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Category Archives: Litigation

In-House Patent Lawyers Can Design Around Patents They Wrote For Their Former Employer

In house lawyers, even patent lawyers, can jump to a competitor, as long as they don’t violate duties owed to their former employer/client. Furthermore, patent lawyers are free to conduct for their new employer infringement analyses of patents they wrote for their former employer. That is the holding in a 2016 Massachusetts case, Gillette Co. v. Provost. The court wrote: “It is perfectly lawful for Gillette’s former patent attorney to help a competitor avoid infringing Gillette patents, so long as he does not disclose or use any confidential information obtained from Gillette.”

The lawyer in question worked for a number of years as an in-house patent attorney for Gillette. He then took a job as General Counsel at ShaveLogic (Dollar Shave Club), where his job responsibilities included helping ShaveLogic design around patents he had prosecuted while at Gillette. Gillette sought an injunction preventing him from doing that work on the basis that the lawyer had breached the fiduciary duty a lawyer owes a former client under Massachusetts Rule of Professional Conduct 1.9. The rule prohibits a lawyer from representing a second client in the same or a substantially related matter in which the second client’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client

The court held that the design-around work did not violate the rule because Gillette could not show that it involved misuse of Gillette’s confidential information; the wrong Rule 1.9 is designed to prevent. Patents are pubic documents, and opining on whether a particular product infringes a patent requires nothing more than comparing that product to the public patent. Confidential information could not help. The court explained that if the in-house lawyer’s new job had involved assessing the validity of patents he prosecuted at Gillette, the result might have been different. In that circumstance the lawyer might have confidential information concerning prior art or inventor behavior that would aid his analysis.

SaaS Providers – What Exactly Is Your Business?

Is a SaaS provider’s business making software, or performing the service the software automates? If you are a SaaS provider (or a lawyer who represents SaaS providers and licensees) you will likely answer: both. It’s Software as a Service, dummy.

Not so fast, at least not in the trademark world. Recent events involving the SaaS provider JobDiva in the USPTO and the Federal Circuit reveal that the answer may not be both in every instance. Whether a SaaS provider can establish trademark rights in both categories depends on whether the provider can demonstrate that a user would associate the trademark with the service performed by the software, as opposed to just the software. In other words, the question is whether the provider’s use of its marks creates in the minds of purchasers an association between the mark and the services, as opposed to just the software.

JobDiva makes software that automates certain aspects of the recruiting process. The Federal Circuit described JobDiva’s business as follows:

JobDiva’s software generally provides a database of employment applications that a hiring manager or recruiter might use to fill a job opening. The software performs multiple functions to facilitate this job filling process. It employs automated “harvesters” to find potential job candidates by automatically scraping job boards and aggregating relevant resumes. And it reviews and analyzes job candidates’ resumes to determine if any candidate’s qualifications match the job’s requirements. It thus “replaces a tedious manual search” previously performed by hiring managers or recruiters. JobDiva also helps hiring managers directly communicate with job candidates. For instance, it permits hiring managers to post job openings in a job candidate portal. This candidate portal may also be embedded into a company’s website. The software further assists job candidates by recommending potential openings to the candidates based on skillsets and provides them automated resume feedback.

JobDiva registered the word JOBDIVA as a trademark for both computer services and recruiting services. When it petitioned the USPTO to cancel rival JobVite’s trademark registration, JobVite counterclaimed for cancellation of the JOBDIVA mark for recruiting services. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) cancelled the registration as it pertained to those services (leaving the mark intact for software). The TTAB reasoned that it was insufficient for JobDiva to offer software that performed personnel placement and recruitment functions. To be engaged in the recruiting business, as opposed to the software business, JobDiva would have to offer personnel placement and recruitment services in addition to providing software.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit disagreed and sent the case back to the TTAB for further consideration.  The court held that what is required is a fact-intensive inquiry into likely consumer perception. “For example,” the court wrote:

in this case, the Board should consider the nature of the user’s interaction with JobDiva when using JobDiva’s software, as well as the location of the software host. If JobDiva sells its software to a customer who hosts the software on its own website and a third-party user’s interactions appear to be with the customer (as opposed to JobDiva), it is unlikely that the customer or the third-party user would associate the JOBDIVA mark with a service performed by JobDiva. But if the software is hosted on JobDiva’s website such that the user perceives direct interaction with JobDiva during operation of the software, a user might well associate JobDiva’s marks with personnel “placement and recruitment” services performed by JobDiva.

