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Fourth Estate Registration Requirement Defeats Pro Se Copyright Infringement Plaintiff

The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed dismissal of a copyright infringement claim for failure to register the copyright, and affirmed summary judgment against plaintiff on related state law claims where the plaintiff was deemed to have admitted statements that undermined its claims. Foss v. Marvic Inc., Case No. 20-1008 (1st Cir. Apr. 12, 2021) (Lynch, J.)

In 2006, sunroom purveyor Marvic contracted with graphic designer Foss to create a marketing brochure. Foss presented a $3,000 estimate, which Marvic paid, and Marvic began using the brochure soon after. In 2018, Foss (pro se) filed suit, demanding $264,000 for alleged copyright infringement on the basis that in 2016, she discovered that Marvic had been using a modified version of the brochure in print and online without asking for or receiving her permission. Foss alleged inaccurately that she had “applied for official U.S. Copyright Registrations” for the brochure.

Marvic moved to dismiss, and Foss filed an amended complaint stating six causes of action, including copyright infringement and five state-law claims. Foss alleged that she had registered the brochure with the US Copyright Office, but in fact she had only applied (after filing the original complaint) for registration. Marvic moved to dismiss the copyright and breach of contract claims. Foss did not oppose, and the district court dismissed the case. Foss then moved to reopen the case, a motion that the district court granted. Foss filed an opposition to Marvic’s earlier motion to dismiss and retained counsel, who first appeared on the day the district court heard Marvic’s motions.

In support of dismissal, Marvic argued that Foss had not established registration of her copyright, noting the then-existing circuit split as to whether mere application or successful registration was required to support a claim of infringement in federal court. The First Circuit stayed the case pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Fourth Estate. After the Supreme Court held that successful registration is required, the district court lifted the stay and dismissed the copyright claim but not the breach of contract claim.

Later, Marvic served a request for admissions, to which Foss’s counsel failed to respond. Marvic moved that the statements in its request be deemed admitted. The district court granted the motion. Two weeks later, Foss’s counsel moved to withdraw, having been suspended from the practice of law.

Foss, pro se again, moved for reconsideration and for more time to respond to the request for admissions, but the district court denied the motions. Marvic moved for summary judgment on the state law claims, which the district court granted, largely relying on Foss’s deemed admissions. Foss appealed.

The First Circuit held that it was not error to dismiss Foss’s copyright claim under Fourth Estate. The Court rejected as waived Foss’s argument that the district court should have stayed the case pending registration since Foss had not sought such relief below. The Court also rejected Foss’s argument that dismissal became improper when the failure to register was cured since the [...]

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Doctrine of Equivalents Analysis Should Not Be Simple Binary Comparison

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit remanded a district court’s claim construction and grant of a defendant’s summary judgment motion of non-infringement under the doctrine of equivalents, finding that a reasonable juror could find that the accused products performed substantially the same function in substantially the same way to achieve substantially the same result as the claimed invention. Edgewell Personal Care Brands, LLC v. Munchkin, Inc., Case No. 20-1203 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 9, 2021) (Moore, J.)

Edgewell manufactures and sells the “Diaper Genie,” a diaper pail system with a replaceable cassette placed inside the pail for soiled diaper collection, forming a wrapper around the diapers. Munchkin marketed a refill cassette as compatible with Edgewell’s pails. Edgewell’s two patents at issue relate to improvements in the cassette. After claim construction, Edgewell asserted literal infringement of one patent and infringement under the doctrine of equivalents of the other patent. The district court granted Munchkin’s summary judgment motion of non-infringement against both patents. Edgewell appealed.

