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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 Cir. Sept. 10, 2021) (non-precedential) (per curiam).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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