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Hit the Brakes: Experimental Use, Enhanced Damages Determinations Require Redo

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded a district court decision regarding experimental use under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b) and the application of enhanced damages based on an allegedly flawed noninfringement and invalidity opinion. Sunoco Partners Mktg. & Terminals L.P. v. U.S. Venture, Inc., Case Nos. 20-1640; -1641. (Fed. Cir. Apr. 29, 2022) (Prost, Reyna, Stoll, JJ.)

Sunoco sued Venture for infringement of four patents related to blending butane into gasoline. Venture argued that certain patent claims were invalid because they were subject to the on-sale bar of 35 U.S.C. § 102(b). The district court found that the sale at issue was primarily for experimentation and that the on-sale bar did not apply. Venture also argued that certain claim terms required measuring the actual vapor pressure of the butane and gasoline, but the district court rejected this argument. The district court found infringement and awarded Sunoco $2 million in damages, which it trebled to $6 million after finding that Venture lacked a good faith belief of invalidity or noninfringement because the legal opinion Venture relied upon was flawed. Venture appealed.

On appeal, Venture challenged numerous issues, including the district court’s rejection of its on-sale bar defense, construction of two claim terms and decision to enhance damages.

The Federal Circuit first addressed the district court’s finding that the on-sale bar did not apply to certain claims of two of the asserted patents. Reviewing de novo, the Court applied the Supreme Court’s 2019 Helsinn v. Teva decision, which requires that the on-sale bar applies if the invention was the subject of a commercial sale and  ready for patenting. Analyzing the first prong, the Court looked to the contract language of the sale at issue. The inventor’s company offered to sell and install its butane blending technology at a customer’s fuel terminal more than one year before filing the patent application. The terms of the agreement required that the customer commit to purchasing at least 500,000 barrels of butane as consideration for the installation of the fuel mixing system. The Court noted that this agreement expressly described the transaction as a “sale” and did not reference any experimental purpose.

The Federal Circuit was not swayed by the lower court’s view that the contract did not require the customer to pay for the system directly, finding that a commitment to buy product in the future constituted a sale. The Court also gave little weight to the preinstallation testing terms of the agreement, finding that those tests were not experiments, but rather tests to confirm that the equipment was operating as contractually promised. Additional contract terms further cemented the Court’s view that this transaction was a sale, including language that the technology had already been “developed” and that title to the equipment transferred to the customer. The Court concluded that the sale of the system to the customer was not primarily for experimentation. The Court reversed the district court’s experimental-use determination and vacated its infringement determination, directing [...]

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Ninth Circuit Once Again Preserves Competitor’s Data-Scraping Rights

On remand from the Supreme Court of the United States, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed its own 2019 opinion that preliminarily enjoined a professional networking platform from denying a data analytics company access to publicly available profiles. HiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corporation, Case No. 17-16783, (9th Cir., Apr. 18, 2022) (Wallace, Berzon, Berg (sitting by designation) JJ.).

Previously, the Supreme Court had granted certiorari in this case, but subsequently vacated the judgment and remanded back to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration in view of its  2021 decision in Van Buren v. United States. In Van Buren, the Supreme Court attempted to clarify the reach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), holding that authorized computer access for arguably improper purposes likely does not constitute a violation of the CFAA. On remand, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Van Buren reinforced its determination that hiQ had raised “serious questions” about whether LinkedIn may invoke the CFAA to preempt hiQ’s claim of tortious interference.

HiQ is a data company that sells “people analytics” focused on predictive employee data. HiQ’s data is largely obtained by scraping public LinkedIn profiles with automated bots. In 2017, LinkedIn sent a demand letter to hiQ asserting that hiQ’s scraping activity was in violation of the CFAA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the California penal code and common law. HiQ immediately filed suit seeking injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that LinkedIn could not lawfully invoke the asserted claims. Granting hiQ’s motion for the preliminary injunction, the district court ordered LinkedIn to remove, and to refrain from implementing, any technical barriers to hiQ’s access to the LinkedIn public profiles.

The Ninth Circuit stated that a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish the following:

  • It is likely to succeed on the merits.
  • It is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent the injunction.
  • The balance of equities tips in its favor.
  • The injunction is in the public interest.

