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That Stings: Consent to Jurisdiction Must Be Effective at Filing to Invoke Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2)

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, on petition for writ of mandamus, vacated the district court’s transfer order and remanded the transfer to be considered under the clarified parameters of Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2) and 28 U.S.C. § 1404. In re: Stingray IP Solutions, LLC, Case No. 2023-102 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 9, 2023) (Lourie, Taranto, Stark, JJ.)

Stingray filed patent infringement suits in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against TP-Link, a company headquartered and organized in China. TP-Link moved to transfer to the Central District of California (CDCA) under 28 U.S.C. § 1406 citing an alleged lack of personal jurisdiction that Rule 4(k)(2) did not cure because TP-Link would be amenable to suit in the CDCA. TP-Link also moved for transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The district court granted the motion to transfer under § 1406 based on the rationale that TP-Link was amenable to suit in the CDCA and relying on affirmative reservations made by TP-Link that the CDCA had proper jurisdiction and venue. The district court denied TP-Link’s § 1404(a) motion as moot following the transfer. Stingray filed a mandamus petition asking the Federal Circuit to determine whether TP-Link’s unilateral, post-suit consent to personal jurisdiction in another state defeated application of Rule (4)(k)(2).

The Federal Circuit first determined that mandamus review was appropriate in this case in order to resolve the question of whether a defendant can defeat personal jurisdiction under Rule 4(k)(2) by unilaterally consenting to suit in a different district, a jurisdictional question that has divided district courts. Some district courts have held that personal jurisdiction cannot be established under Rule 4(k)(2) if a defendant states that it is amenable to suit in another state, while others have concluded that defendants must do more than simply designate an alternative forum in order to avoid application of Rule 4(k)(2).

Rule 4(k)(2) was originally introduced to close a loophole where non-resident defendants without minimum contact with any individual state suitable to support jurisdiction, but with sufficient contacts with the United States as a whole, were able to escape jurisdiction in all 50 states. The rule essentially provided that under federal claims, serving a summons or filing a waiver of service could establish personal jurisdiction if the defendant was not subject to a state’s general jurisdiction and exercising jurisdiction would be consistent with the US Constitution and laws.

Here, the case focused on the “negation requirement” of Rule 4(k)(2) where the defendant is not subject to any jurisdiction of a state court. This case addressed the question of whether a defendant’s post-suit, unilateral consent to suit in another state prevents the requirement that a defendant is not subject to a state’s general jurisdiction from being satisfied.

The Federal Circuit determined that the “negation requirement” requires defendants to identify a forum where jurisdiction would have been proper at the time of filing, regardless of consent. The Court determined that therefore a defendant cannot use a “unilateral statement of consent” to [...]

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Yes, and It Counts! Single Purchase in Forum Establishes Personal Jurisdiction over Infringer

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed exercise of personal jurisdiction over a foreign online retailer for a trademark infringement claim where the trademark owner purchased the only allegedly infringing article sold in the forum. NBA Properties, Inc. v. HANWJH, Case No. 21-2909 (7th Cir. Aug. 16, 2022) (Ripple, Scudder, JJ.)

NBA Properties owns the trademarks for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and NBA teams. HANWJH is a China-based online retailer that sells allegedly infringing NBA branded products on a well-known e-commerce site. HANWJH offered 205 allegedly infringing products that were available for purchase in Illinois, the forum state. HANWJH’s only online order in Illinois was made by an investigator for NBA Properties who purchased a pair of basketball shorts for delivery to an Illinois address. The shorts were delivered to the Illinois address before NBA Properties filed suit against HANWJH.

NBA Properties sued HANWJH for trademark infringement and counterfeiting under 15 U.S.C. § 1114 and false designation of origin under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) in the Northern District of Illinois. NBA Properties sought and received a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, including a temporary asset restraint on HANWJH’s bank account. After HANWJH failed to timely answer the complaint, NBA Properties moved for default judgment. HANWJH moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing the following:

  • Operating a website is not sufficient on its own to establish personal jurisdiction.
  • A single transaction by the plaintiff cannot support the exercise of personal jurisdiction.
  • Even if the exercise of personal jurisdiction were otherwise appropriate, such exercise would offend the traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

The district court denied HANWJH’s motion to dismiss and entered a default. HANWJH failed to object to the motion for default judgment, and the district court entered a final judgment. HANWJH appealed.

The Seventh Circuit reviewed the “minimum contacts” International Shoe criterion before turning to a more recent line of cases applying this standard to online retailers. Citing its 2020 decision in Curry v. Revolution Laboratories, the Court noted that the minimum contacts requirement is satisfied if “the defendant reasonably could foresee that its product would be sold in the forum.” The Court reasoned that allowing customers to order products from a website to the forum and then fulfilling an order to the forum can form the basis of personal jurisdiction—even when the only orders to the forum were made by the plaintiff, as long as the orders were made before filing suit. Applying these principles, the Court found that HANWJH had purposefully directed conduct at Illinois by establishing an online store, demonstrating a willingness and capacity to ship goods to Illinois and intentionally shipping an infringing product to an Illinois address. The Court explained that it was irrelevant that only a single allegedly infringing article was sold in Illinois and that it was purchased by the plaintiff, because the proper focus of the analysis was on HANWJH’s purposeful conduct. The Court also concluded that HANWJH’s [...]