So, the important question seems to be: what services do your customers think you provide?

Arbitration: Everything You Promised, Nothing You Didn’t

If you agree to arbitrate with a particular arbitrator, but that arbitrator won’t serve, you go to court. That is the teaching of a recent case out of the Second Circuit, Moss v. First Premier Bank. In Deborah Moss’ online contract with her payday lender she agreed to arbitrate any dispute using NAF as the arbitrator. When Moss wanted to bring a claim against the payday lender’s banking partner, NAF could not serve as the arbitrator because NAF had entered into a consent degree with the Minnesota Attorney General prohibiting it from arbitrating consumer disputes. The bank wanted to require Moss to arbitrate before a different arbitrator, reasoning that the parties had agreed to arbitrate, so if the chosen arbitrator wasn’t available, they should pick another. “Not so fast” said the district court, and then the Second Circuit. Moss only agreed to arbitrate with NAF, not anyone else. If NAF is unavailable, she can sue. She can’t be forced to choose someone else. Although there is a general policy favoring arbitration, arbitration agreements are contracts and courts can’t rewrite contracts to change the parties’ agreement. The Second Circuit noted that other Circuits (the Seventh and Third) have reached contrary results.

If you really want to arbitrate regardless of the arbitrator, either don’t identify the arbitrator in the contract or, if you do, agree to choose another if your first choice is unavailable. If you’d rather go to court than pick another arbitrator, specify the arbitrator you want in your contract.

Inter Parties Review

This video from Perkins Coie is a helpful primer on inter parties review in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Do You Know What’s In Your NDA?

You’d better.  If you don’t you’re going to screw it up.  Earlier this year, Convolve lost a trade secrets case against Seagate and Compaq because the personnel involved either didn’t know or forgot what was in the NDA.  The NDA required that in order to trigger any obligation of confidentiality, disclosed information must be: “(1) marked as confidential at the time of disclosure; or (2) unmarked, but treated as confidential at the time of disclosure, and later designated confidential in a written memorandum summarizing and identifying the confidential information.” Why they included the second provision is beyond me.  In this post I wrote that it is important to have a bright line test concerning what is confidential because you don’t want to litigate whether about whether the information was appropriately identified.  What does it mean for information to be treated as confidential at the time of the disclosure?  Who is going to remember to send a memorandum and why would one want such a memorandum describing the confidential information to exist?

In any event, sure enough Convolve disclosed unmarked information in meetings and failed to follow-up with a written memorandum, and then sued based on alleged misuse of that information.  Convolve lost summary judgment.  Convolve tried to argue that, notwithstanding the words in the written contract, everyone knew the information at issue was confidential and marking wasn’t necessary.  The Federal Circuit would have none of it.  The court wrote:  “the NDAs do not appear to be reasonably susceptible to the interpretation Convolve urges. Convolve’s assertion that the parties understood that all oral and visual disclosures were under the purview of the NDAs absent a written follow-up memorandum so stating is contrary to the terms of the NDAs. Thus, Convolve’s interpretation is unreasonable and would render paragraph 7 of the NDA a dead letter.”

Copyright Litigation: Analyzing Substantial Similarity

A new article I’ve written, Copyright Litigation: Analyzing Substantial Similarity has just been published by the Practical Law Company.  Think of it as Substantial Similarity in Copyright Law light.  It discusses just the very basics of what you need to know when evaluating a copyright infringement claim.  If you want detailed information, you still have to get the book.

2013 Substantial Similarity Shipped

I sent the 2013 update of Substantial Similarity in Copyright Law to the publisher PLI earlier this week.  This will be the tenth anniversary edition.  We’ve included more illustrations of the works at issue in the cases discussed, a significant revision of the chapter on useful articles, and more.  Look for it in on the PLI website and Amazon around May or June.

