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Change the Look of the Room: Appeal Transferred to Federal Circuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit transferred an appeal of a preliminary injunction enjoining alleged copyright and trademark infringement to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit because the operative complaint included six counts of patent infringement and thus arose under patent law. Hudson Furniture, Inc. et al. v. Lighting Design Wholesalers Inc., Case No. 20-3299 (2d Cir. Dec. 21, 2021) (Livingston, CJ; Kearse, Lee, JJ.) (per curiam).

Hudson filed a complaint against Lighting Design alleging patent, trademark and copyright infringement. The district court granted Hudson’s preliminary injunction and enjoined Lighting Design from alleged infringement of Hudson’s copyrights and trademarks. The district court also denied Lighting Design’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and its motion for reconsideration permitting alternative service of process. Lighting Design appealed the rulings to the Second Circuit.

Hudson asked the Second Circuit to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the appeal arose from a complaint involving patent law claims and thus fell under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit. Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1292 and 1295, the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals involving any action that arises under any act of US Congress relating to patents. An action arises under patent law when a well-pleaded complaint establishes that (1) federal law creates the cause of action or (2) the plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law.

The Second Circuit agreed that exclusive jurisdiction rested with the Federal Circuit, explaining that the operative complaint included six counts of patent infringement, and the appeal concerned the district court’s ruling on a motion for injunctive relief involving patent law and non-patent law claims. The Court rejected Lighting Design’s argument that patent law did not constitute a substantial part of the overall success of the case since Hudson failed to secure preliminary injunctive related to the patent law claims. The Court explained that Lighting Design’s argument focused on only the second basis for Federal Circuit jurisdiction (whether the right to relief depends on a “substantial question” related to patent law). The Court found that even if it accepted Lighting Design’s argument, the fact that federal patent law created the cause of action was sufficient to establish Federal Circuit jurisdiction under the first basis of jurisdiction. While the Second Circuit agreed with Hudson, it declined to dismiss the appeal and instead opted to transfer the appeal to the Federal Circuit because the original appeal was timely filed in good faith and transferring the appeal was in the interest of justice.




NDA Forum Selection Clause Doesn’t Bar IPR in Response to Subsequent Infringement Suit

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction that would have forced the accused infringer to seek dismissal of its petitions for inter partes review (IPR) based on a forum-selection clause in an earlier nondisclosure agreement (NDA). Kannuu Pty Ltd. v. Samsung Elects. Co, Ltd., Case No. 21-1638 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 7, 2021) (Chen, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting).

Kannuu is a start-up that develops media-related products, including certain remote control search-and-navigation technology. Samsung explored licensing the technology and entered into an NDA with Kannuu. The NDA included a forum-selection clause, which stated that any legal action “arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the transactions contemplated hereby must be instituted exclusively” in a New York state or federal court. The negotiations were unsuccessful. Several years later, Kannuu sued Samsung for alleged infringement of five patents relating to the same technology and alleged breach of the NDA. Samsung petitioned for IPR of the five patents, and two of the petitions resulted in institution. Kannuu filed for a preliminary injunction to force Samsung to dismiss the IPRs that had been instituted. The district court denied the preliminary injunction. Kannuu appealed.

The Federal Circuit determined that the district court had not abused its discretion in denying the preliminary injunction, distinguishing between an NDA (which relates to confidentiality) and a patent license agreement (which relates to patent rights). The Court explained that because the forum selection clause was in an NDA, patent infringement defenses did not “arise out of or relate to this Agreement or the transactions contemplated thereby.” In other words, the patent infringement defenses were too attenuated from the subject matter of the NDA to be governed by the forum selection clause therein. The Court noted that whether any patent claim was held invalid would not affect Kannuu’s breach of contract claim arising from an alleged breach of the NDA.

In dissent, Judge Pauline Newman reasoned that a patent license was one of the “transactions contemplated” by the NDA. Therefore, she would have found that the patent infringement defenses were within the scope of the forum selection provision of the NDA.

Practice Note: The Federal Circuit noted how a failed licensing negotiation commonly leads to a subsequent infringement suit. Parties should craft provisions of the NDA regarding forum selection and related issues (e.g., choice of laws) to explicitly include or exclude potential infringement litigation from their scope.




