Injunctive Relief
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Lanham Act Reaches Foreign Defendants’ Extraterritorial Conduct, but Worldwide Injunction Too Broad

The US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a district court’s injunction barring multiple foreign companies from directly or indirectly using a US remote control manufacturer’s trade dress based on the extraterritorial reach of the Lanham Act. However, the Court narrowed the scope of the worldwide injunction to countries where the US company currently markets or sells its products. Hetronic Int’l, Inc. v. Hetronic Germany GmbH, Case Nos. 20-6057, -6100 (10th Cir. Aug. 24, 2021) (Phillips, J.)

Hetronic International is a US company that manufactures radio remote controls for heavy-duty construction equipment. Hetronic Germany GmbH, Hydronic Steuersysteme GmbH, ABI Holding GmbH, Abitron Germany GmbH and Abitron Austria GmbH (collectively, the Distributers) are foreign companies that have distributed Hetronic’s products—mostly in Europe—for almost a decade. Based on an old research and development agreement between the parties, the Distributors concluded that they, not Hetronic, owned the rights to Hetronic’s trademarks and other intellectual property. The Distributors accordingly reverse-engineered Hetronic’s products and began manufacturing and selling their own copycat products, mostly in Europe. The copycat products were identical to Hetronic’s and were sold under the Hetronic brand and the same product names. Hetronic terminated the parties’ distribution agreements, but the Distributers continued to sell their copycat products. The Distributors attempted to break into the US market, selling several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of products before backing off after Hetronic sued. They then focused their efforts on Europe.

Hetronic sued the Distributors, along with their manager and owner Albert Fuchs, under the Lanham Act. The Distributors moved for summary judgment, arguing that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to resolve the Lanham Act claims because the conduct at issue occurred overseas. The Distributors asserted that Hetronic’s claims had to be dismissed because the Lanham Act applied extraterritorially only if a defendant’s conduct had a substantial effect on US commerce, and the Distributors’ conduct did not. The district court rejected that argument and denied summary judgment.

In a separate proceeding initiated by the Distributors in the European Union, the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) concluded that Hetronic owned all of the disputed intellectual property. Based on the EUIPO proceeding, the district court applied the doctrine of issue preclusion and granted Hetronic summary judgment on the Distributors’ ownership defense. After an 11-day trial, a jury found that the Distributors had willfully infringed Hetronic’s trademarks and awarded Hetronic more than $100 million in damages, mostly for trademark infringement. The district court also entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the Distributors’ infringing activities worldwide. The Distributors appealed.

On appeal, the Distributors accepted that the Lanham Act can sometimes apply extraterritorially but argued that the Lanham Act did not reach their activity as foreign defendants making sales to foreign consumers. Specifically, the Distributors argued that:

  • The district court erroneously concluded that the Lanham Act applied extraterritorially.
  • The injunction lacked the specificity required by Fed. R. of Civ. Pro. 65.
  • The injunction’s worldwide reach was too broad.

The Distributors challenged the district court’s exercise of personal [...]

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Injunctive Relief Available Even Where Laches Bars Trademark Infringement, Unfair Competition Damage Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a district court’s conclusion that laches barred an advertising and marketing company’s claims for monetary damages for trademark infringement and unfair competition, but remanded the case for assessment of injunctive relief to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between two similarly named companies operating in the advertising sector. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, Inc. v. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, LLC, Case No. 19-15167 (11th Cir. Aug. 2, 2021) (Branch, J.)

Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Illinois) is an Illinois-based company and owner of two registered trademarks including the name “Pinnacle.” Pinnacle Illinois learned of a Florida-based company operating under almost the same name that was also in the advertising and marketing space—Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Florida) —through potential clients and a magazine’s accidental conflation of the two unrelated companies. Several years later, Pinnacle Illinois sued Pinnacle Florida for trademark infringement, unfair competition and cybersquatting. Pinnacle Florida filed a counterclaim seeking to cancel Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark registrations and also alleged that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by the doctrine of laches.

Following a jury trial, the district court granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on Pinnacle Illinois’s cybersquatting claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Pinnacle Illinois on its claims for trademark infringement and unfair competition, awarding Pinnacle Illinois $550,000 in damages. The district court then granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on its laches defense, concluding that Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark infringement and unfair competition claims were barred by laches because it waited more than four years to bring suit after it should have known that it had a potential infringement claim against Pinnacle Florida. The district court also cancelled Pinnacle Illinois’s registrations because it concluded that Pinnacle Illinois’s marks were merely descriptive and lacked secondary meaning. Pinnacle Illinois appealed.

Pinnacle Illinois argued that the district court abused its discretion in finding that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by laches, and that even if laches did bar Pinnacle Illinois’s claims for money damages, the district court should have considered whether injunctive relief was proper to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between the two companies. Pinnacle Illinois also argued that the district court erred when it cancelled its registrations without regard to the jury’s findings of distinctiveness and protectability or the presumption of distinctiveness afforded to its registered marks.

The 11th Circuit found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that laches barred Pinnacle Illinois from bringing its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims for monetary damages. Pinnacle Illinois sued after the Florida four-year statute of limitations had passed, and the Court found that the company was not excused for its delay because it did not communicate with Pinnacle Florida about the infringement until it filed suit. Pinnacle Florida also suffered economic prejudice because it invested significant time and money, including around $2 million, in developing its business under [...]

