favor:

  • Product similarity: Both products were mixed condiments.
  • Potential purchaser care: Consumers would exercise less care for a low-priced condiment.
  • Mark similarity: Both products used the same word “Metchup,” although the Court noted that the packaging design looked very different.

The Court also found five factors weighed in Heinz’s favor:

  • The type of mark on the spectrum (i.e., whether the name is related to what the product is): Here, the mark was “suggestive” because it was a mash-up of names related to the sauces used.
  • Outlet and purchaser identity: The parties targeted different markets because Perry had limited sales in one motel, while Heinz targeted online and at almost all grocery stores.
  • Advertising identity: Perry did not advertise besides his one Facebook page without online sales, while Heinz had large-scale advertising and sales.
  • Defendant’s intent: Heinz did not intend to infringe because it assumed Perry’s mark was no longer [...]

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Apportionment Unnecessary When Royalty Is Based on Comparable License

Rejecting a defendant’s request for a new trial on a variety of grounds, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a damages award and explained that apportionment was unnecessary because a sufficiently comparable license was used to determine the appropriate royalty. Vectura Ltd. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC et al., Case No. 20-1054 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 19, 2020) (Prost, C.J.)

Vectura owns a patent directed to the production of composite active particles for use in pulmonary administration, such as in dry-powder inhalers. Vectura filed a lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) alleging infringement of the patent by GSK’s Ellipta-brand inhalers. At trial, a jury found the patent valid and infringed, and awarded $90 million in damages. After GSK’s motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) on infringement was denied, GSK appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting all of GSK’s arguments. The Court rejected GSK’s argument that, based on a claim construction issue, it was entitled to JMOL of non-infringement. The asserted claims of the patent related to “composite active particles” made up of particulate additive material (magnesium stearate) on the surface of a particle of active material, used to promote the dispersion of these particles (in, e.g., inhalers). GSK argued that there was no substantial evidence of improved dispersion because Vectura’s scientific test was technically defective. The Court concluded that this test “generally supported” Vectura’s view and that, in any event, Vectura had provided other evidence—including GSK’s own documents—that the accused inhalers demonstrated improved dispersion.

The Federal Circuit also rejected GSK’s argument that the district court had erroneously construed the claim term “composite active particles” to mean “[a] single particulate entit[y/ies] made up of a particle of active material to which one or more particles of additive material are fixed such that the active and additive particles do not separate in the airstream.” GSK argued that this term required use of the “high energy milling” process referred to in the specification of the patent, but the Federal Circuit disagreed, stating that “[a]lthough the [asserted] patent contains a few statements suggesting that its high-energy milling is required . . . those statements are outweighed by the numerous statements indicating that high-energy milling is merely a preferred process.”

The Federal Circuit further rejected GSK’s argument that Vectura’s damages theory was deficient. Vectura’s damages theory was based on a 2010 license between the parties relating to highly comparable technology. GSK argued that Vectura’s damages theory simply adopted the royalty rate from this prior license wholesale and failed to “show that the patented . . . mixtures drove consumer demand for the accused inhalers before presenting a damages theory based on the entire market value of the accused inhalers.” The Court noted that the case presented a “rather unusual circumstance” in that, while apportionment is ordinarily required where an entire-market-value royalty base is inappropriate, “when a sufficiently comparable license is used as the basis for determining the appropriate royalty, further apportionment may not necessarily be required.” The Court concluded that this was “one [...]

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Printed Matter Is Patentable If It’s Functional, Not Just Communicative

In a tour de force of issues related to the printed matter doctrine, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed various rulings that the patents-in-suit were not infringed, not willfully infringed and invalid as directed to printed matter. Instead, the Court held that there was substantial evidence in the record to support a jury finding of infringement and willfulness, and that the asserted claims were not directed solely to printed matter and thus were patent eligible under 35 USC § 101 (thereby raising a genuine dispute of material fact that precludes summary judgment as to anticipation). C R Bard Inc. v. AngioDynamics, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1756, -1934 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 10, 2020) (Reyna, J.)

This dispute began when Bard sued AngioDynamics for infringing three patents directed to identifying a vascular access port that is suitable for power injection, which is a medical procedure requiring injecting fluids into a patient at a high pressure and flow rate. Generally, the identification was accomplished by certain markings on the vascular access port that can be detected during an x-ray scan.