This analysis required the Ninth Circuit to focus only on whether hiQ had raised serious questions on the merits of the factual and legal issues presented. The Ninth Circuit’s re-examination of these factors was nearly identical to its 2019 holding.

Starting with irreparable harm, the Ninth Circuit found that the survival of hiQ’s business was threatened since it depends on being able to access public LinkedIn member profiles. The Court also agreed, once again, with the district court’s determination that the balance of the equities tipped in hiQ’s favor. The Court found that the privacy interests of individuals who have opted to maintain a public LinkedIn profile did not outweigh hiQ’s interests in continuing its business. On this factor, the Court noted that “little evidence” suggested that LinkedIn users who choose to make their profiles public actually maintain an expectation of privacy with respect to publicly posted information. The Court also noted that LinkedIn does not own its users’ data, since users retain [...]

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Robotic Skepticism May Not Trump Motivation to Combine

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision finding the challenged claims patentable because the Board impermissibly rested its motivation-to-combine analysis on evidence of general skepticism in the field of invention. Auris Health, Inc. v. Intuitive Surgical Operations, Case No. 21-1732 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 29, 2022) (Dyk, Prost, JJ.) (Reyna, J., dissenting).

Intuitive owns a patent that describes an improvement over earlier robotic surgery systems that allows surgeons to remotely manipulate surgical tools using a controller. The patent focuses on solving the problem of swapping surgical tools by implementing a pulley system that allows tools to be swapped in and out more quickly. Auris petitioned for inter partes review (IPR) of the patent, arguing that a combination of two references disclosed every limitation of the challenged claims. Auris further argued that a skilled artisan would be motivated to combine the references to decrease the number of assistants needed during surgery. While the Board agreed that the combination of the two references disclosed every limitation of the challenged claims, it found that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not be motivated to combine the references because of general skepticism from surgeons “about performing robotic surgery in the first place.” Auris appealed.

The Federal Circuit began by explaining that the motivation-to-combine inquiry asks whether a skilled artisan “not only could have made but would have been motivated to make the combinations . . . of prior art to arrive at the claimed invention.” The Court also explained that as to the “‘would have’ question, ‘any need or problem known in the field of endeavor at the time of invention and addressed by the patent can provide a reason for combining the elements in the manner claimed.’”

The Federal Circuit concluded that generic industry skepticism about robotic surgery cannot, on its own, preclude a finding of a motivation to combine. The Court explained that although industry skepticism can play a role as a secondary consideration in an obviousness finding, such evidence must be specific to the invention and not simply the field as a whole. The Court concluded that the Board’s motivation-to-combine determination was based almost exclusively on evidence of general skepticism. Thus, the Court vacated the decision and remanded the case, directing the Board to examine the evidence using the correct obviousness criteria.

Judge Reyna issued a dissenting opinion in which he disagreed as to whether  the Federal Circuit should implement a rule that general skepticism cannot  support a finding of no motivation to combine. Judge Reyna expressed concern that the majority opinion could be understood to create an inflexible, rigid rule that the Board cannot consider evidence of skepticism toward the invention , including whether that skepticism would have dissuaded a skilled artisan from making the proposed combination. Judge Reyna also argued that notwithstanding the majority opinion, the Board did not rely solely on general skepticism, but rather provided additional explanation as to why the “no [...]

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The Perils of Falling in Love

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit that sought a declaratory judgment on the basis that a notice of termination of copyright assignment under 17 U.S.C. § 203 did not validly terminate a 1983 grant of rights in the copyright. Valentina M. Peretti Acuti, et al. v. Authentic Brands Group, LLC, et al., Case No. 21-2174 (2d Cir. May 4, 2022) (Livingston, C.J.; Lynch, Lohier, JJ.)

Hugo Peretti co-wrote “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” a ballad popularized by Elvis Presley in 1961, and registered the composition with the US Copyright Office the same year. In 1983, Peretti, his wife and his daughters transferred their contingent rights and interest in the renewal term of the copyright to Julian and Jean Aberbach, predecessors-in-interest to Authentic Brands. Under the Copyright Act of 1976 (1976 Act), the renewal rights would not vest until the original term of the copyright expired in 1989 (28 years after the copyright was registered, under the Copyright Act of 1909, which applied to the initial term of the copyright because of its registration in 1961). Peretti died in 1986, before the renewal rights vested. His family registered the renewal of the copyright in 1989.