The Latest From the Federal Circuit on Injunctions, Sunset Royalties, and Future Royalty Rates

Even if you win your patent infringement case, you still may not get an injunction prohibiting ongoing infringement.  In a case decided last month by the Federal Circuit, ActiveVideo v. Verizon, a jury found that Verizon infringed ActiveVideo’s method patents pertaining to video-on-demand technology, but the Federal Circuit held that the district court erred by imposing a permanent injunction prohibiting Verizon from future infringement.  This is a stark example of the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling in Ebay v. MercExchange that injunctions should not automatically issue in patent infringement cases, and worthy of analysis.  Also worthy of scrutiny is what Federal Circuit wrote concerning the appropriate royalty Verizon should be required to pay for future use.

I.               Injunction

There are four elements courts must consider when deciding whether to impose an injunction after liability has been established:  (1) whether the harm to the patent owner is irreparable; (2) whether the harm is compensable with money damages; (3) the balance of the hardships on each of the parties depending on whether the court issues the injunction; and (4) the public interest.

A.             Irreparable Harm/Efficacy of Money Damages

The Court determined that the injury suffered by ActiveVideo as a result of Verizon’s infringement would be compensable by money damages, and would not be irreparable.  The following chart depicting the manner in which the court weighed facts pertaining to irreparable injury.

Factors Favoring Irreparable Harm Factors Weighing Against Irreparable Injury Non-Factors
The parties are not direct competitors Litigation costs – the Federal Circuit held that litigation costs cannot constitute irreparable harm
License non-exclusive – ActiveVideo could maintain its existing license to Cablevision and also license Verzion Loss of market share by ActiveVideo’s licensee Cablevision – the Federal Circuit held that if Verizon takes a customer away from ActiveVideo’s licensee Cablevision, the only harm ActiveVideo suffers is loss of a license fee from Verizon
Ease of quantifying a license fee – Cablevision paid ActiveVideo 17 cents a month per subscriber, Verizon could be required to pay monthly per subscriber also Loss of business opportunity or brand recognition could constitute irreparable injury, but neither was proven
Verizon is able to pay the license fee – the Federal Circuit distinguished the Bosch v. Pylon Mfg. case, in which the Federal Circuit held that the fact that the defendant might not be able to pay a license fee contributed to irreparable injury
No evidence of damage to ActiveVideo’s brand name because Cablevision markets its service using the “io” name, not the Activevision name, so retail customers are unlikely to associate Activision with the service
Verizon’s service increases demand for VOD overall and therefore increases opportunities for ActiveVideo
No evidence of price erosion
ActiveVideo sought to broadly license its patents, including to Verizon
ActiveVideo wiling to extend sunset licensing period

B.             Balance of Hardships

The Federal Circuit held that the balance of hardships favored the infringer.  It analyzed the factors as follows.

Factors Favoring Patent Owner Factors Favoring Infringer Non-factors
Sunset licensing fee alone would generate, in one month, 70% of what patent owner earned in its entire 23 year history Patent owner’s small size
Patent owner would only suffer if not compensated

C.            Public Interest

The Federal Circuit upheld the district court’s finding that the public interest in enforcing the patent owner’s right to exclude outweighed the interest the infringer’s customers may have in maintaining their access to entertainment.  But the court held that the public interest factor could not outweigh the other two, explaining:

If the general public interest in upholding patent rights alone was sufficient to mandate injunctive relief when none of the other three factors support injunctive relief, then we would be back to the general rule that a patentee should always receive an injunction against infringement. But the Supreme Court rejected the idea that there is a general rule that courts should issue permanent injunctions against patent infringement. eBay, 547 U.S. at 393-94. We vacate the grant of a permanent injunction in this case and remand for the district court to consider an appropriate ongoing royalty rate for future infringement by Verizon.

II.             Sunset Royalties

A sunset royalty is, as its name implies, a royalty an infringer must pay while it phases out its infringing product.  The district court imposed a sunset royalty far greater than the amount paid by ActiveMedia’s licensee, Cablevision.  The Federal Circuit upheld the higher royalty amount, explaining:

The district court accepted ActiveVideo’s expert testimony that Verizon received an incremental profit of $6.86 per FiOS-TV subscriber per month. The court analyzed the respective bargaining positions of the parties post-verdict, and concluded that “it would have been reasonable for the parties to make an agreement whereby Verizon would receive 60% of the profits and ActiveVideo would receive 40% of the profits.”  This results in the $2.74 per subscriber per month royalty. The district court rejected Verizon’s suggestion that it should pay the same rate as Cablevision. The district court found that after the patent is held not invalid and infringed by Verizon, ActiveVideo is in a much better bargaining position with Verizon than it was with Cablevision in 2009. Based on the fact that Verizon may be able to design around, but does not know precisely how effective such a design around might be, the court discounted the profit split from the 50/50 to 60/40 (in favor of Verizon).