Edgewell’s first patent is directed to a cassette with a clearance at its bottom portion. The claim construction dispute turned on whether the claims required a clearance space after the cassette was installed. The district court construed the claim to require a space and to require that the claimed “clearance” cannot be filled by an unclaimed interfering member. The district court granted Munchkin summary judgment because Munchkin’s refill cassette had no space after the cassette was installed. The Federal Circuit reversed, explaining that an “apparatus claim is generally to be construed according to what the apparatus is, not what the apparatus does.” The Court found that without an express limitation, “clearance” should be construed to cover all uses of the claimed cassette. The Court determined that the specification and purpose of the “clearance” supported the notion that the claim does not require a clearance after insertion.

The second patent is directed to a cassette with a cover that includes a “tear-off” section. The district court’s construction of an annular cover was of a single, ring-shaped cover. Munchkin’s cassettes each include a two-part cover, and the district court granted Munchkin’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement. Although the Federal Circuit agreed with the claim constructions, the Court found that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Munchkin under the doctrine of equivalents for claim element vitiation on the basis that “annular cover” and “tear-off” limitations §§would be rendered meaningless.

The vitiation doctrine ensures that applying the doctrine of equivalents “does not effectively eliminate a claim element in its entirety.” The Federal Circuit found that the district court erred in evaluating this element as a binary choice—single-component structure versus a multi-component structure. Instead, the Court explained that the district court should have evaluated the evidence to determine whether a reasonable juror could find that the accused products perform substantially the same function, in substantially the same way, achieving substantially the same result as the corresponding claim elements. Edgewell’s expert opined that Munchkin’s products performed the [...]

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Can’t Camouflage Express Trademark Contract Terms

Addressing a range of trademark licensing issues, including discretionary approval, exculpatory contract clauses and third party beneficiary standing, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to the US Army, finding that the Army abided by the terms of a trademark licensing agreement with a brand management company that sold clothing bearing the Army logo. Authentic Apparel Grp., LLC v. United States, Case No. 20-1412 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 4, 2021) (Lourie, J.)

In a 2010 licensing agreement, the Army granted Authentic Apparel, a brand management company that licenses merchandise, a non-exclusive license to manufacture and sell clothing bearing the Army’s trademarks in exchange for royalties. The licensing agreement gave the Army sole and absolute discretion on whether to approve any products and marketing materials bearing the Army’s trademarks. The licensing agreement also included exculpatory clauses exempting the Army from liability for exercising this discretion. From 2011 to 2014, Authentic submitted 500 requests for product approval, and the Army disapproved of only 41. After a series of late or unpaid royalty payments, Authentic sent notice that it would not pay 2014 royalties. The Army then terminated the license to Authentic. In 2015, Authentic and its chairman, Ron Reuben, sued the US government for breach of contract of the licensing agreement. The alleged breaches included denial of the right to exploit the goodwill associated with the Army’s trademarks, refusal to permit Authentic to advertise its contribution to certain Army recreation programs, delay of approval for a financing agreement for a footwear line, and denial of approval for advertising featuring the actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Court of Federal Claims granted summary judgment to the US government and dismissed Reuben as a co-plaintiff for lack of standing. Authentic appealed.

The two main issues on appeal were whether Authentic provided sufficient evidence to show there was a genuine dispute of material fact that the Army breached the terms of its contract or any implied duty of good faith, and whether Reuben was a third party beneficiary to have standing as a plaintiff to the suit.

As to the first issue, the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for the government because Authentic was unable to provide sufficient evidence that the Army breached the trademark licensing agreement. The Court found that:

The contracting parties contemplated the terms of the contract and voluntarily decided to include express language of broad discretionary approval and exculpatory clauses exempting liability for disapproval, and therefore they should be held to the express terms for which they bargained.

The Army did not act unreasonably or violate its duty of good faith and fair dealing in exercising its discretion because it did approve more than 90% of Authentic’s products.

Authentic’s argument that the Army’s discretion was too broad and restricted Authentic’s use of the trademarks to solely “decorative purposes” was without merit because (1) the Court was not evaluating the validity of the trademarks here, (2) Authentic still [...]