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Single T-Shirt Sale Can’t Clothe Bare-Bones Personal Jurisdiction Claim

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a trademark infringement suit for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that the trademark owner failed to allege that the alleged infringer could reasonably anticipate being hauled into court in Missouri. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, LLC v. Zazzle, Inc., Case No. 21-1917 (8th Cir. Aug. 2, 2022) (Smith, Benton, Kelly, JJ.)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ (BASIC) is a Missouri-based clothing company that owns the trademark “love happens.” Zazzle is a California-based online retailer. BASIC sued Zazzle in a Missouri district court for trademark infringement, alleging that Zazzle used its nationally available website to advertise and sell goods in Missouri. BASIC further alleged that in 2019, Zazzle sold and shipped a t-shirt bearing a purportedly infringing “love happens” logo to at least one Missouri resident. The district court granted Zazzle’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2). BASIC appealed.

Reviewing the issue de novo, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The Court explained that because the Lanham Act does not authorize nationwide personal jurisdiction, the Court was required to apply Missouri’s long-arm statute and the federal due process clause. Given that Missouri’s long-arm statute authorizes personal jurisdiction over defendants who engage in, among other things, the transaction of any business or the commission of a tortious act within the state, the Court’s inquiry focused on whether exercising personal jurisdiction over Zazzle comported with the due process clause. Because BASIC did not allege that Zazzle was subject to general personal jurisdiction in Missouri (i.e., BASIC did not allege that Zazzle was “essentially at home” in the forum state), the question instead turned on whether BASIC had sufficiently pled facts to support a claim of specific personal jurisdiction.

The Eighth Circuit explained that specific personal jurisdiction existed over Zazzle for the purposes of BASIC’s trademark infringement claims if Zazzle had certain minimum contacts with the forum state and BASIC’s claims arose out of or related to those contacts. For specific jurisdiction to apply, the underlying controversy must be connected to the defendant’s activities in the forum state; unconnected activities directed to the forum state, no matter how numerous or systematic, cannot convey specific personal jurisdiction. The Court used a five-factor test previously set forth in Whaley v. Esebag to conduct its analysis: “(1) the nature and quality of [defendant’s] contacts with the forum state; (2) the quantity of such contacts; (3) the relation of the cause of action to the contacts; (4) the interest of the forum state in providing a forum for its residents; and (5) convenience of the parties.”

The Eighth Circuit found that the behavior alleged by BASIC (Zazzle’s operation of a national website that sells and ships goods to Missouri combined with a single specific instance of an allegedly infringing t-shirt being sold and shipped to a Missouri consumer) was insufficient to support a specific jurisdiction claim. Zazzle’s website availability and sales unrelated to the use [...]

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Purposeful Direction in a Forum Activates the Long Arm of the Law

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit again vacated the US District Court for the Central District of California’s dismissal of a case for lack of personal jurisdiction, applying Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 4(k)(2) and concluding that the copyright infringement claims involving a foreign defendant were properly litigated in the United States. Lang Van, Inc. v. VNG Corporation, Case No. 19-56452 (9th Cir. Jul. 21, 2022) (Bybee, Bennett, JJ.; Bataillon, Distr. J., sitting by designation).

Lang Van, Inc. (LVI) is a California corporation that produces and distributes Vietnamese music and entertainment and owns copyrights to more than 12,600 songs and original programs. LVI sued VNG Corporation, a Vietnamese company that makes copyrighted music available for download worldwide through its Zing MP3 website and mobile applications. LVI served discovery requests on VNG, but instead of supplying substantive information or documents, VNG moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court granted the motion, and LVI appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which vacated and remanded the case to the district court with instructions that LVI be permitted to undertake jurisdictional discovery.

On remand, LVI took third-party discovery and argued that the evidence showed that VNG intentionally chose to release its applications in the United States; consented to jurisdiction, choice of law and venue in California; and allowed hundreds of thousands of iOS downloads and tens of thousands of Android downloads.

VNG filed a renewed motion to dismiss LVI’s (now amended) complaint, arguing a lack of personal jurisdiction, forum non conveniens (that there is another, more appropriate, forum) and failure to state a claim. The district court granted VNG’s motion after finding that there was no specific personal jurisdiction over VNG in California under the Ninth Circuit’s specific personal jurisdiction test. The district court did not address the second and third arguments (forum non conveniens and failure to state a claim) and did not address the issue of long-arm jurisdiction over VNG under Rule 4(k)(2). Again, LVI appealed.

The Ninth Circuit assessed jurisdiction under Rule 4(k)(2), which provides for jurisdiction over foreign defendants that have ample contacts within the United States as a whole, but whose contacts are so scattered among states that no single state would have jurisdiction. The test requires proof that (1) the claim at issue arises from federal law and (2) the defendant is not subject to any state’s courts of general jurisdiction, such that (3) invoking jurisdiction upholds due process, with the burden shifting to the defendant to show that application of jurisdiction under the third prong would be unreasonable.

The Ninth Circuit found that the first prong was met because the case involved claims of copyright infringement under federal law, and that the second prong was met because VNG asserted that it was not subject to the personal jurisdiction of any state court of general jurisdiction in the United States.

As for the third prong, the Ninth Circuit explained that when jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff must show (1) purposeful activities or transactions [...]

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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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