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Update: Absent Explicit Statutory Language? The American Rule Still Applies

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit updated its earlier opinion to remove language ascribing motive to a prolific inventor’s actions before the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO). Hyatt v. Hirshfeld, Case Nos. 020-2321; -2325 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 18, 2021) (modified Oct. 12, 2021) (Hughes, J.)

The original opinion noted that Gilbert Hyatt is known for his prolific patent and litigation filings (including hundreds of extraordinarily lengthy and complex patent applications in 1995 alone) and for often “adopt[ing] an approach to prosecution that all but guaranteed indefinite prosecution delay.” The modified opinion deletes language in the original opinion ascribing to Hyatt the motive of “in an effort to submarine his patent applications and receive lengthy patent terms.”

The Federal Circuit did not alter its earlier reversal of the district court’s grant of attorneys’ fees to Hyatt (since he was not the prevailing party) or its affirmance of the district court’s denial of the PTO’s request for expert fees (after finding “[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings shall be paid by the applicant” under 35 U.S.C. § 145, not specifically and explicitly shifting expert witness fees). The rest of the text of the opinion remains unchanged.




Click Fraud: Predicate to False Designation of Origin

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed that pay-per-click advertisers may be liable under the Lanham Act for “click fraud.” WickFire, LLC v. Laura Woodruff et al., Case No. 17-50340 (5th Cir. Feb. 26, 2021) (Owen, J.)

WickFire and TriMax Media are advertisers that compete in the pay-for-performance search engine marketing business, also known as pay-per-click marketing. In this type of marketing, every time a user clicks on an advertisement, the advertiser pays the search engine (i.e., Google) a small fee. If the user makes a purchase on the merchant’s site, the merchant pays the advertiser a commission. When a pay-per-click campaign runs smoothly, the advertiser pays a small amount for a click, the click results in a sale, and the commission to the advertiser is more than the advertiser paid for the click.

WickFire filed a lawsuit against TriMax, alleging that TriMax violated Section 43 of the Lanham Act by committing “click fraud” through repeatedly clicking on WickFire’s ads without any intent to make a purchase, and created false advertisements that were made to appear as though they belonged to WickFire, among other state law claims. Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act prohibits a person from making, “in connection with any goods or services,” a “false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which . . . is likely to cause confusion . . . as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities.” WickFire alleged that the ads included a trademark and links to a WickFire website designed to aggregate coupons for online merchants.

The case went to trial, and a jury found for WickFire with respect to the state law claims and the false advertising claim (although it did not award any damages for violation of the Lanham Act). The jury determined that TriMax misrepresented WickFire as the source of advertisements by placing ads containing identifying information distinct to WickFire in a manner that was likely to cause confusion. TriMax filed for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. The district court denied the motions and entered judgment. TriMax appealed.

On appeal, TriMax alleged that WickFire’s Lanham Act claim was foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox. The Fifth Circuit disagreed. The Court explained that WickFire was not concerned with protecting an original idea, as Fox attempted to do in Dastar. Instead, WickFire was trying to protect the genuineness of its brand.

TriMax next argued that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the jury did not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for WickFire. The Fifth Circuit thought otherwise, holding that it did not need to decide whether the evidence was sufficient as a matter of law because the jury did not award WickFire damages to the claim. The Court noted that since the jury found that there were no damages, WickFire [...]

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Prevailing at the PTAB Can Mean Prevailing Party Attorneys’ Fees

Addressing whether attorneys’ fees may be awarded in a patent infringement lawsuit where an accused infringer successfully invalidates claims in an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the accused infringer is considered the “prevailing party” for purposes of 35 U.S.C. § 285, but remanded for consideration on whether fees incurred in IPR proceedings can be awarded. Dragon Intellectual Property, LLC v. DISH Network LLC, et al., Case No. 19-1283 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 22, 2020) (Moore, J.).

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Defendant Not “Prevailing Party” for Purposes of Attorneys’ Fees After Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of attorneys’ fees under § 285, finding that a defendant is not a “prevailing party” for purposes of collecting attorneys’ fees where the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed its case without prejudice and there was no final court decision designating either litigant as the prevailing party. O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. v. Timney Triggers, LLC, Case No. 19-1134 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 13, 2020) (Hughes, J.).

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