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No More Bites at the Apple: Intervening Junior User Can Force You to Get Your Head Out of the Cloud(s)

Addressing how a mark’s intervening junior user’s success can affect a senior user, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a grant of summary judgment in favor of the junior user and the issuance of a permanent injunction for any commercial use of the disputed terms by the senior user. RXD Media, LLC v. IP Application Dev. LLC, Case No. 19-1461 (4th Cir. Jan. 21, 2021) (Keenan, J.) (joined by Gregory, J., and Floyd, C.J.)

RXD and Apple (here embodied also in IP Application Development, a company formed and wholly owned by Apple for the purpose of registering the “ipad” mark) have shared a long history of trademark litigation, initiated by RXD, over the use of the “ipad” mark. Prior to this appeal, the district court ruled in favor of Apple on summary judgment and permanently enjoined RXD from commercially using the terms “ipad” or “ipod.”

RXD claimed that the district court failed to account for RXD being the “first user” of the “ipad” mark; that Apple did not establish a distinctive, secondary meaning of “ipad” before RXD’s use; that Apple failed to show a likelihood of consumer confusion based on both parties’ use of “ipad”; and that the district court erred in rejecting RXD’s claim that “two of Apple’s trademark applications were void because Apple lacked a bona fide intent to use the ‘ipad’ mark for the services listed in those applications.” The Fourth Circuit, however, was not convinced.

The Fourth Circuit found that even if RXD was technically the senior user of the mark at issue, its expanded, “wholly altered” use of the mark, which now focused on “cloud storage” services and for which it now claimed protection, was not entitled to such protection, because the use occurred “on the heels of Apple’s [i.e., the intervening junior user’s] commercial success in releasing” the iPad. By that point, Apple had already “experienced undeniable commercial success, ha[d] promoted its products through regular advertising using the mark, and ha[d] obtained extensive media coverage regarding its ‘iPad’ device.” As such, the Court concluded that Apple’s “ipad” mark was strong and distinctive, noting that consumers were likely to and had already experienced confusion regarding the “ipad” mark. The Court further concluded that, because RXD was a “proven infringer” of the mark, injunctive relief ordered by the district court in favor of Apple was justified. Finally, the Court rejected RXD’s intent argument, stating that Apple was not required to prove a bona fide intent to use the mark for services it did not identify in its relevant trademark applications—Apple’s development of “cloud storage” services, while not explicitly named in Apple’s trademark applications, was encompassed by “the context of the strength of Apple’s brand” and was within the “breadth of [its] products and services.”

Practice Note: Practitioners should take careful note of how their clients use their mark, even if such use can be technically classified as “senior,” and how the mark evolved over time and whether it happened to change coinciding [...]

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No Appellate Jurisdiction to Review Post-Verdict Appeal of Previously Denied SJ Motion

In a closely watched trademark/counterfeiting case, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a judgment for contributory infringement, award of permanent injunction and monetary damage award against a commercial landlord found to have been willfully blind to trademark infringement and counterfeiting occurring on its leased property. Omega SA v. 375 Canal, LLC, Case No. 19-969 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2021) (Menashi, J.) (Lohier, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part). The Court also concluded that it could not consider a post-verdict appeal on a legal issue raised in a denied summary judgment motion (i.e., whether the landlord needed to know of a specific vendor involved in the counterfeiting) when the appellant failed to file a timely notice of appeal and did not seek an interlocutory appeal or file a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue.

375 Canal LLC is a commercial landlord with properties in Manhattan, including 375 Canal Street. Omega SA is a watch company. Omega sued Canal for contributory trademark infringement, alleging that Canal had continued to lease space at 375 Canal Street to vendors despite knowing that the vendors were selling counterfeit Omega goods. After discovery, Canal moved for summary judgment, contending that Omega did not identify a specific vendor to which Canal continued to lease property despite knowing or having reason to know that the specific vendor was selling counterfeit goods. Omega argued that its primary theory of willful blindness did not require identification of a specific vendor. The district court denied Canal’s motion, agreeing that Omega was not required to identify a specific vendor.