Only One More Ratification Needed: European UPC Might Be Ready to Launch

The German parliament recently passed the Approval Act (the Act) regarding the planned European Unified Patent Court (UPC) and the protocol on a UPC on provisional application (PPA). The Act was passed after Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court rejected applications for a preliminary injunction directed against the Act. The instrument of Germany’s ratification of the PPA (not of the UPC Agreement (UPCA)) has been deposited with the European Council. The UPC Preparatory Committee published a report calling Germany’s ratification “a decisive step on the establishment of the Unified Patent Court after the work has been on hold for several years during the examination of the Agreement by the German Federal Constitutional Court.”

The PPA will only come into effect after at least 13 EU Member States (which must include Germany, Italy and France, i.e., the three Member States in which the most European Patents were in effect in 2012) ratify the PPA and deposit their respective instrument with the European Council. The PPA must also ratify the UPCA (or at least have parliament’s approval to do so) and deposit this second instrument with the European Council. In this complex scheme, the German ratification was previously the main legal hurdle.

Now, after publication of Slovenia’s Approval Act in its National Law Gazette and the expected deposit of its PPA and UPCA instruments, only one more national ratification and instrument deposit is needed to reach the required 13 ratifications. According to a note published by the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on September 24, 2021, Austria is likely to move next, whereupon the project will reach the minimum number of ratifying Member States. The Austrian Government submitted a draft for an approval act to its parliament in July 2021 and expects approval.

Upon the complete ratification of the UPCA and PPA, the UPC will form on a provisional basis and commence its existence as a legal entity. The UPC Preparatory Committee (Committee) can then formally start its work. Although there is no timeline set for the initial provisional application stage, the Committee expects that stage to continue for approximately six to 10 months following ratification. As stated in the note by the Presidency of the Council, this stage includes the adoption of the secondary legislation of the UPC, including procedures, establishment of a budget, recruitment of judges and administrative stuff, election of a president, the final configuration and testing of the file management system and ensuring that all IT infrastructure is properly set up and secured. In addition, a working agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO) on patent application and patent validation remains to be completed. Many observers regard the timeline to complete preparations as challenging, noting that several of the above points will likely require significant discussion. With these issues in mind, the Competitive Council (Council) met on September 29, 2021, to discuss further actions regarding the preparations and to invite ministers to inform the Council of recent or upcoming developments in [...]

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No Service, No Notice

Addressing the notice requirements of Fed. R. of Civ. Pro. 65(a)(1), the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated a preliminary injunction, finding that the aggrieved party did not have sufficient notice of the possibility of a preliminary injunction. Document Operations, L.L.C., v. AOS Legal Tech., Inc., Case No. 20-20388 (5th Cir. Aug. 23, 2021) (Per Curiam) (unpublished).

In 2017, Doc. Ops. entered into a licensing agreement by which AOS Japan would serve as the company’s exclusive representative and marketing provider in Japan for its virtual data room technology. Later, Doc. Ops. learned that a competing product known as AOS VDR had been developed by AOS Korea and would soon be marketed in the two Asian countries. Despite protests from AOS Japan that AOS Korea developed AOS VDR independently, Doc. Ops. filed suit alleging violation of the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act and for common law breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, conversion, civil conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty.

The licensing agreement mandated that AOS Japan protect Doc. Ops.’ confidential information and also prohibited AOS Japan from acting to “represent, promote, develop, or otherwise try to sell within [Japan] any lines of product that. . . compete with [the technology].” Doc. Ops. sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) as well as preliminary injunction and filed and emailed copies of the complaint and TRO motion to AOS representatives. Once a Zoom hearing was scheduled, Doc. Ops. again contacted AOS to inform it of the hearing date. When AOS failed to appear at the hearing, the district court chose to reschedule the hearing three weeks later in order to ensure that AOS was aware of the hearing.

During this three-week interval, Doc. Ops. continued to communicate relevant dates and filings with AOS, which had appointed Texas-based counsel. One of these communications included a letter from Doc. Ops. to the district court stating that if the district court granted its TRO motion, Doc. Ops. would seek to conduct limited expedited discovery to prepare for a subsequent preliminary injunction. AOS failed to appear at the second hearing, stating that it would not appear until served with process. Subsequently, the district court not only granted the TRO motion and the related request for expedited discovery but also issued a preliminary injunction against AOS. AOS appealed both the preliminary injunction and the order granting expedited discovery.