Prior to trial, AngioDynamics moved for summary judgment on patent eligibility, novelty and enablement. This summary judgment motion was initially denied, but the district court sought a report and recommendation prior to trial regarding whether certain limitations relating to radiographic marker images were entitled to patentable weight under the printed matter doctrine. The magistrate judge concluded that the limitations were not entitled to patentable weight, and the district court adopted the recommendation. At trial and at the end of Bard’s case-in-chief, AngioDynamics moved for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) on non-infringement and no willfulness. Ultimately, the district court terminated the trial and granted AngioDynamics’ JMOL motion for non-infringement and no willfulness. The district court further held that the claims were invalid because they were directed to printed matter and were not inventive. Bard appealed, challenging each of the district court’s findings.

In reversing the summary judgment of no infringement, the Federal Circuit explained that Bard’s expert’s reliance on an incorrect understanding of the district court’s claim construction was alone insufficient to grant judgment as a matter of law. Instead, the expert’s misunderstanding went to credibility, and the Court found the record reflected that the expert properly testified that the various claim elements were met under the proper claim constructions. The Court further explained that Bard did not have an affirmative duty to test AngioDynamics products, but rather was entitled to rely on AngioDynamics’ representations to the US Food and Drug Administration and to its customers. With regard to induced infringement, the Court explained that if an alleged infringer instructs its users to use the product in an infringing way, there is sufficient evidence for a jury to find infringement. Because the district count found no inducement based on its erroneous summary judgment of no infringement, that ruling was similarly reversed.

The Federal Circuit also reversed the district court on its summary judgment of no willfulness, concluding that Bard [...]

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First-to-File Rule Must Be Followed Unless Compelling Circumstances Justify Exception

Vacating and remanding a district court’s decision not to transfer a case, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted a petition for a writ of mandamus because the district court did not consider whether the first-to-file rule favored keeping the case in the second-filed court. In re: Nitro, Case No. 20-142 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 28, 2020) (Reyna, J.).

In 2018, Cameron International filed a suit against Nitro in the Southern District of Texas alleging that Nitro’s fracturing-fluid delivery systems infringed three of Cameron’s patents. In February 2020, Cameron filed a second suit against Nitro in the Western District of Texas, alleging that the same accused products infringed two of Cameron’s other related patents. Relying on the first-to-file rule, which generally dictates that the court in which an action is first filed is the appropriate court to determine whether subsequently filed cases involving substantially similar issues should proceed, Nitro moved the Western District of Texas to decline jurisdiction or transfer the action to the Southern District of Texas.

The district court rejected the application of the first-to-file rule, but not because the two cases lacked substantial overlap. Instead, the district court relied on US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit precedent stating that even where there is such overlap, the court still must determine whether there are “sufficiently ‘compelling circumstances’ to avoid the rule’s application.” The district court determined that it was appropriate to use a balance of the traditional transfer factors to make that determination, concluding that when a balance of transfer factors “does not weigh in favor of transfer[,] . . . compelling circumstances exist in order to avoid application of the first-to-file rule.” Applying this standard, the district court denied Nitro’s motion. The district court found that although two of the factors (relative ease of access to sources of proof, and local interest in having localized interests decided at home) favored transfer, the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion, co-pending suits against another defendant involving the same patents, and the district court’s ability to more quickly schedule a trial weighed against transfer. Nitro filed for mandamus.

Proceeding from the district court’s premise that transfer pursuant to the first-to-file rule would be proper absent the existence of compelling circumstances, and that a balance of the transfer factors can support such an exception, the Federal Circuit explained that consideration of Nitro’s petition turned on the correctness of the district court’s application of those factors. The Court explained that the district court had it backwards by concluding that the first-to-file rule is only applicable when the balance of factors favors the first-filed court. Instead, the proper inquiry is that unless the balance of transfer factors favors keeping the case in the second-filed court, there are no compelling circumstances to keep the case in the second-filed court.

The Federal Circuit found that the district court did not resolve the critical issue of whether a balance of the factors favored the second-filed court. The Federal Circuit explained that although [...]

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One Claim Construction Error Is Enough to Trigger New Trial on Infringement

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit re-affirmed that incorrect construction of even a single claim element can be grounds for a new trial on infringement. Network-1 Technologies, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Company, Case Nos. 18-2338, -2339, -2395, -2396 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 24, 2020) (Prost, C.J.).

Network-1 Technologies sued Hewlett-Packard (HP) for patent infringement. HP defended on the grounds that the patent was invalid and that it did not infringe. The jury found the patent not infringed and invalid as obvious. Following post-trial motions, the district court denied Network-1’s request for a new trial on infringement but granted its motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) on validity. The court found that HP should have been estopped from raising certain obviousness challenges as a consequence of certain obviousness challenges raised by a third party in a prior inter partes review (IPR) that were essentially the same as HP’s obviousness challenge here. Network-1 appealed the district court’s final judgment that HP did not infringe, arguing that the district court erred in its claim construction. HP cross-appealed on the issues of IPR estoppel under 35 USC § 315(e)(2) and invalidity because of a claim improperly broadened in re-examination.

