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Claim Construction and Jurisdictional Discovery Are More Than Skin Deep

Referencing the use of antecedents from a “wherein” clause, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s claim construction and vacated its summary judgment ruling of indefiniteness that relied on that construction. University of Massachusetts v. L’Oréal S.A., Case No. 21-1969 (Fed. Cir. June 13, 2022) (Prost, Mayer, Taranto, JJ.) The Court also reversed the dismissal of a defendant based on personal jurisdiction, finding error in the district court’s refusal to permit jurisdictional discovery before granting a motion to dismiss on that basis.

This case involved two patents directed towards the topical treatment of skin with a composition of adenosine at a certain concentration, held by the University of Massachusetts (UMass). L’Oréal is French-based company (L’Oréal S.A.) and its US-based company (L’Oréal USA) were involved in the suit. L’Oréal S.A. moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and the district court granted the motion without an opportunity for UMass to conduct jurisdictional discovery. After the dismissal, the district court ruled on the construction of a claim limitation and subsequently wielded that construction to invalidate another limitation as indefinite. The district court entered a final judgment of invalidity on this basis. UMass appealed, challenging the claim construction and lack of jurisdictional discovery.

Construction Using “Wherein” Clause

The Federal Circuit explained that there are two steps in reviewing claim construction: determining whether there is a plain meaning of a disputed term and, as necessary, properly construing the term. After determining that there was no plain meaning of the claim term “concentration,” the Court addressed the construction of the phrase “topically applying to the skin a composition comprising a concentration of adenosine.” The Court found that the district court erred in its determination that the “concentration applied to the dermal cells” meant that the concentration must be measured by the concentration directly applied to the dermal cells beneath the skin, rather than the composition applied to the surface of the skin. The Patent Trial & Appeal Board had adopted the same interpretation in an inter partes review, and therefore “concentration applied to the dermal cells” required no further construction.

UMass challenged that the proper construction. The Federal Circuit, citing to support in the specification, stated that the concentration of adenosine found in the composition should be construed as that applied to the epidermis. Viewing the claim as a whole and use of antecedents, the Court explained that “applied” could relate to both direct and indirect application. The Court specifically noted the use of the word “the” in the wherein clause, and found that this read, for antecedent, as the concentration of the composition. In viewing the prosecution history, the Court determined there was no disavowal of indirect application, and the specification and dependent claims supported a read of the term “concentration” to mean the composition applied to the surface of the skin, rather than requiring testing of the concentration to which the dermal cells were actually exposed. The Court also noted that in the prosecution history, UMass [...]

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Notice Letters, Related Communications May Establish Specific Personal Jurisdiction

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected a bright-line rule that patent infringement notice letters and related communications can never form the basis for specific personal jurisdiction. Apple Inc. v. Zipit Wireless, Inc., Case No. 21-1760 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 18, 2022) (Hughes, Mayer, Stoll, JJ.)

Zipit owns two patents directed to wireless instant messaging devices that send and receive instant messages via Wi-Fi. Since 2013, Zipit and Apple have communicated and met at Apple’s offices in Cupertino, California, to discuss the possible purchase or license of Zipit’s patents. Zipit also sent Apple an e-mail in 2015 about “Apple’s Ongoing Infringement” and another e-mail later that year about “Apple’s Ongoing Willful Infringement,” addressed to Apple’s Cupertino office. In 2020, Zipit sued Apple in Georgia for patent infringement, but ultimately moved to dismiss the case without prejudice. Apple subsequently filed a complaint in Northern District of California seeking a declaratory judgment of noninfringement. Zipit moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Although the district court found that Apple had established requisite minimum contacts and Zipit had not established a compelling case that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable, the court ultimately dismissed Apple’s action for lack of personal jurisdiction. Apple appealed.

The Federal Circuit began its analysis by considering Zipit’s contacts with California, finding that that this case was not “one of the ‘rare’ situations in which sufficient minimum contacts exists but where the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable.” The Court explained that that foreseeability (whether a defendant should reasonably anticipate being hauled into court) is a critical component is assessing specific personal jurisdiction. Citing the Supreme Court of the United States’ 1985 decision in Burger King v. Rudzewicz, the Court considered three factors relevant to assessing specific jurisdiction:

  • Whether a defendant purposefully directed its activities at residents of the forum
  • Whether the claim arose out of or related to the defendant’s activities within the forum
  • Whether asserting personal jurisdiction was reasonable and fair.

The Federal Circuit found that Apple had established that Zipit had minimum contacts with California by directing its activities to California by letters and claim charts, and traveling to Apple’s California offices for related discussions. The Court further noted Zipit’s escalation of its infringement allegations, going “so far as twice describing Apple’s infringement as willful” and keeping Apple apprised of the patents’ ongoing inter partes review status.