The Fifth Circuit first explained that Rule 65 requires sufficient notice for a preliminary injunction, which the Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted as implying a hearing where the defendant is given a fair opportunity to oppose the preliminary injunction. The Court contrasted the notice requirement for preliminary injunctions from the more informal notice requirement for TROs. While TRO hearings are sometimes converted into preliminary injunction hearings, this conversion has two requirements: Sufficient notice and an opportunity to meaningfully prepare and respond.

The Fifth Circuit found that while AOS certainly had notice that a preliminary injunction was looming, it lacked sufficient notice that this relief would [...]

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Patents and Trade Secrets Aren’t Mutually Exclusive: The Nuanced Nature of Trade Secret Protection

Addressing the nuanced nature of trade secret protection of patented products, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s trade secret protection determination, finding that the asserted trade secrets were not publicly disclosed and had been adequately protected. Life Spine, Inc. v. Aegis Spine, Inc., Case No. 21-1649 (7th Cir. Aug. 9, 2021) (St. Eve, J.)

The underlying conflict in this case has its roots in a short-lived business relationship between two companies specializing in selling spinal implant devices. Life Spine makes and sells a device called the ProLift Expandable Spacer System. Aegis Spine contracted with Life to distribute Life’s ProLift system to hospitals and surgeons for scheduled surgeries. Under the distribution agreement, Aegis was obligated to protect Life’s confidential information, act as a fiduciary for Life’s property and refrain from reverse engineering the ProLift system. Aegis did not abide by its contractual promises. It gave information about Life’s ProLift system to L&K Biomed, Aegis’s parent company and Life’s direct competitor. L&K used Life’s confidential information to develop a competing spinal implant device. Shortly after L&K’s device appeared on the market, Life sued Aegis for trade secret misappropriation and breach of the distribution agreement. The district court ruled in favor of Life, granting its motion for preliminary injunction against Aegis and its business partners, all of whom could no longer market the competing product. Aegis appealed.

Aegis argued that the injunction rested on the flawed legal conclusion that a company can have trade secret protection on a device that it publicly discloses through patents, displays and sales. The Seventh Circuit disagreed.

While the Court reaffirmed that there can be no trade secret protection in information available in the public domain, it found that such was not the nature of the information sought to be protected in this matter. Rather, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court that Life did not publicly disclose the specific information it sought to protect via patenting, displaying and selling its ProLift system.

The ProLift expandable spinal implant consists of the implant (or cage) component and an installer. The cage comprises an upper and lower endplate, a nose and base ramp and an expansion screw. The installer is used to insert the cage into a patient’s spine and expand the affected spinal disc height. Life considers “the precise dimension and measurements of the ProLift components and subcomponents and their interconnectivity” to be confidential trade secrets. The district court found that third parties are unable to access that precise dimensional information without first signing confidentiality agreements, and the information is not available in any of Life’s marketing materials (which include only dimensional approximations) or patents. Life’s ProLift system cannot be purchased by the general public or even handled at industry convention displays without Life’s close supervision. Instead, Life’s distributors sell ProLift directly to hospitals and surgeons for scheduled surgeries only.

The Seventh Circuit noted that “a limited disclosure” does not destroy all trade secret protection on a product, allowing a company [...]

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Unified at Last? Germany’s Constitutional Court Removes UPC Hurdle

On July 9, 2021, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court rejected a pair of applications for a preliminary injunction directed against the German Approval Act on the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPC) (decision of June 23, 2021, 2 BvR 2216/20). Thus, German ratification of the Agreement now only requires a presidential signature of the Approval Act and the subsequent deposition of the ratification.

The Constitutional Court’s press release can be found here (in English and German). The text of the decision itself is available here (in German only).

BACKGROUND

So far, 15 EU Member States have ratified the 2013 Agreement on a UPC. In recent years, the ratification process has faced several unexpected hurdles and proved to be cumbersome. Last year, post-Brexit, the United Kingdom formally revoked its ratification (as of July 20, 2020). Since then, of the ratifications required for entry into force, only Germany’s remained pending.

Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court annulled a first national ratification Approval Act on February 13, 2020, after a successful constitutional complaint. Now, following an apparently unsuccessful second round of constitutional complaints, nothing remains to prevent the second Approval Act, which was redrafted and approved by the German legislator in fall 2020, from being formally signed by the German president.

GROUNDS FOR THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT’S DECISION

The Constitutional Court stated that the constitutional complaints were inadmissible on the merits because the complainants had not sufficiently substantiated the possibility of a violation of their fundamental rights.

Under German constitutional law, national legal acts may only transfer sovereign rights to the European Union or EU-related institutions under certain conditions. In particular, in order for a national act to be deemed unconstitutional, it must be established that the transfer of rights would undermine the German constitution or, in the words of German constitutional law, would affect the integral core or identity of the German constitution. In its 2020 decision, the Federal Constitutional Court recognized that the first Approval Act lacked the two-thirds majority in parliament required for such a significant transfer of sovereign rights. The first Approval Act was adopted unanimously, but only 35 of the approximately 600 German members of parliament were present for the vote, which was found to be too few for such a far-reaching piece of legislation.

In principle, the hurdles for a successful constitutional complaint are high. The Approval Act represents a democratically legitimized majority decision by a constitutional body. Now 570 members of parliament have voted in favor of the second Approval Act. Therefore, in the present decision, the Federal Constitutional Court (for the first time) considered the merits of the law rather than the formalities of passage.

In the present case, the complainants argued that Articles 6 et seq. of the UPC Agreement violated the independence of judges established in the German constitution and the constitutionally guaranteed principle of the rule of law due to the appointment of the judges of the UPC for six years, their possible reappointment and the [...]

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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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Unlikely to Succeed: Preliminary Injunction Denied Despite Stipulation to Irreparable Harm

In a dispute over the terms of a settlement agreement, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that a patent owner was not entitled to a preliminary injunction despite a stipulation that it would be irreparably harmed if the accused infringer breached certain provisions of the agreement. Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Case Nos. 20-1407, -1417 (Fed. Cir. July 31, 2020).

Takeda originally sued Mylan to prevent Mylan’s launch of a generic version of Takeda’s branded drug Colcrys. The parties ultimately settled under terms set forth in a settlement/license agreement, including a provision in Section 1.2(d) stating that Mylan would be entitled to launch a generic product after a Final Court Decision holding that all unexpired claims of the licensed patents that were asserted and adjudicated against a third party were either (i) not infringed or (ii) any combination of not infringed and invalid or unenforceable. The licensed patents included 17 Orange-Book-listed patents that Takeda had asserted against Mylan. The parties further agreed that a breach of this provision “would cause Takeda irreparable harm.”

While Takeda and Mylan were negotiating the settlement, another patent litigation that involved some of the licensed patents was ongoing (the West-Ward litigation). The West-Ward litigation involved a different party and a different drug product. Takeda did not assert all 17 patents in the West-Ward litigation. It only asserted eight and ultimately dismissed five with prejudice. On summary judgment, the district court in the West-Ward litigation found that the asserted claims of the remaining three patents were not infringed.

Mylan informed Takeda that it would launch its generic product, arguing that summary judgment in the West-Ward litigation triggered Section 1.2(d), allowing it to launch its generic product because all of the asserted claims remaining in the suit had been found not infringed. In response, Takeda filed a complaint alleging breach of contract and patent infringement, and sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin Mylan from its launch. The preliminary injunction motion was denied. Takeda appealed.

A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must show (i) that it is likely to succeed on the merits, (ii) that it will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (iii) that the balance of equities tips in its favor, and (iv) that an injunction is in the public interest. The Federal Circuit’s decision focused on the first two factors: likelihood of success and irreparable harm.

The Federal Circuit’s analysis of the likelihood of success prong turned on the meaning of Section 1.2(d). Takeda argued that Section 1.2(d) had not been triggered because not all unexpired claims that were asserted in the West-Ward litigation had been found not infringed, specifically the asserted claims of the five withdrawn patents. Mylan argued that triggering Section 1.2(d) only required that all unexpired claims that had been asserted and adjudicated to be found not infringed or invalid, and because the asserted claims of the five dismissed patents were not adjudicated, it was not necessary that the dismissed claims be [...]

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