In 2014, Peretti’s widow and his daughter Valentina served a notice on Authentic Brands to terminate the 1983 assignment under 17 U.S.C. § 203. Section 203 provides for the right to terminate a grant executed by the author at any time during a five-year period beginning at the end of 35 years from the date of execution of the grant. Authentic Brands contested the effectiveness of the termination, and Valentina filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the termination was properly effectuated. The district court dismissed the claim, holding that Valentina had no right to terminate the assignment because the rights to the renewal term that were transferred were those of Valentina and her mother, which had vested upon expiration of the original copyright term. The district court held that § 203 provides termination rights only to post-1978 grants executed by an author and, therefore, Peretti’s widow and daughter’s rights to the renewal were not subject to termination under that provision. Valentina appealed.

The Second Circuit began with a discussion of § 203 of the Copyright Act, which applies only to grants executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978. The Court noted that the appeal hinged on the meaning of “executed by the author.” The 1976 Act provides that execution of a transfer of a copyright is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed. Thus, as the Second Circuit explained, a grant “executed by the author” is a grant that is documented in writing, is signed by the author and conveys rights owned by the author.

Turning to the Peretti 1983 assignment, the Second Circuit explained that at the time the assignment was executed, ownership of the copyright in the composition [...]

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Over My Dead Body: Defendant Can’t “Wait Until He Dies” to Pay Arbitration Award

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s interpretation of an arbitration award, finding that the defendant could not “wait until he dies” to pay a portion of the damages award. Nano Gas Techs., Inc. v. Roe, Case Nos. 21-1809; -1822 (7th Cir. Apr. 25, 2022) (Rovner, St. Eve, Jackson-Akiwumi, JJ.)

Clifton Roe invented a nozzle that disperses gases into liquids. Roe assigned the invention to Nano Gas as part of a collaboration agreement under which Roe received 20% equity and a board seat. The agreement also provided for a salary that was subject to Nano Gas’s ability to raise capital and Roe’s success in developing the invention at Nano Gas’s facility. The parties’ relationship deteriorated after the collaboration failed to produce the desired results. Roe ultimately took the machine and related intellectual property created by another Nano Gas employee and continued developing the product on his own. Arbitration ensued.

The arbitrator concluded that Roe did not have the right to remove the machine and related intellectual property from Nano Gas’s facility. The arbitrator determined that Roe should pay Nano Gas for the financial harm it suffered but also found that Roe deserved compensation for his work on the technology. In his award, the arbitrator indicated that he had initially considered giving Roe a royalty on future profits but declined to do so because Roe was a shareholder in Nano Gas and could benefit financially from the invention’s future success. The arbitrator offset Nano Gas’s $1.5 million damages award with an award to Roe of $1 million and ordered Roe to pay the $500,000 offset “in such manner as Roe chooses.” Roe was also required to return the related intellectual property or pay Nano Gas $150,000.

Nano Gas sued to enforce the award, and the district court entered judgment for $650,000 ($500,000 for the offset and $150,000 for the intellectual property). Nano Gas then filed a turnover motion for Roe’s Nano Gas stock, valued at $117,000. Roe argued that the arbitration award protected his status as a shareholder and allowed him to pay the damages “in such manner as [he] chooses.” Roe planned to pay the award with dividends from his stock and maintained that he could “wait until he die[s]” to satisfy the debt. The district court denied Nano Gas’s turnover motion, finding that Roe was entitled to remain a shareholder and could pay both awards “in such a manner as Roe chooses.” Nano Gas filed a motion to reconsider, and the court amended its order to require Roe to either turn over the stock or identify other assets to satisfy the $150,000 award. As to the remaining $500,000, the district court found that Roe could still choose how and when to pay that portion of the award. Both parties appealed.

The Seventh Circuit first addressed Roe’s argument that the arbitration award entitled him to remain a shareholder. The Court observed that the award did not stipulate that Roe would remain a shareholder indefinitely [...]

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Golden State of Mind: Witness Convenience Isn’t Based Solely on Travel Distance

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ordered a district court to transfer a patent infringement case from Texas to California because the district court had wrongly assessed facts relating to the convenience of witnesses when it originally denied a motion to transfer venue. In re: Apple Inc., Case No. 22-128 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 22, 2022) (Dyk, Reyna, Chen, JJ.) (non-precedential).