The Federal Circuit next found that the district court erred in finding that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable because Zipit’s contacts with California all related to the “attempted resolution of the status of the patents-in-suit, i.e., for the purpose of warning against infringement.” The Court explained that the “settlement-promoting policy” that a right holder trying settle disputes should be permitted to send a notice letter to a party in a particular forum without being hauled into court in that forum was relevant, but noted that this policy cannot “control the inquiry” and must be considered together with other Burger King factors [...]

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Can’t Presume Personal Jurisdiction Exists When Challenged

The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed a district court order dismissing a trademark infringement case for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that if challenged, personal jurisdiction cannot be assumed into existence. Motus, LLC v. CarData Consultants, Inc., Case No. 21-1226 (1st Cir. Jan. 18, 2022) (Lynch, Selya, McConnell, JJ.)

Motus is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. CarData is a Canadian corporation with offices in Colorado, New York and Toronto. Both Motus and CarData offer tools for companies to manage employee expense reimbursement. Motus asserted a trademark over the phrase “corporate reimbursement services,” which was present in the meta title of CarData’s website. In November 2019, Motus asked CarData to remove the phrase from its website, and CarData did so within three days.

Motus nevertheless filed a federal lawsuit in the District of Massachusetts asserting Lanham Act claims for trademark infringement, trademark dilution and other state and federal causes of action. CarData moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, among other grounds. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, finding that Motus failed to demonstrate either the existence of personal jurisdiction over CarData or that discovery into CarData’s jurisdictional claims were warranted. Motus appealed.

On appeal, the First Circuit reiterated that Motus bore the burden of demonstrating that the district court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over CarData was proper, noting that although a plaintiff is not required to plead facts sufficient for personal jurisdiction, “it must—if challenged—ensure that the record contains such facts.” To demonstrate that personal jurisdiction over CarData was proper, Motus had to show that CarData had sufficient “minimum contacts” with the forum that were sufficiently related to the matter at issue and evidenced a “purposeful availment of the privilege of conducting business in the forum,” and also had to show the reasonableness of the exercise of personal jurisdiction in that forum. Motus argued that CarData had sufficient “minimum contacts” with Massachusetts for personal jurisdiction to lie there, primarily because CarData had offices elsewhere in the United States and because CarData maintained a website that was available to serve Massachusetts residents.

Given that Motus’s arguments for personal jurisdiction related primarily to the publicly available nature of CarData’s website to residents of Massachusetts, the First Circuit explained that “[i]n website cases we have recognized that the ‘purposeful availment’ element often proves dispositive.” Here, the Court found nothing in the record suggesting that CarData specifically targeted or did business with Massachusetts residents. The Court rejected Motus’s citation to informational content on the website because it was not specific enough to evidence intentional solicitation of business from any particular state. Nor was there evidence of substantial CarData revenue from Massachusetts. Thus, the Court found that there was no “purposeful availment.”

Finally, the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of jurisdictional discovery into CarData’s “minimum contacts” with Massachusetts. The Court found that although Motus mentioned the availability of jurisdictional discovery in a single sentence in a footnote to its opposition to CarData’s motion to [...]

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Discretion to Authorize Hague Alternative Service on Foreign Defendant—it’s All About Time and Cost

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a petition for a writ of mandamus, directing the US District Court for the Western District of Texas to dismiss multiple infringement actions for insufficient service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction where the plaintiff used alternative methods to effect service of process on a foreign defendant instead of the more conventional Hague Convention. Although the Court expressed reservations about the district court’s authorization of alternative service methods solely because of the Hague Convention’s slower and more expensive procedures, it found the decision to be within the district court’s discretion. In re: OnePlus Tech. (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd., Case No. 21-165 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 10, 2021) (non-precedential) (per curiam).

OnePlus is a Chinese consumer electronics manufacturing company. WSOU Investments d/b/a Brazos Licensing and Development is a non-practicing entity headquartered in Texas. Brazos filed five patent infringement actions against OnePlus and alleged that OnePlus had no place of business or employees in the United States. Although the People’s Republic of China is a signatory to the Hague Convention, Brazos decided not to attempt service on OnePlus by invoking the Hague Convention because of the burdens involved. Instead, Brazos requested that the district court grant leave under Fed. R. of Civ. Pro. 4(f)(3) to use alternative methods to effect service. Brazos made no showing that service under the Hague Convention had been tried and failed, would have been unlikely to succeed or was otherwise impracticable. The district court regarded the Hague Convention procedure as slow and expensive and granted the motion. Brazos served the complaint and summons on lawyers who represented OnePlus in the past and on OnePlus’s authorized agent for service in California.