The jury found that Canal had contributorily and willfully infringed Omega’s trademarks, and awarded $1.1 million in statutory damages. The district court amended the final judgment to include a permanent injunction prohibiting Canal from infringing and taking other actions with respect to Omega’s marks, even outside of 375 Canal Street. Canal appealed, arguing that the district court erred by not requiring Omega to identify a specific vendor that Canal knew or should have known was infringing Omega’s trademarks. Canal raised this argument by appealing the pre-trial order denying Canal’s motion for summary judgment and the jury instructions.

The Second Circuit dismissed Canal’s appeal of the summary judgment denial and affirmed the jury instructions on the merits. On Canal’s challenge to the summary judgment denial, the Court began with the premise that a party generally cannot appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits because of its interlocutory character, which is not within appellate jurisdiction. The denial of Canal’s summary judgment motion did not qualify for an exception allowing review, such as situations where Congress has provided for review of certain interlocutory decisions, or where the Supreme Court has construed certain denials of summary judgment, such as those on the basis of qualified immunity, as final decisions permitting review. But even if it had qualified, Canal would have been required to file a notice of appeal within [...]

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Sticky Situation? Circumstantial Evidence Can Support Intent to Confuse in Trade Dress Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendant on trade dress infringement and trade dress dilution claims, finding that evidence relating to the likelihood of confusion was not viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. However, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the defendant on the plaintiff’s false advertising claims because the allegedly deceptive advertising was not material to consumer purchasing decisions. J-B Weld Co., LLC v. Gorilla Glue Co., Case No. 18-14975 (11th Cir. Oct. 20, 2020) (Tjoflat, J.) (Carnes, J., concurring).

J-B Weld and Gorilla Glue are competitors specializing in heavy-duty adhesive products. Gorilla Glue introduced an adhesive under the brand name GorillaWeld that mimicked the packaging of a J-B Weld product. Gorilla Glue advertised GorillaWeld as a steel bond epoxy based on the strength of the bond and its similarity to an epoxy-group polymer, even though the product was not a chemical epoxy and did not contain any steel. J-B Weld sued, alleging trade dress infringement based on the Lanham Act and Georgia law, trade dress dilution based on Georgia law, and false advertising under the Lanham Act. The district court granted Gorilla Glue summary judgment on all claims, finding no trade dress infringement or dilution based on insufficient evidence of likelihood of confusion, and no false advertising because the evidence did not demonstrate that Gorilla Glue’s steel bond epoxy claim was material to consumer purchasing decisions. J-B Weld appealed, arguing that the district court did not properly view the evidence in the light most favorable to J-B Weld.

The 11th Circuit reversed on the trade dress infringement and dilution claims and affirmed on the false advertising claim. On the trade dress infringement claims, the 11th Circuit found that the district court did not view the evidence in the light most favorable to J-B Weld in analyzing the likelihood of confusion between the respective trade dress of J-B Weld and GorillaWeld, as required in the context of summary judgment. The 11th Circuit found that the district court did not properly credit evidence relevant to the similarity of the designs, Gorilla Glue’s intent and instances of actual confusion. For example, despite multiple similarities between the J-B Weld and GorillaWeld packages (including a V-shape tube arrangement and the use, emphasis and location of certain text), the district court found that the presence of the Gorilla Glue logo, brand name and color scheme negated a finding of similarity. The 11th Circuit deemed this finding error in the context of summary judgment. The Court also determined that communications from Gorilla Glue’s packaging design team that repeatedly referenced J-B Weld’s packaging and expressed a desire to use similar elements (including a communication in which a Gorilla Glue employee referred to the GorillaWeld design as a “knock off”) were improperly ascribed to innocuous motives based on self-serving testimony from a Gorilla Glue employee. As the Court explained, summary judgment required drawing all inferences in the light [...]