On appeal, Network-1 contended that the district court erroneously construed the claim terms “main power source” and “low level current.” In order to prevail, Network-1 had to establish not only that at least one jury instruction on claim construction was legally erroneous, but that the error had prejudicial effect. Under Federal Circuit precedent, an incorrect claim construction that removes from the jury a basis on which it reasonably could have reached a different verdict can be an incorrect jury instruction. As the Court explained in Avid Tech. v. Harmonic (Fed. Cir. 2016), “[a]n erroneous claim construction on one element is harmless ‘only if a reasonable jury would have been required by the evidence to find non-infringement even without the error.’”

The Federal Circuit concluded that the district court correctly construed the term “low level current” but erred in its construction of “main power source” to exclude AC power sources on the basis of expert testimony that receipt of AC power by a network device would render it inoperable. The Court deemed this error for two reasons:

    • Even though the network device cannot receive AC power, the record established that “data nodes” or network switches were commonly used to convert AC power to DC power as needed to power the network device. Because nothing in the patent claims precluded the conversion of AC power to DC power, it was error for the district court to add such a limitation.
    • The district court erred by adding a limitation to the claims to carve out certain inoperable embodiments, in this case embodiments that do not convert AC to DC. The Federal Circuit has previously explained that it is improper to add limitations to a claim to exclude only certain inoperable embodiments (Cordis v. Medtronic (Fed. Cir. 2008)). Here, [...]

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“Can’t Hold Us” Liable: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Win Affirmance in Copyright Suit

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment on the issue of copyright infringement and an award of attorneys’ fees against the plaintiff under the Copyright Act. Although the Court noted that it lacked jurisdiction to review sanctions against the plaintiff’s attorney, it observed that counsel went beyond “vigorous representation.” Batiste v. Lewis, Case Nos. 19-30400, -30889 (5th Cir. Sept. 22, 2020) (Clement, J.).

Batiste, a local musician, sued Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, an internationally famous hip-hop duo, for copyright infringement. Batiste alleged that the duo sampled his songs without authorization. As support, Batiste submitted the expert report of a musicologist, Milton, but Milton later admitted that Batiste had conducted the analysis and written the report, and that Milton did not even have access to the necessary software. The district court excluded the report, which Batiste then sought leave to resubmit in his own name. The district court denied leave because Batiste had not disclosed himself as an expert and because the new report was untimely. The district court subsequently granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that Batiste had failed to submit sufficient evidence of Macklemore and Lewis’s alleged access to Batiste’s work or of probative similarity between Macklemore and Lewis’s works and Batiste’s. The district court then awarded fees to Macklemore and Lewis under the Copyright Act (17 USC § 505) and made Batiste’s attorney (Hayes) jointly and severally liable for the fees award as a sanction under 28 USC § 1987. Batiste appealed.

Addressing the district court’s summary judgment of no infringement, the Fifth Circuit considered Batiste’s proofs as to access and similarity.

Batiste tried to prove access through “widespread dissemination” and “chain of events” theories. The Court held that Batiste’s evidence of widespread dissemination was insufficient because it only established “quite limited” dissemination of Batiste’s music. Batiste’s chain of events theory—under which Macklemore and Lewis allegedly accessed Batiste’s work by playing a concert at a venue near a record store that sold Batiste’s music—raised only a “bare possibility” of access and was therefore also insufficient.

On the issue of similarity, the Court explained that because of Batiste’s failure to show access, he needed to show “striking similarity” to withstand summary judgment. The Court rejected Batiste’s argument that “overwhelming evidence of access” obviated any need for him to show similarity. The Court compared the allegedly infringing songs to Batiste’s and found them insufficiently similar for a jury to find striking similarity. The Court also rejected Batiste’s invitation to adopt the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in Bridgeport, which held a showing of similarity unnecessary in some circumstances. The Fifth Circuit noted that Bridgeport has been widely criticized, and pointed out that Bridgeport considered the issue of substantial similarity (which dictates whether factual copying, once established, is legally actionable), whereas the issue in this case was probative similarity (which raises an inference of factual copying).

Batiste challenged the award of attorneys’ fees as erroneous absent a [...]

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Jersey Boys Don’t Cry: No Copyright Protection for Facts “Based on a True Story”

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of judgment as a matter of law finding that the musical Jersey Boys did not infringe a copyright held in an autobiography of band member Tommy DeVito. Donna Corbello v. Frankie Valli, et al., Case No. 17-16337 (9th Cir. Sept. 8, 2020) (Berzon, J.).

