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No Remix: Copyright Act Preempts Right of Publicity Claim

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the federal Copyright Act preempts a state right of publicity claim when the latter is merely “a thinly disguised effort to exert control over an unauthorized [use of a copyrighted] work.” Jackson v. Roberts, Case No. 19-480 (2d Cir. Aug. 19, 2020) (Leval, J.). Both parties in this case are famous hip-hop artists more commonly known by their stage names: the plaintiff, Curtis James Jackson III, is known as 50 Cent, and the defendant, William Leonard Roberts II, is known as Rick Ross. In 2015, Roberts released a free mix tape that included samples from many famous songs, including Jackson’s hit “In Da Club.” The mix tape track at issue was titled “In Da Club (Ft. 50 Cent)” and included Rick Ross rapping over the “In Da Club” instrumentals, a 30-second sample of 50 Cent singing the “In Da Club” refrain, and multiple references to Rick Ross’s upcoming album. Jackson sued Roberts, claiming that the...

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Structural Limitations Are Not Met by Imaginary Demarcation Lines

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s claim construction of the term “end plate” that required a flat external surface, and its construction of the term “protrusion extending outwardly from the end plate” that required a demarcation between the protrusion and end plate. The Federal Circuit therefore prohibited an infringement theory premised on an end plate being inside the accused product and a protrusion that was not demarcated from the end plate. Neville v. Foundation Constructors, Inc., Case No. 20-1132 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 27, 2020) (Chen, J.). Neville owns patents directed to foundation piles, which are tubular structures placed into the ground to provide stability for the foundations built over them. One set of claims requires an “end plate having a substantially flat surface disposed perpendicular to the centerline of the tubular pile.” Another set of claims requires “at least one protrusion extending outwardly from...

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Liability for Copyright Infringement Attaches if Conduct Exceeds Scope of License

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit revived a software owner’s copyright infringement suit because the district court erred in granting summary judgment of no infringement by failing to analyze whether the accused infringer exceeded the scope of a copyright license. Oracle America, Inc., et al. v. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, Case No. 19-15506 (9th Cir. Aug. 20, 2020) (Smith, J.). Oracle owns registered copyrights for Solaris software, including copyrighted software patches. Oracle requires its customers have a prepaid annual support contract, for each server they desire to be under support, to access the software patches. Customers under a support plan can access patches through an Oracle support website. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) provides a “one-stop-shop” for support to its customers, including HPE servers running Solaris. HPE provides this support directly and through its partners. One of HPE’s partners is Terix Computer Company....

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Diamonds to Dust? Too Many Factual Disputes Precludes Summary Judgment

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a district court’s summary judgment grant in favor of a fine jewelry producer for trademark infringement, counterfeiting and unfair competition because factual disputes exist around whether the accused infringer’s use of the word “Tiffany” was merely descriptive of a particular ring setting, thereby supporting a fair use defense to infringement. Tiffany and Company v. Costco Wholesale Corporation, Case Nos. 17-2798-cv, -19-338, -19-404 (2nd Cir. Aug. 17, 2020) (Livingston, J.). In 2012, a Costco customer alerted Tiffany that she believed Costco was selling diamond engagement rings advertised as Tiffany rings. When Tiffany approached Costco about the issue in December 2012, Costco asserted that its point-of-sale displays bearing the Tiffany name referred to the diamond setting styles of its rings, and that other similar point-of-sale displays also identified common ring settings such as “bezel” or...

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Eighth Circuit Cools Off Antitrust Claims Based on Alleged Patent Fraud

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment dismissing antitrust and tortious interference claims based on fraudulent procurement of patents where the plaintiff failed to show a knowing and willful intent to deceive the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Inline Packaging, LLC v. Graphic Packaging International, LLC, Case No. 18-3167 (8th Cir. June 18, 2020) (Smith, J.). Inline Packaging and Graphic Packaging are manufacturers of susceptor packaging, a specialized food packaging used for microwaving frozen foods. Graphic developed the susceptor design in partnership with Nestlé in 2005. The packaging was redesigned from a prior patent obtained several years earlier. Although Graphic’s computer-aided design drafter was listed as the sole inventor of the redesigned packaging claimed in the asserted patent, Nestlé’s engineer provided feedback that was implemented into the design, including the addition and deletion of...

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Fifth Circuit Drills Down to Details in Drilling Database Disagreement

In a wide ranging opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that copying unimportant database schema from a proprietary database did not constitute infringement. The Court also held that where the technological measure that the defendant allegedly circumvented did not effectively control access to the work, there was no Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violation. Moreover, the Court found error in not treating the defendant as the sole prevailing party on the copyright and DMCA claims for purposes of attorneys’ fees, notwithstanding plaintiff’s success on other claims. Digital Drilling Data Systems, LLC v. Petrolink Services, Inc., Case No. 19-20116 (5th Cir. July 2, 2020) (Duncan, J.). Digital Drilling Data Systems (Digidrill) provides software used in oil drilling operations. Digidrill’s software collects data from underground sensors in order to help above-ground operators steer the drill. Digidrill’s systems compile the data into...

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No Summary Judgment Where Primary Reference Might Not Be “Basically the Same” as Asserted Design Patent

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the district court improperly resolved a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to summary judgment of invalidity for design patent obviousness because a reasonable fact finder could have concluded that the primary prior art reference did not create “basically the same” visual impression as the asserted designed patent. Spigen Korea Co., Ltd. v. Ultraproof Inc. et al., Case Nos. 19-1435; -1717 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 17, 2020) (Reyna, J.) (Lourie, J., dissented without opinion). Spigen filed a lawsuit against Ultraproof alleging infringement of three design patents directed to a cellular phone case. Ultraproof filed a motion for summary judgment of invalidity, arguing that Spigen’s design patents were obvious in view of a combination of a primary prior art reference and a secondary prior art reference. Spigen opposed Ultraproof’s motion, arguing that its design patents were not obvious, and that...

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A Lot of Hot Air? Obviousness Testimony Must Come from POSITA

Addressing a jury verdict of invalidity, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion in allowing trial testimony regarding obviousness from a lay witness, and remanded for a new trial. HVLPO2, LLC v. Oxygen Frog, LLC, Case No. 19-1649 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 5, 2020) (Moore, J). In 2016, HVLPO2 sued Oxygen Frog for infringement of three patents related to an oxygen supply system used for glass blowing. HVLPO2 moved for summary judgment of infringement of two patents, which the court granted. The case proceeded to a jury trial on Oxygen Frog’s invalidity defense. During the trial, Oxygen Frog introduced testimony from a glass blowing artist who described his prior art system and testified that he thought it would have been obvious to modify the prior art to obtain the claimed invention. After the jury returned a verdict that the asserted claims were invalid due to obviousness, HVLPO2 moved for a new trial based...

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All in the Family: Prior Patent License Implicitly Grants License to Asserted Patent

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court dismissal, finding that a patent license implicitly licensed all parents and continuations that disclosed the same invention as the explicitly licensed patent. Cheetah Omni LLC v. AT&T Services, Inc., Case No. 19-1264 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 6, 2020) (Lourie, J). Cheetah owns a patent directed to optical communication networks. Cheetah alleged that AT&T infringed the patent by making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing fiber equipment and services for use in its fiber optic communication network. In response to the allegations, Ciena Communications and Ciena Corporation (collectively, Ciena) moved to intervene, because they manufacturer and supply certain components for AT&T’s fiber optic network. After the district court granted Ciena’s motion to intervene, Ciena and AT&T moved for summary judgment that Cheetah’s infringement claim was barred by settlement in a...

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