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Eye Don’t: No Counterfeiting Without Likelihood of Confusion

Referring to the act of counterfeiting as “hard core” or “first degree” trademark infringement, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for the first time confirmed that the Lanham Act requires a likelihood of confusion in order for the trademark holder to prevail on a counterfeiting claim. Arcona, Inc. v. Farmacy Beauty, LLC, et al., Case No. 19-55586 (9th Cir. Oct. 1, 2020) (Lee, J.) In doing so, the Court affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Farmacy Beauty in a counterfeiting action brought by skin care brand Arcona.

Arcona’s counterfeiting claims (which remained in the district court action after Arcona requested dismissal of its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims) stemmed from Farmacy Beauty’s use of the term EYE DEW on its skincare products, which Arcona asserted to be counterfeit versions of its eye cream sold in the United States under the registered EYE DEW trademark. The district court, however, found that dissimilar packaging and branding made it “implausible” that consumers would be tricked into believing that Farmacy’s EYE DEW product was actually one of Arcona’s skin care products, and granted partial summary judgment for Farmacy on the counterfeiting claim. Arcona appealed.

Arcona argued that it was not required to show a likelihood of consumer confusion with respect to the parties’ EYE DEW eye creams in order to pursue its trademark counterfeiting claim. The Ninth Circuit starkly disagreed, finding that the plain language of the Lanham Act, 15 USC § 1114, expressly states that likelihood of confusion is a requirement for a counterfeiting claim.

The Ninth Circuit also rejected Arcona’s alternative argument, that there should be a presumption of likelihood of confusion based on the parties’ use of the identical mark EYE DEW. The Court explained that in a claim of counterfeiting—even with identical trademarks—there is no presumption of consumer confusion if the products themselves are not identical. Here, evidence demonstrated that the parties sold their respective EYE DEW products in very different packages, with Arcona’s eye cream being in a “tall, cylindrical, silver bottle encased in a slim, cardboard outer box,” and Farmacy’s eye cream sold in a “short, wide, white jar, along with a squarish outer box.” In reviewing the parties’ respective products as a whole, including prominent displays of the respective house marks FARMACY and ARCONA, as well as differences in packaging, size, color, shape and “all other attributes,” the Court determined that the parties’ products were not identical and that there was no presumption of consumer confusion.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that summary judgment of no counterfeiting was proper because there was no genuine dispute of material fact about the likelihood of consumer confusion factor. The Court acknowledged that the parties’ eye cream products do compete in the same space and in the same geographic markets, but explained that a claim of counterfeiting nevertheless requires that the parties’ marks be “considered in their entirety and as they appear in the marketplace.” Noting that the available evidence demonstrated significant differences between [...]

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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 unauthorized use of his name and voice violated his right of publicity under Connecticut common law. Pursuant to a recording agreement with his former record label, Shady Records/Aftermath Records, Jackson did not own a copyright interest in the “In Da Club” recording and therefore could not sue for copyright infringement. The district court granted Roberts’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Jackson had surrendered his publicity rights via the recording agreement and that the right of publicity claim was preempted. Jackson appealed.

The Second Circuit agreed that federal law preempted the right of publicity claim, but for different reasons than the district court: the Second Circuit found the state claim preempted under the doctrine of implied preemption or, alternatively, statutory preemption. The Court explained that “generally . . . implied preemption precludes the application of state laws to the extent that those laws interfere with or frustrate the functioning of the regime created by the Copyright Act. Statutory preemption preempts state law claims to the extent that they assert rights equivalent to those protected by the Copyright Act, in works of authorship within the subject matter of federal copyright.”

The Second Circuit used a two-part test to determine whether the state law claim was subject to implied preemption, asking (1) whether the state right of publicity claim asserted a sufficiently substantial state interest, distinct from those interests underlying federal copyright law, and (2) whether the state law claim would potentially conflict with rights established by the Copyright Act. Given that Roberts did not use Jackson’s name or persona to falsely imply Jackson’s endorsement of Roberts’ music, nor did Roberts invade Jackson’s privacy or use his persona in a derogatory nature, the Court reasoned that Jackson was not seeking to vindicate any distinct and substantial state interest. Likewise, the Court held that the second element was satisfied because Jackson’s right of publicity suit had the potential to interfere with the copyright holder’s exclusive control of its rights: “Jackson’s attempt to [control the use of 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 the end plate.”