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A Shoe-In? Fleet Feet Gives Injunction Appeal the Moot Boot

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed a preliminary injunction as moot where the enjoined party had discontinued the use complained of and had no future plan to restart it. Fleet Feet, Inc. v. Nike, Inc., Case No. 19-2390 (4th Cir. Jan. 26, 2021) (Diaz, J.) The Court denied the enjoined party’s request that it vacate the district court’s order granting the preliminary injunction despite mootness due to an ongoing litigation.

Fleet Feet is a retailer selling products related to running, including Nike merchandise. It is also a Nike competitor since Nike sells its own products. Fleet Feet obtained two trademark registrations, having already used both for years: “Running Changes Everything” in 2020, and “Change Everything” in 2015. In July 2019, Nike launched an advertising campaign with the tagline “Sport Changes Everything” scheduled to end at the February 2020 Super Bowl. Fleet Feet sued Nike for trademark infringement. The district court granted a preliminary injunction against Nike and set a $1 million injunction bond. The preliminary injunction order prohibited Nike from any use of the phrase “Sport Changes Everything” or any other designation confusingly similar to the Fleet Feet’s marks when advertising or selling goods and services. Nike discontinued its campaign two months before the scheduled end and appealed the preliminary injunction order.

Nike argued that the district court erred in its preliminary injunction factor analyses. But on appeal, the Fourth Circuit decided as a threshold matter that the end of Nike’s “Sport Changes Everything” campaign and its representation that there were no plans to use the term after the campaign rendered Nike’s appeal of the preliminary injunction “designed to interrupt that very campaign” moot. A case becomes “moot” when the “issues presented are no longer ‘live’ or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” The Court found that Nike’s appeal of the preliminary injunction was nonjusticiable since there had been an event during the pendency of the appeal that made it impossible to grant effective relief to a prevailing party. Because of the conclusion of the 2020 Super Bowl and Nike’s representations that it did not plan to use the term afterwards, there was no possible relief to Nike based on the preliminary injunction’s interference with the campaign.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed with Nike that two issues remained live. First, Nike argued that the continued restraint on Nike’s speech due to the order’s prohibition of any confusingly similar designation to Fleet Feet continued to be a live issue. The Court explained that this was only a potential controversy, not a live controversy. Because Nike had not engaged in the speech barred by the order, had represented that it did not intend to do so in the future, and had not introduced any new slogans confusingly similar to Fleet Feet’s marks, no actual speech was threatened by the preliminary injunction.

Second, Nike argued that the potential recovery on the injunction bond was a live issue. Referring to the Supreme Court case Univ. of Tex. [...]

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No More Bites at the Apple: Intervening Junior User Can Force You to Get Your Head Out of the Cloud(s)

Addressing how a mark’s intervening junior user’s success can affect a senior user, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a grant of summary judgment in favor of the junior user and the issuance of a permanent injunction for any commercial use of the disputed terms by the senior user. RXD Media, LLC v. IP Application Dev. LLC, Case No. 19-1461 (4th Cir. Jan. 21, 2021) (Keenan, J.) (joined by Gregory, J., and Floyd, C.J.)

RXD and Apple (here embodied also in IP Application Development, a company formed and wholly owned by Apple for the purpose of registering the “ipad” mark) have shared a long history of trademark litigation, initiated by RXD, over the use of the “ipad” mark. Prior to this appeal, the district court ruled in favor of Apple on summary judgment and permanently enjoined RXD from commercially using the terms “ipad” or “ipod.”

RXD claimed that the district court failed to account for RXD being the “first user” of the “ipad” mark; that Apple did not establish a distinctive, secondary meaning of “ipad” before RXD’s use; that Apple failed to show a likelihood of consumer confusion based on both parties’ use of “ipad”; and that the district court erred in rejecting RXD’s claim that “two of Apple’s trademark applications were void because Apple lacked a bona fide intent to use the ‘ipad’ mark for the services listed in those applications.” The Fourth Circuit, however, was not convinced.

The Fourth Circuit found that even if RXD was technically the senior user of the mark at issue, its expanded, “wholly altered” use of the mark, which now focused on “cloud storage” services and for which it now claimed protection, was not entitled to such protection, because the use occurred “on the heels of Apple’s [i.e., the intervening junior user’s] commercial success in releasing” the iPad. By that point, Apple had already “experienced undeniable commercial success, ha[d] promoted its products through regular advertising using the mark, and ha[d] obtained extensive media coverage regarding its ‘iPad’ device.” As such, the Court concluded that Apple’s “ipad” mark was strong and distinctive, noting that consumers were likely to and had already experienced confusion regarding the “ipad” mark. The Court further concluded that, because RXD was a “proven infringer” of the mark, injunctive relief ordered by the district court in favor of Apple was justified. Finally, the Court rejected RXD’s intent argument, stating that Apple was not required to prove a bona fide intent to use the mark for services it did not identify in its relevant trademark applications—Apple’s development of “cloud storage” services, while not explicitly named in Apple’s trademark applications, was encompassed by “the context of the strength of Apple’s brand” and was within the “breadth of [its] products and services.”

Practice Note: Practitioners should take careful note of how their clients use their mark, even if such use can be technically classified as “senior,” and how the mark evolved over time and whether it happened to change coinciding [...]

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