OnePlus made a special appearance to challenge the sufficiency of the service and the district court’s jurisdiction over OnePlus. The district court rejected the challenge on the basis that Rule 4(f)(3) gave it discretion to order service on a foreign defendant by means other than those prescribed by the Hague Convention, and that the service was effective to grant the district court personal jurisdiction over OnePlus. OnePlus sought mandamus.

OnePlus’s mandamus petition requested that the Federal Circuit compel the district court to vacate its order authorizing alternative service and require that Brazos effect service pursuant to Hague Convention procedures. OnePlus argued that:

  • Brazos’s service was ineffective because it did not satisfy Texas state law.
  • As a result of the ineffective service, the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over OnePlus.
  • It was an abuse of discretion for the district court to authorize alternative service absent showing of a need to forego Hague Convention procedures.

OnePlus argued that the district court had jurisdiction over it only if OnePlus was subject to jurisdiction in Texas under the Texas long-arm statute. Because valid service under Texas law required the transmittal of documents abroad and triggered the Hague Convention (which Brazos did not use), OnePlus contended that there was no valid service and the district court therefore lacked personal jurisdiction over [...]

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Foreign Company’s Purposeful US Activities Blemishes Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Defense

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a complaint, finding that the foreign defendant was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in the United States in light of the defendant’s marketing, sales and operations, each of which reflected a significant focus on the United States. Ayla, LLC v. Alya Skin Pty. Ltd., Case No. 20-16214 (9th Cir. Aug. 27, 2021) (Rakoff, J.)

Ayla is a beauty and wellness brand based in the San Francisco area that offers skincare and hair products through retail and online sales, as well as health and personal care advice on its website. Ayla has three registered trademarks “for use of the ‘AYLA’ word mark in connection with on-site beauty services, online retail beauty products and cosmetics services, and cosmetics.” Alya Skin is a skincare company with its place of incorporation and principal place of business in Australia. Alya Skin sells and ships its products worldwide but about 10% of its total sales are made to the United States.

Alleging a “confusingly similar” mark on its products and advertisements, Ayla sued Alya Skin for trademark infringement and false designation of origin pursuant to the Lanham Act, as well as unfair competition under the California Business & Professions Code and California common law. Alya Skin moved to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court granted Alya Skin’s motion to dismiss, finding that it did not have personal jurisdiction. Ayla appealed.

On appeal, Ayla challenged the district court’s determination that it did not have nationwide jurisdiction over Alya Skin under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 4(k)(2). The Ninth Circuit framed the issue on appeal as a question of whether the district court “erroneously held that the exercise of nationwide jurisdiction over Alya Skin does not comport with due process.” The Court noted that the due process analysis under 4(k)(2) is “nearly identical” to the traditional personal jurisdiction analysis but “rather than considering contacts between [the defendant] and the forum state, we consider contacts with the nation as a whole.” Because trademark infringement is “treated as tort-like for personal jurisdiction purposes,” the Court focused its specific jurisdiction analysis on whether Alya Skin “purposefully directed its activities toward the United States.”

The Ninth Circuit’s inquiry focused on a totality analysis surrounding Alya Skin’s marketing, sales and operations, each of which reflected a significant focus on the United States. The Court noted that Alya Skin promoted its allegedly infringing products specifically to US individuals through “significant advertising efforts.” These efforts included, for example, an Instagram post directly referencing the “USA,” Alya Skin’s advertising efforts during “Black Friday” and Alya Skin’s reference on its website that its products were featured in US magazines. Moreover, Alya Skin presented to consumers “that its products are FDA approved,” which the Court found to be “an appeal specifically to American consumers for whom the acronym ‘FDA’ has meaning.” The Court also noted that Alya Skin’s volume of sales reflected a purposeful direction toward the United States.

[...]

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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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$6 Million Verdict Vacated in Flooring Tech Trade Secrets Row

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed a judgment of trade secret misappropriation because the plaintiff had not proved that the defendant’s duty to maintain the secret arose at the time it acquired the secret. AcryliCon USA, LLC v. Silikal GmbH, Case No. 17-15737 (11th Cir. Jan. 26, 2021) (Tjoflat, J.)

AcryliCon USA, LLC (AC-USA), AcryliCon International, Ltd. (AC-I) (collectively, AcryliCon), and Silikal are in the industrial flooring business. Hegstad is a chemical engineer who founded AC-I. In 1987, Hegstad invented, with Silikal’s help, a formula for a special industrial flooring material called 1061 SW. The formula belonged to Hegstad, and Silikal possessed the formula as the manufacturer of 1061 SW resin for Hegstad and AC-I. In 1997, AC-I and Silikal contractually established AC-I as the exclusive distributor of 1061 SW resin. In 2008, AC-USA was incorporated and entered into license agreements to obtain the right to import, market and sell 1061 SW (among other products) in the United States.