CPC Patent Technologies PTY Ltd. filed a lawsuit against Apple in the Western District of Texas, alleging that Apple’s mobile phones, tablets and computing products equipped with Touch ID, Face ID or Apple Card features infringed three of CPC’s patents relating to biometric security. Apple moved to transfer to the Northern District of California, arguing that its employees responsible for the design, development and engineering of the accused functionality resided either in California or outside of the United States, and that the employees most knowledgeable about the marketing, licensing and financial issues relating to the accused products resided in California. Apple explained that no employees with relevant information worked in Western Texas.

The district court denied Apple’s motion. After acknowledging that the action might have been brought in Northern California, the district court analyzed the private and public interest factors governing transfer determinations. The court determined that the factor concerning the convenience of willing witnesses slightly favored transfer. However, the court determined that the factor accounting for the availability of compulsory process weighed strongly against transfer. The district court also determined that court congestion and practical problems factors weighed against transfer based on its ability to quickly reach trial and the fact that CPC had another pending infringement suit in Western Texas. The district court recognized that Apple had identified seven relevant witnesses in California who would have to travel to Texas but found that inconvenience was counterbalanced by the presence of two Apple employees in Austin who CPC insisted had relevant information, and an Apple witness in Florida who would “find it about twice as inconvenient to travel to [Northern California] than to [Western Texas] because Texas sits halfway from Florida to California.” The district court also relied on its ability to compel the third-party Mac Pro manufacturer in Western Texas to attend trial. Finally, the Court noted that there was local interest in the dispute because Apple employs thousands of workers in Western Texas. Balancing these facts, the district court determined that Apple had failed to meet the burden of proving that Northern California was clearly more convenient that Western Texas, and thus denied the motion. Apple petitioned for mandamus review.

The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that Apple had shown clear entitlement to transfer to the Northern District of California. The Court found that the district court erroneously relied on two Apple employees in Austin whom CPC identified as potential witnesses and concluded that it was far from clear that either employee had relevant or material information. One employee had testified that he worked on authentication technology that was different from that accused by CPC, [...]

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Terms of Degree Not Always Indefinite

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a district court determination that the claim terms “resilient” and “pliable” were indefinite. The Federal Circuit found that the claims, while broad, were sufficiently definite in view of both intrinsic and extrinsic evidence. The Federal Circuit also upheld the district court’s findings of no induced infringement, finding zero evidence of predicate direct infringement of the properly construed method claims. Niazi Licensing Corp. v. St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc., Case No. 21-1864 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 11, 2022) (Taranto, Bryson, Stoll, JJ.) The Federal Circuit also affirmed entry of sanctions excluding portions of the plaintiff’s technical and damages expert reports for failing to disclose predicate facts during discovery and also affirmed exclusion of portions of plaintiff’s damages expert report as unreliable for being conclusory and legally insufficient.

In reaching its decision on indefiniteness, the Federal Circuit focused on the terms “resilient” and “pliable” as used in a claim directed to a double catheter structure. Citing the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments, the Federal Circuit explained that language has “inherent limitations,” and stated that a “delicate balance” must be struck to provide “clear notice of what is claimed” and avoid the “zone of uncertainty” relating to infringement. The Court noted that under Nautilus, claims must provide “objective boundaries,” but the Court distinguished the present case from those in which “subjective boundaries” created uncertainty and rendered the claim indefinite. The Court pointed to its 2005 decision in Datamize v. Plumtree Software as a “classic example” of subjectivity where the term “aesthetically pleasing” was deemed indefinite because the patent provided no way to provide “some standard for measuring the scope of the phrase.” The Court also noted that a patent’s claims, written description and prosecution history—along with any relevant extrinsic evidence—can provide or help identify the necessary objective boundaries for claim scope

The Federal Circuit concluded that there was sufficient support in the intrinsic evidence, both in the claims themselves and the written description, to allow a skilled artisan to determine the scope of the claims with reasonable certainty. The Court explained that the claim at issue recited “an outer, resilient catheter having shape memory” that “itself provides guidance on what this term means—the outer catheter must have ‘shape memory,’ and ‘sufficient stiffness.’” The Court also cited to “[n]umerous dependent claims [that] further inform the meaning of this term by providing exemplary resilient materials of which the outer catheter could be made. . . . The written description provides similar guidance . . . . Thus, a person of ordinary skill reading the claims and written description would know of exemplary materials that can be used to make a resilient outer catheter, i.e., one that has shape memory and stiffness such that it can return to its original shape.”

