Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Intellectual Property
Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co. Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc.
Caudill's subsidiary develops nutritional supplements. Jarrow, a dietary-supplement company, solicited Ashurst, Caudill’s Director of Research, who had extensively researched the development of broccoli-seed derivatives at issue. Ashurst had signed Non-Disclosure, Non-Competition, and Secrecy Agreements, and annually signed Caudill’s employee handbook, which barred him from disclosing Caudill’s trade secrets or other confidential information. In April 2011, Ashurst, still a Caudill employee, emailed Jarrow confidential Caudill documents. Days later, Jarrow requested a file of the pertinent data. Ashurst sent a physical disc. On May 1, Ashurst began to work for Jarrow. Ashurst then submitted his resignation to Caudill. Ashurst’s Agreement with Jarrow indicated that Jarrow hired him to mimic his work for Caudill, Ashurst proposed that Jarrow adopt the process that Caudill used to manufacture the raw materials for its BroccoMax supplement. Jarrow brought an activated broccoli product into commercial production four months after hiring Ashurst. From 2012-2019, Jarrow earned $7.5 million in sales of their BroccoMax-type product.In a suit under the Kentucky Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment of $2,427,605 in damages awarded by the jury, $1,000,000 in exemplary damages, $3,254,303.50 in attorney fees, and $69,871.82 in costs against Jarrow. The court rejected arguments that Caudill failed to define one of its Trade Secrets adequately, failed to show that Jarrow acquired that Trade Secret; and did not introduce sufficient evidence attributing its damages to that misappropriation, as well as challenges to the awards of damages. View "Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co. Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc." on Justia Law
NOCO Co. v. OJ Commerce, LLC
NOCO manufactures and sells battery chargers and related products. Although it sells these products itself, NOCO also authorizes resellers if they sign an agreement. NOCO discovered that OJC was selling NOCO’s products on Amazon without authorization. NOCO complained to Amazon that OJC was selling NOCO’s products in violation of Amazon’s policy. Around the same time, another company (Emson) also complained to Amazon about OJC. Amazon asked OJC for proof that it was complying with its policy concerning intellectual property rights. OJC did not provide adequate documents. Amazon temporarily deactivated OJC’s account.OJC claimed that NOCO submitted false complaints, and sued for defamation, tortious interference with a business relationship, and violation of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of OJC’s claims. To succeed on those claims, OJC must establish that NOCO was the proximate cause of its injury. It cannot do this because three intervening causes broke the causal chain, relieving NOCO of any liability: Emson’s complaint, Amazon’s independent investigation and decision, and OJC’s opportunity to prevent the harm to itself. View "NOCO Co. v. OJ Commerce, LLC" on Justia Law
Ayla, LLC v. Alya Skin Pty. Ltd.
Ayla, a San Francisco-based brand, is the registered owner of trademarks for use of the “AYLA” word mark in connection with on-site beauty services, online retail beauty products, cosmetics services, and cosmetics. Alya Skin, an Australian company, sells and ships skincare products worldwide. Ayla sued in the Northern District of California, asserting trademark infringement and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125(a).Alya Skin asserted that it has no retail stores, offices, officers, directors, employees, bank accounts, or real property in the U.S., does not sell products in U.S. retail stores, solicit business from Americans, nor direct advertising toward California; less than 10% of its sales have been to the U.S. and less than 2% of its sales have been to California. Alya Skin uses an Idaho company to fulfill shipments outside of Australia and New Zealand. Alya Skin filed a U.S. trademark registration application in 2018, and represented to potential customers that its products are FDA-approved; it ships from, and allows returns to, Idaho Alya Skin’s website listed U.S. dollars as the default currency and advertises four-day delivery to the U.S.The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(2) comports with due process. Alya Skin had minimum contacts with the U.S., and subjecting it to an action in that forum would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. The company purposefully directed its activities toward the U.S. The Lanham Act and unfair competition claims arose out of or resulted from Alya Skin’s intentional forum-related activities. View "Ayla, LLC v. Alya Skin Pty. Ltd." on Justia Law
The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc.