Neville filed a lawsuit alleging that Foundation Constructors’ pile tips infringed the patents. The district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement, reasoning that the plain meaning of “end plate having a substantially flat surface” did not encompass “an interior surface facing into the rest of the pile tip.” Examining the intrinsic record, the district court concluded that “the patent applicant intended the ‘substantially flat surface’ of the end plate to refer to the side of the end plate facing outward.” The court found that the accused products did not have such an “end plate.” As to claims requiring a protrusion extending outwardly from the end plate, the court reasoned that “[b]ecause the end piece of the accused pile tip is a single, conically-shaped piece, there is not a demarcation of where an ‘end plate’ should end and the ‘protrusion’ should begin,” and non-infringement was therefore appropriate. Neville appealed.

Neville argued that the district court’s ruling of non-infringement was based on an incorrect claim construction and should therefore be overturned. The Federal Circuit rejected Neville’s arguments and affirmed summary judgment.

The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the phrase “substantially flat surface disposed perpendicular to the centerline of the tubular pile” did not refer to any interior-facing surface. Starting with the language of the claim, the Court found that the word “end” suggested that the relevant surface of the end plate is the external one at the second end of the pile tip. The Court found that the specification reinforced the view that the invention was directed to the exterior surface of the end plate as being “substantially flat,” and through this end plate the pile tip applies force to the underlying soil. Neville argued that the specification implicitly taught that an end plate having a substantially flat surface perpendicular to the tubular pile could be fully interior to another portion of the pile tip because the specification disclosed that the pile tip, including the end plate, “could be cast as a single unit.” The Court rejected Neville’s argument, finding that under Neville’s logic, the [...]

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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. Terix arranged for joint HPE-Terix customers to have Oracle support for all of their servers through a single server support plan. Terix accomplished this by downloading Solaris software patches, using the customer’s credentials (created using a Terix-supplied credit card), to make copies for servers that were not part of the support contract.

In 2013, Oracle sued Terix for copyright infringement. The court granted Oracle summary judgment, and Terix stipulated to a judgment on the claims without admitting liability. Oracle and HPE entered into an agreement, effective May 6, 2015, to toll the statute of limitations for any claims Oracle might assert against HPE.

In 2016, Oracle sued HPE for direct copyright infringement concerning HPE’s direct support customers, and for indirect infringement concerning joint HPE-Terix customers. Oracle also sued for claims of intentional interference and unfair competition under California state law. The parties did not dispute that the tolling agreement applied, so the court considered whether the copyright infringement claims were barred for conduct before May 6, 2012. The Copyright Act provides that a copyright infringement claim is subject to a three-year statute of limitations, which runs separately for each violation. Under Ninth Circuit law, a copyright infringement claim begins to accrue “when a when a party discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the alleged infringement.” Importantly, actual or constructive knowledge triggers the statute of limitations. The Ninth Circuit has explained that suspicion of copyright infringement places a duty on the copyright holder to investigate further into possible infringement or lose the claim.

Oracle conceded that it had concerns about Terix and suspicions about HPE as early as 2010, but argued that HPE used fraudulent means to keep Oracle unaware of its actions, so it had no duty to inquire. The district court disagreed, finding that once Oracle had constructive knowledge, the doctrine of fraudulent concealment was no longer an option to toll the limitations. Because Oracle failed to investigate HPE, the court determined that HPE was entitled to summary judgment on the infringement claims for pre-May 6, 2012, conduct. Oracle appealed.

The Ninth Circuit explained that to prove indirect infringement, Oracle had to show that [...]

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