Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Internet Law
Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco
Turo, an Internet-based platform, allows vehicle owners to list, and customers to rent, specific passenger vehicles, processes reservations and payments and retains a percentage of the proceeds of each rental transaction. Turo provides a liability insurance policy through a third-party insurer. Turo competes with traditional on-airport and off-airport rental car companies and has used phrases like “rent” and “rental car” in its advertisements.The government sued Turo under the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200) for operating a rental car business at SFO without the required permit, engaging in prohibited curbside transactions at SFO, and using airport roadways and offering services on airport property without permission. Turo sought a declaratory judgment that it is not a rental car company and alleged that SFO had unlawfully demanded that Turo obtain an off-airport rental car company permit, and pay fees that SFO is authorized to charge only “rental car companies” under Government Code 50474.1(a).The court of appeal held that Turo is not a rental car company. That term is not defined in the Government Code but is defined in nearly identical language in three separate California statutes to mean a person or entity in the business of renting passenger vehicles to the public. A rental car company has control over the vehicles in its fleet in a way Turo does not View "Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco" 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
Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC
Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" on Justia Law
Chen v. Paypal, Inc.
California residents who sell goods on eBay, an online marketplace, as part of their online businesses and use PayPal to receive payments for many of their sales filed a putative class action. The suit challenged provisions of the user agreements, including PayPal’s policy of placing a temporary hold on funds in a user’s account when PayPal believes there is a high level of risk associated with a transaction or a user’s account; PayPal’s retention of interest on users’ funds that are placed in pooled accounts when users maintain a balance in their PayPal accounts; PayPal’s buyer’s protection policy, which allows buyers, under certain circumstances, to dispute transactions up to 180 days after the date of purchase; and a claim that PayPal aids and abets buyers in defrauding sellers by the manner in which it resolves disputes. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the claims against PayPal, without leave to amend. The challenged practices are not unconscionable. The degree of procedural unconscionability that arises from the fact that a contract is one of adhesion is ‘minimal.” View "Chen v. Paypal, Inc." 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
Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc
Oberdorf walked her dog with a retractable leash. Unexpectedly, the dog lunged. The D-ring on the collar broke and the leash recoiled and hit Oberdorf’s face and eyeglasses, leaving Oberdorf permanently blind in her left eye. Oberdorf bought the collar on Amazon.com. She sued Amazon.com, including claims for strict products liability and negligence. The district court found that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was not liable for Oberdorf’s injuries. A third-party vendor, not Amazon itself, had listed the collar on Amazon’s online marketplace and shipped the collar directly to Oberdorf. The court found that Amazon was not a “seller” under Pennsylvania law and that Oberdorf’s claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because she sought to hold Amazon liable for its role as the online publisher of third-party content. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Amazon is a “seller” under section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts and thus subject to the Pennsylvania strict products liability law. Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process. Oberdorf’s claims against Amazon are not barred by section 230 of the CDA except as they rely upon a “failure to warn” theory of liability. The court affirmed the dismissal under the CDA of the failure to warn claims. View "Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc" on Justia Law
Performance Mktg. Ass’n, Inc. v. Hamer
The ability of consumers to make purchases on the internet from out-of-state merchants without paying Illinois sales or use taxes caused Illinois retailers to ask the legislature to “level the playing field.” The result was a taxing statute, Public Act 96-1544, effective in 2011, called the “click-through” nexus law. The law was challenged by a group of internet publishers that display website texts or images, such as a retailer’s logo, containing a link to a retailer’s website; they are compensated by the retailer when a consumer clicks on the link and makes a purchase from the retailer. Out-of-state retailers who use such arrangements to generate sales of over $10,000 per year become subject to taxation under the statute. Their challenge was based on the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act, 47 U.S.C. 151, which prohibits discriminatory taxes on electronic transactions, and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court held that the statute is invalid. The court noted that such marketing, when conducted through print media or on-the-air broadcasting, does not give rise to tax obligations under the Illinois statute. The enactment is a discriminatory tax on electronic commerce within the meaning of federal law, which preempts it. The court did not reach the commerce clause issue. View "Performance Mktg. Ass'n, Inc. v. Hamer" on Justia Law
Versata Software, Inc. v. SAP Am., Inc.
Versata’s patents relate to computer-based pricing of products. In prior art, each factor required separate database queries, so that determining a price was highly inefficient. The claimed invention identifies all the groups to which a customer belongs and all corresponding price adjustments and product-related factor. Versata marketed a successful product, Pricer, sold as a package with other Versata software or as an addition to enterprise systems offered by companies like SAP. While Versata’s patent application was pending, SAP released a new version of its software that contained hierarchical pricing capability, which, it stated, was like Pricer. Pricer sales faltered. Versata sued for infringement. In the first trial, the jury found that SAP directly infringed asserted claims, induced and contributed to infringement of one claim, and that the claims were not invalid, and awarded $138,641,000. The court granted JMOL of noninfringement of the 400 patent, but denied JMOL of noninfringement of the 350 patent. Before the second trial, SAP modified its products with a patch that prevented users from saving data into certain fields. The jury concluded that the products still infringed and awarded $260 million in lost profits and royalties of $85 million. The court entered a permanent injunction. The Federal Circuit vacated the injunction as overbroad, but otherwise affirmed. View "Versata Software, Inc. v. SAP Am., Inc." on Justia Law
Stayart v. Google Inc.
Plaintiff, an active genealogist and animal rights activist, claimed that her name had commercial value and that search engines generated revenue as a result of internet searches of her name. She specifically alleges that various features of Google’s search engine violate her right of publicity by using her name to trigger sponsored links, ads, and related searches to medications, including Levitra, Cialis, and Viagra, all of which are trademarks of nationally advertised oral treatments for male erectile dysfunction. The district court dismissed her suit alleging common law misappropriation and violation of the state right-of-privacy law, Wis. Stat. 995.50(2)(b). The Seventh Circuit affirmed, citing the public interest and incidental use exceptions. View "Stayart v. Google Inc." on Justia Law
Soverain Software, LLC v. Newegg, Inc.
The 314 patent, its continuation, the 492 patent, and the 639 patent, relate to electronic commerce; products are offered and purchased through computers interconnected by a network. The patents arise from a software system called “Transact,” developed in 1996 by Open Market. In 2001 Open Market was sold, with the Transact software and patents, to Divine, which was unable to provide support for the complex product and declared bankruptcy. Soverain acquired the Transact software and patents, then sued seven online retailers for patent infringement. The defendants, except Newegg, took paid up licenses to the patents. Newegg declined to pay, stating that its system is materially different and that the patents are invalid if given the scope asserted by Soverain: similar electronic commerce systems were known before the system; the Transact software was generally abandoned; and Newegg’s system, based on the different principle of using “cookies” on the buyer’s computer to collect shopping data, is outside of the claims. The district court awarded Soverain damages and an ongoing royalty and held that the claims were not invalid as obvious. The Federal Circuit reversed in part, holding that claims in the all of the patents are invalid for obviousness. View "Soverain Software, LLC v. Newegg, Inc." on Justia Law