Redbubble operates a global online marketplace. Around 600,000 independent artists, not employed by Redbubble, upload images onto Redbubble’s interface. Consumers scroll through those images and order customized items. Once a consumer places an order, Redbubble notifies the artist and arranges the manufacturing and shipping of the product with independent third parties. Redbubble never takes title to any product shown on its website and does not design, manufacture, or handle these products. The shipped packages bear Redbubble's logo. Redbubble handles customer service, including returns. Redbubble markets goods listed on its website as Redbubble products; for instance, it provides instructions on how to care for “Redbubble garments.” Customers often receive goods from Redbubble’s marketplace in Redbubble packaging.Some of Redbubble’s artists uploaded trademark-infringing images that appeared on Redbubble’s website; consumers paid Redbubble to receive products bearing images trademarked by OSU. Redbubble’s user agreement states that trademark holders, and not Redbubble, bear the burden of monitoring and redressing trademark violations. Redbubble did not remove the offending products from its website. OSU sued, alleging trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, and Ohio’s right-of-publicity law. The district court granted Redbubble summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Redbubble’s marketplace involves creating Redbubble products and garments that would not have existed but for Redbubble’s enterprise. The district court erred by entering summary judgment under an overly narrow reading of the Lanham Act. View "The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc." on Justia Law
Organik Kimya v. International Trade Commission
Organik and Dow both manufacture opaque polymers, hollow spheres used as additives to increase paint’s opacity. Dow has maintained its worldwide market-leader position through a combination of patent and trade-secret protections. Dow filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission requesting an investigation into whether Organik’s opaque polymer products infringed four Dow patents. The Commission granted Dow’s request, and the parties began discovery. During the proceedings, Dow amended its complaint to add allegations of trade secret misappropriation when it discovered that Organik may have coordinated the production of its opaque polymers with the assistance of former Dow employees. As Dow attempted to obtain discovery relating to the activities of those employees, Dow discovered spoliation of evidence “on a staggering scale.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the Commission’s imposition of default judgment and entry of a limited exclusion order against Organik as sanctions for the spoliation of evidence. Organik’s “willful, bad faith misconduct” deprived Dow of its ability to pursue its trade secret misappropriation claim effectively. The record supports the limited exclusion order of 25 years with the opportunity for Organik to bypass that order at any time if it can show that it has developed its opaque polymers without using Dow’s misappropriated trade secrets. View "Organik Kimya v. International Trade Commission" on Justia Law
Kehoe Component Sales Inc. v. Best Lighting Prods., Inc.
Best designs and markets exit signs and emergency lighting. Pace manufactured products to Best’s specifications. Best’s founder taught Pace how to manufacture the necessary tooling. There was no contract prohibiting Pace from competing with Best. By 2004, Best was aware that Pace was selling products identical to those it made for Best to Best’s established customers. Several other problems arose between the companies. When they ended the relationship, Pace was in possession of all of the tooling used to manufacture Best’s products and the cloned products, and Best owed Pace almost $900,000 for products delivered. Pace filed a breach of contract suit. Best requested a setoff of damages for breach of warranty and counterclaimed for breach of contract, tortious interference, misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, and fraud. Pace claimed that Best had misappropriated Pace’s trade secrets and had tortiously interfered with Pace’s contracts. The district court found that Best had breached its contractual obligations by failing to pay, but that Pace was liable for breach of warranties, breach of contract, tortious interference, misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, and false designation of origin and false advertising under the Lanham Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Pace is liable for breach of contract and tortious interference, but reversed or vacated as to the trade secrets, Lanham Act, conversion, and warranties claims. View "Kehoe Component Sales Inc. v. Best Lighting Prods., Inc." on Justia Law
Sorensen v. WD-40 Co.