Thereafter, a dispute arose between AC-I and Silikal. The dispute was resolved by a 2010 global settlement agreement (GSA), which ended the prior agency relationship but provided (inter alia) that Silikal would preserve the secrecy of the formula and not sell 1061 SW resin to anyone but AcryliCon. The GSA also contained a forum selection provision stating that disputes arising from activities in the United States would be governed by Georgia law and waiving objections to personal jurisdiction in the Northern District of Georgia.

AC-USA sued Silikal in 2014 in the Northern District of Georgia, claiming that Silikal breached the GSA by manufacturing 1061 SW resin, selling it globally and taking credit for 1061 SW in its marketing. AC-USA’s complaint included several other causes of action, including misappropriation of trade secrets. Silikal moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, contending that it had not sold 1061 SW to anyone other than AcryliCon in the United States. The district court denied the motion on evidence that such sales had occurred. AC-USA moved for partial summary judgment on its contract claim and sought a permanent injunction barring Silikal from producing or selling 1061 SW. The district court granted the motion and injunction because “previous counsel for Silikal admitted” that there had been sales of 1061 SW in violation of the GSA and Silikal did not dispute that there had been a breach of contract. After trial, the jury found for AC-USA, awarding $1.5 million on the misappropriation claim and $1.5 million on the contract claim. The district court added $3 million in punitive damages. Silikal moved for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), arguing that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction, that AcryliCon had failed to prove misappropriation, and that AcryliCon had failed to prove cognizable damages on its contract claim. The district court denied the motion, awarded AC-USA attorneys’ fees and entered judgment for AC-USC. Silikal appealed.

The 11th Circuit held that Silikal waived its challenge to personal jurisdiction by appealing only the pre-trial jurisdiction ruling [...]

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Without Personal Jurisdiction or Causal Relationship, Wheels Come Off Misappropriation Claim

Without addressing the merits of the claim, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a trade secret misappropriation action based on lack of personal jurisdiction, finding no causal relationship between the competitors’ dealings in Illinois and the asserted claims. J.S.T. Corporation v. Foxconn Interconnect Technology Ltd., et al., Case No.19-2465 (7th Cir. July 13, 2020) (Barrett, J.).

In 2005, General Motors (GM) retained Robert Bosch LLC to build a part for some of GM’s cars. To build the part, Bosch required a connector. Bosch turned to JST to design and build the part, which it did for years, becoming the sole supplier of the product to Bosch. After buying 15 million connectors, Bosch allegedly tricked JST into handing over its proprietary technical schematics and designs under the guise that GM required the materials and Bosch would keep them confidential. Instead, Bosch allegedly gave the materials to JST’s competitors, Foxconn and TEC. According to JST, Foxconn and TEC accepted the designs, used them to produce a knockoff connector and displaced JST.

JST filed a lawsuit against TEC and Foxconn affiliates in Illinois for trade secret misappropriation under the Illinois Trade Secrets Act and for unjust enrichment. TEC and Foxconn moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction because none of the defendants were headquartered in Illinois or had a primary place of business there. Further, none of the defendants manufactured or sold the connector in Illinois. JST alleged that TEC and Foxconn sold the connectors to Bosch in Texas and in China, where Bosch installed them into the parts it sold to GM. The only connection to Illinois was the fact that GM sells cars with those parts to dealers in Illinois. Foxconn and TEC argued that this connection was too attenuated to support personal jurisdiction. The district court agreed and dismissed the action. JST appealed.

On appeal, JST asserted that Foxconn and TEC were subject to personal jurisdiction in Illinois because the cars containing the knockoff parts were sold in the state. Relying on the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in World-Wide Volkswagen, JST argued that personal jurisdiction may be appropriate over “a corporation that delivers its products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that they will be purchased by consumers in the forum State.” The Seventh Circuit observed that its circuit is among those that apply the stream of commerce theory in products liability cases. The Court explained that in the context of a product liability case, the defendant takes steps to reach consumers in a forum state, and the underlying litigation alleges the development of a product that harms consumers.

The Seventh Circuit noted the differences between products liability claims and those involving trade secret misappropriation. The latter is not intrinsically linked to interactions with a consumer and can occur long before an offending product ever reaches a consumer in the forum. Based on the complaint, the Court found that even if Foxconn and [...]

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Internet Sales Lead to Personal Jurisdiction Despite No Physical Presence

Addressing the issue of personal jurisdiction in a trademark infringement case, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court and concluded that the plaintiff had made a prima facie showing that defendants, who had no physical presence in the forum state, were subject to personal jurisdiction based on sales to consumers through an interactive website. Charles Curry d/b/a/ Get Diesel Nutrition v. Revolution Labs. LLC, Case No. 17-2900 (7th Cir. Feb. 10, 2020) (Ripple, J).

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