The Federal Circuit distinguished this case from Datamize, where the claim scope depended on the eye of each observer, finding it more akin to its 2017 decision in Sonix Technologies. In that [...]

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No Breach of Contract Where Company Disclosed Its Own Non-Public Information

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a trade secret lawsuit against a consultant that allegedly failed to prevent its client from disclosing its own proprietary information during a call with a potential buyer. Protégé Biomedical, LLC v. Duff & Phelps Securities, LLC, and Philip I. Smith, Case No. 21-1368 (8th Cir. Apr. 4, 2022) (per curiam) (Erickson, J., dissenting).

Protégé entered into an agreement with Duff & Phelps to help Protégé find a buyer for its business. Under the agreement, Duff & Phelps received immunity from certain types of claims, its employees were shielded from individual liability and it owed no fiduciary duties to Protégé.

One of Protégé’s competitors, Z-Medica, was identified as a potential buyer. One of Duff & Phelps’s employees, Philip Smith, facilitated execution of the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) by a member of Z-Medica’s board of directors. Protégé assumed that the NDA would also bind Z-Medica and thus participated in conference calls with Z-Medica in which Protégé revealed non-public information. In Z-Medica’s view, however, the board member signed the NDA in his personal capacity and not as Z-Medica’s representative. As a result, Z-Medica used the information it received from Protégé to create its own competing product.

Protégé sued Z-Medica. After settling with Z-Medica, Protégé sued Duff & Phelps and Smith in state court for breach of contract, unlawful practice of law, negligence, breach of professional services and breach of fiduciary and principal-agent duties. Duff & Phelps removed the case to federal court on the ground that Smith, the only non-diverse defendant, had been fraudulently joined. The district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim. Protégé appealed.

The Eighth Circuit first analyzed whether the case belonged in federal court. The Court upheld the district court’s determination that Smith was fraudulently joined. The Court stated that fraudulent joinder occurs when there is no reasonable basis in fact and law for the claims brought against the non-diverse defendant. Here, the Court found that there was no reasonable basis for Protégé to allege breach of contract against Smith since he was never a party to the contract between Protégé and Duff & Phelps. The Court found that Protégé’s unlawful practice of law claim against Smith also constituted fraudulent joinder because Smith never gave legal advice to Protégé. The Court noted that the contract immunized Smith from Protégé’s other claims and thus, without any viable claims against Smith, the case was properly in federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Turning to the merits of the claims against Duff & Phelps, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal for failure to state a claim. The Court reasoned that Protégé’s breach of contract claim was predicated on an alleged failure by Duff & Phelps to prevent Protégé from disclosing its proprietary information. However, the agreement only made Duff & Phelps responsible for its own conduct, not for Protégé’s conduct. The Court explained that Protégé’s other claims failed for the same reason.

Judge Erickson [...]

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Missed Connection: Avoid Claim Construction Rendering Independent Claim Narrower Than Dependent Claim

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a district court’s claim constructions concerning generic independent claims that were amended after a species restriction requirement, because the district court disregarded the doctrine of claim differentiation after incorrectly concluding that the examiner had mistakenly rejoined withdrawn claims. Littelfuse, Inc. v. Mersen USA EP Corp., Case No. 21-2013 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 4, 2022) (Prost, Bryson, Stoll, JJ.)

Littelfuse owns a patent directed to a fuse end cap for providing an electrical connection between a fuse and an electrical conductor. The specification teaches three embodiments of the invention:

  1. A single-piece machined end cap comprising a mounting cuff and a terminal
  2. A single-piece stamped end cap comprising a mounting cuff and a terminal
  3. A two-piece assembled end cap comprising a mounting cuff, a terminal and a fastening stem attaching the mounting cuff to the terminal.

The originally filed claims included independent claims covering an end cap with a mounting cuff and a terminal, and dependent claims directed to the three embodiments. The claims directed to the two-piece assembled end cap embodiment contained the limitation that the terminal is press-fit onto the fastening stem.