Sorensen is the CEO of Inhibitor Technology, which produces rust-inhibiting products containing volatile corrosion inhibitor (VCI), branded with the federally registered trademark THE INHIBITOR. That word mark is owned by Sorensen; he also claims common law trademark rights in a design mark associated with his products, an orange-and-black crosshair. The WD-40 Company, maker of the spray lubricant, introduced the new WD-40 Specialist product line. Sorensen claimed that the branding for those products infringed upon his marks. WD-40 Specialist Long-Term Corrosion Inhibitor, which contains VCI and has a purpose similar to that of Sorensen’s products, contains on its packaging both the word “inhibitor” and an orange crosshair. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that WD-40’s use of the word “inhibitor” was a non-trademark descriptive fair use of the word. As to the crosshair mark, the court found that Sorensen had not presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to a likelihood of confusion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The most important factors: similarity of the marks, bad faith intent, and evidence of actual confusion, weigh in favor of WD-40. No consumer would think that the marks are similar. The court noted the” clear weakness of Sorensen’s marks,” which appear inconsistently on his products. View "Sorensen v. WD-40 Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Commercial Law, Intellectual Property, Trademark
UPI Semiconductor Corp. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n
uPI and Richtek design and sell DC-DC controllers that convert direct current from one voltage to another, and are embodied in chips for downstream devices such as computer motherboards. uPI was founded by former Richtek employees; its chips are imported into the U.S. either directly or as incorporated in downstream devices. Richtek complained to the International Trade Commission that uPI misappropriated Richtek’s trade secrets and infringed Richtek’s U.S. patents, in violation of the Tariff Act, 19 U.S.C. 1337. uPI offered to enter into a consent order and to cease importation of products produced using or containing Richtek’s trade secrets or infringing Richtek’s patents. Over Richtek’s objection, the ALJ entered the consent order substantially as drafted by uPI. The Commission terminated the investigation. A year later Richtek filed an Enforcement Complaint. An ALJ distinguished between products that were accused in the prior investigation and products allegedly developed and produced after entry of the Consent Order, finding violations as to the formerly accused products and that the post- Consent Order products infringed two patents, but were independently developed and not produced using Richtek’s trade secrets. The Commission affirmed with respect to the formerly accused products and reversed in part with respect to the post-Order products. The Federal Circuit affirmed concerning the formerly accused products, but reversed the ruling of no violation as to the post-Consent Order products.View "UPI Semiconductor Corp. v. Int'l Trade Comm'n" on Justia Law
Posted in: Commercial Law, Intellectual Property, International Trade, Patents
Innovation Ventures, LLC v. N2G Distrib., Inc.
Plaintiff is the marketer, distributor, and seller of 5-hour ENERGY (FHE), an “energy shot,” which is an energy drink sold and consumed in small portions. Plaintiff began selling FHE in 2004. FHE was not the first energy shot on the market, but was the first to achieve widespread success and was unique in being marketed FHE to adults as a replacement for an afternoon cup of coffee or a caffeinated soda. Plaintiff submitted “5-hour ENERGY” for trademark registration with the Patent and Trademark Office, which rejected the application in January 2005, deeming the mark too descriptive to be eligible for protection. Plaintiff placed FHE on the Supplemental Register in September 2005 and secured a trademark for “5-hour ENERGY” in August 2011. Plaintiff also protected its mark and market position through litigation. Defendants have marketed dietary supplements since the mid-1990s. In 2008, defendants began to market and sell “6 Hour Energy Shot,” in a bottle resembling the FHE bottle. In a suit under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051, the district court found infringement of plaintiff’s trademark and trade dress, then entered an order of contempt after the defendants violated a permanent injunction entered. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.View "Innovation Ventures, LLC v. N2G Distrib., Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Commercial Law, Intellectual Property, Trademark
Empresa Cubana del Tabaco v. General Cigar Co., Inc.
Cubatabaco, a Cuban entity, and General, a Delaware company, manufacture and distribute cigars using the COHIBA mark. General owns trademark registrations issued in 1981 and 1995. Cubatabaco owns the mark in Cuba and uses it worldwide. Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), prohibit Cubatabaco from selling cigars in the U.S.; 31 C.F.R. 515.201(b) prohibits “transfer of property rights . . . to a Cuban entity,” but a general or specific license allows Cuban entities to engage in otherwise prohibited transactions. General licenses are available for transactions “related to the registration and renewal” of U.S. trademark. Specific licenses issue from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Cubatabaco used a general license to attempt to register the COHIBA mark in 1997, relying on 15 U.S.C. 1126(e), which allows reliance on a foreign registration if the applicant has a bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce. Cubatabaco also sought to cancel General’s registrations, which the PTO cited as a basis for likelihood of confusion. Cubatabaco obtained a special license to sue General. The district court held that General had abandoned its registration by non-use and enjoined General’s use of the COHIBA mark, finding that Cubatabaco had acquired ownership under the famous marks doctrine. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that injunctive relief would involve a prohibited transfer under CACR because Cubatabaco would acquire ownership of the mark and later affirmed denial of General’s motion concerning cancellation of its registrations. The Board then dismissed Cubatabaco’s petition, stating that it need not address preclusion because Cubatabaco lacked standing. The Federal Circuit vacated, finding that Cubatabaco has a statutory cause of action to petition to cancel the registrations and that issue and claim preclusion do not bar that petition View "Empresa Cubana del Tabaco v. General Cigar Co., Inc." on Justia Law