In the 1990s, Rex Woodard ghostwrote an autobiography of Tommy DeVito, one of the original members of the 1950s quartet the Four Seasons. Woodard and DeVito agreed to split the profits equally. However, shortly after finishing the book, and before finding a publisher, Woodard died. Donna Corbello, Woodard’s widow, became the successor-in-interest to the book, and she continued the search for a publisher. Almost 15 years later, Corbello still had not published the book.

DeVito’s autobiography reads as a straightforward historical account of the Four Seasons. At the beginning of the book, DeVito, as the narrator, describes his autobiography as a “complete and truthful chronicle of the Four Seasons,” and he promises not to let “bitterness taint the true story.” Corbello also sent letters to potential publishers emphasizing that the book provided a “behind-the-scenes” look at the Four Seasons. In all accounts, the book is a non-fiction, historical chronicle of events of the Four Seasons.

In 2005, the musical Jersey Boys debuted on Broadway. Jersey Boys also depicts the history of the Four Seasons from its origins in New Jersey to its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. DeVito admitted to working with people involved in developing Jersey Boys and sharing the book with the individuals researching the history of the band.

In 2007, Corbello sued DeVito and 14 defendants, including the band members and the writers, directors and producers of Jersey Boys. The complaint included 20 causes of action, including various forms of copyright infringement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on most of the claims. Corbello appealed. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, vacated its assessment of costs against Corbello, and remanded for further proceedings.

On remand, the case proceeded to a jury trial where the jury found that the musical infringed the book and that use of the book was not fair use. After the verdict, the district court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, concluding that any infringement was fair use. Corbello appealed.

On appeal, the central disagreements were whether the musical was substantially similar to the book and whether the defendants copied any protectable portions of the book. The Ninth Circuit analyzed the similarities under the extrinsic test for substantial similarity. The appellate court found that each of the similarities failed because they involved only non-protectable elements of the book. Those non-protectable elements included DeVito depicting himself in the musical (a character based on a historical figure is not protected); Bob Gaudio arriving late to rehearsal, excited about a new song he just [...]

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Liability for Copyright Infringement Attaches if Conduct Exceeds Scope of License

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit revived a software owner’s copyright infringement suit because the district court erred in granting summary judgment of no infringement by failing to analyze whether the accused infringer exceeded the scope of a copyright license. Oracle America, Inc., et al. v. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, Case No. 19-15506 (9th Cir. Aug. 20, 2020) (Smith, J.).

Oracle owns registered copyrights for Solaris software, including copyrighted software patches. Oracle requires its customers have a prepaid annual support contract, for each server they desire to be under support, to access the software patches. Customers under a support plan can access patches through an Oracle support website.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) provides a “one-stop-shop” for support to its customers, including HPE servers running Solaris. HPE provides this support directly and through its partners. One of HPE’s partners is Terix Computer Company. Terix arranged for joint HPE-Terix customers to have Oracle support for all of their servers through a single server support plan. Terix accomplished this by downloading Solaris software patches, using the customer’s credentials (created using a Terix-supplied credit card), to make copies for servers that were not part of the support contract.

In 2013, Oracle sued Terix for copyright infringement. The court granted Oracle summary judgment, and Terix stipulated to a judgment on the claims without admitting liability. Oracle and HPE entered into an agreement, effective May 6, 2015, to toll the statute of limitations for any claims Oracle might assert against HPE.

In 2016, Oracle sued HPE for direct copyright infringement concerning HPE’s direct support customers, and for indirect infringement concerning joint HPE-Terix customers. Oracle also sued for claims of intentional interference and unfair competition under California state law. The parties did not dispute that the tolling agreement applied, so the court considered whether the copyright infringement claims were barred for conduct before May 6, 2012. The Copyright Act provides that a copyright infringement claim is subject to a three-year statute of limitations, which runs separately for each violation. Under Ninth Circuit law, a copyright infringement claim begins to accrue “when a when a party discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the alleged infringement.” Importantly, actual or constructive knowledge triggers the statute of limitations. The Ninth Circuit has explained that suspicion of copyright infringement places a duty on the copyright holder to investigate further into possible infringement or lose the claim.

Oracle conceded that it had concerns about Terix and suspicions about HPE as early as 2010, but argued that HPE used fraudulent means to keep Oracle unaware of its actions, so it had no duty to inquire. The district court disagreed, finding that once Oracle had constructive knowledge, the doctrine of fraudulent concealment was no longer an option to toll the limitations. Because Oracle failed to investigate HPE, the court determined that HPE was entitled to summary judgment on the infringement claims for pre-May 6, 2012, conduct. Oracle appealed.

The Ninth Circuit explained that to prove indirect infringement, Oracle had to show that [...]

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