During prosecution, the examiner issued a restriction requirement, asserting that the independent claims were generic to the three species in the dependent claims. Littelfuse elected to prosecute the assembled end cap species and the examiner withdrew the claims directed to the other embodiments. In response to a novelty rejection, Littelfuse amended the independent claims by adding the fastening stem element without specifying that the terminal is press-fit onto the stem. After allowing the amended independent claims, the examiner concluded that the previously withdrawn claims “require all the limitations of the . . . allowable claims,” and thus rejoined them.

Littelfuse sued Mersen for selling allegedly infringing fuses. The parties asked the district court to determine whether the fastening stem element in the independent claims limited Littelfuse’s patent to multi-piece end caps, despite the rejoined dependent claims being directed to one-piece embodiments. The district court found that the claim language, the specification and the prosecution history required the invention to have a multi-piece construction. First, the district court determined that the plain meaning of “fastening stem” was “a stem that attached or joins the other two components of the apparatus.” The district court then noted that the fastening stem was only mentioned in the specification in relation to the multi-piece embodiment in which the terminal is joined to the mounting cuff by the fastening stem. While Littelfuse argued that the US Patent & Trademark Office’s rejoining of the withdrawn claims meant that the independent claims covered unitary and multi-piece embodiments, the district court reasoned that the claims were rejoined based on a “misunderstanding” because they referred to the original independent claim, which did not include a fastening stem. In light of the district court’s finding that the independent claims covered only a multi-piece apparatus, the parties stipulated to non-infringement. Littelfuse appealed.

Applying the doctrine of claim differentiation, the [...]

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First Sale Defense Bars Trademark Infringement Where Trademarked Component Is Adequately Disclosed

A US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel vacated a grant of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, holding that the first sale doctrine applies when a trademarked product is incorporated into a new product. Bluetooth SIG Inc. v. FCA US LLC, Case No. 21-35561 (9th Cir. Apr. 6, 2022) (per curiam).

Bluetooth SIG administers standards for Bluetooth technology. SIG owns and licenses the trademarks below to product manufacturers:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) makes cars that contain Bluetooth-equipped head units. The head units are made by third-party suppliers that have been qualified by SIG, but FCA has not taken steps to qualify the Bluetooth capabilities in its cars. FCA uses the SIG trademarks on its head units and publications.

SIG sued FCA under the Lanham Act for trademark infringement. In its defense, FCA asserted the first sale doctrine. Under the doctrine, the right of a producer to control the distribution of its trademarked product does not extend past the first sale of the product. For example, a purchaser who stocks, displays and resells a producer’s product under a producer’s trademark violates no trademark rights under the Lanham Act. The district court granted partial summary judgment for SIG on the first sale issue, finding that the first sale doctrine was inapplicable because FCA’s conduct went beyond “stocking, displaying, and reselling a product.” FCA appealed.

The Ninth Circuit found that the lower court erred when it took a narrow view of the Ninth Circuit’s 1995 decision in Sebastian Int’l, Inc. v. Longs Drugs Stores Corp., in which the Court stated that “it is the essence of the ‘first sale’ doctrine that a purchaser who does no more than stock, display, and resell a producer’s product under the producer’s trademark violates no right conferred upon the producer by the Lanham Act.” The panel noted that the Sebastian Court never purported to articulate the outer bounds of the first sale doctrine; instead it simply captured the unauthorized resale of genuine goods.

The Ninth Circuit explained that the first sale doctrine also applies when a trademark is used to refer to a component incorporated into a new end product as long as the seller adequately discloses how the trademarked product was incorporated. The Court cited to the 1925 Supreme Court precedent in Prestonettes, Inc. v. Coty, which effectively extends the first sale doctrine beyond the examples stated in Sebastian. In Prestonettes, the Supreme Court held that trademark law did not prohibit a manufacturer from using a trademark, not to indicate the goods, but to say that the trademarked product was a component in a product being offered as new and changed. The Ninth Circuit also noted its 1998 holding in Enesco Corp. v. Price/Costco, in which it found that the first sale doctrine protected a retailer that resold dolls in allegedly inadequate packaging to the extent the repackaging was disclosed. The Enesco Court explained that if the public was adequately informed that [...]

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