This may seem high, and while it is likely true that Verizon would not have agreed to that amount prior to litigation, Verizon has been adjudicated to infringe and the patent has been held not invalid after a substantial challenge by Verizon. See Paice [LLC v. Toyota Motor Corp.], 504 F.3d at 1317 (Rader, J., concurring) (“[P]re-suit and post-judgment acts of infringement are distinct, and may warrant different royalty rates given the change in the parties’ legal relationship and other factors.”); Amado [v. Microsoft], 517 F.3d at 1362 (“Prior to judgment, liability for infringement, as well as the validity of the patent, is uncertain, and damages are determined in the context of that uncertainty. Once a judgment of validity and infringement has been entered, however, the calculus is markedly different because different economic factors are involved.”). The district court is correct; there has been a substantial shift in the bargaining position of the parties. See Amado, 517 F.3d at 1362 (“There is a fundamental difference, however, between a reasonable royalty for pre-verdict infringement and damages for post-verdict infringement.”). We reject Verizon’s argument that the district court erred in concluding that the jury verdict placed ActiveVideo in a stronger bargaining position.

III.           Future Royalties

Because the Federal Circuit vacated the injunction, it now becomes necessary for the district court to fix a royalty for the infringer to pay going forward.  The court offered the following comparison of sunset and ongoing royalties, and guidance for the district court on remand:

We held in Amado that an assessment of prospective damages for ongoing infringement should “take into account the change in the parties’ bargaining positions, and the resulting change in economic circumstances, resulting from the determination of liability.” Amado, 517 F.3d at 1362. And, although Amado dealt with the imposition of royalty damages while an injunction was stayed during appeal, this holding applies with equal force in the ongoing royalty context.  Though we vacate the district court’s injunction, we see no error in its post-verdict royalty calculation. The district court, on remand, should determine an appropriate ongoing royalty, an inquiry that is much the same as its sunset royalty analysis. The district court may wish to consider on remand additional evidence of changes in the parties’ bargaining positions and other economic circumstances that may be of value in determining an appropriate ongoing royalty. See Paice, 504 F.3d at 1315 (“Upon remand, the court may take additional evidence if necessary to account for any additional economic factors arising out of the imposition of an ongoing royalty.”). Indeed, ActiveVideo’s bargaining position is even stronger after this appeal. We leave the procedural aspects of how to proceed on the issue of prospective damages to the discretion of the district court.

The Federal Circuit further explained that some of the Amado factors considered by the district court in its sunset royalty analysis might not be appropriate to consider when calculating an ongoing royalty. Those might include the defendant’s likelihood of success on appeal, the ability of the defendant to immediately comply with the injunction, and the evidence and arguments found material to granting the permanent injunction.

IV.           Effect on Apple v. Samsung

The Federal Circuit’s teachings in the ActiveVideo case are likely to have significant influence on Judge Koh’s upcoming decision on Apple’s request for an injunction prohibiting future sales of infringing smartphones in the Apple v. Samsung case.  In the fist instance, she is likely to be guided by the ActiveVideo opinion in determining whether to impose the injunction Apple wants.  If she decides not to impose the injunction, then she will likely refer to it if she needs to impose an ongoing royalty.

 

 

The Practical Difference Between Contributory Infringement and Inducing Infringement in Patent Cases

The Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Toshiba v. Imation highlights a key difference between the concept of contributory infringement and inducement of infringement in patent cases.  It is that an accused infringer may escape liability for contributory infringement if his product is capable of “substantial non-infringing use”, but if the accused infringer encourages infringing use, the fact that his product is capable of substantial non-infringing use will not save him from inducement liability.

Toshiba illustrates the point.  The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendant on contributory infringement, but reversed on inducement.  The case involved patents for DVD recorders. The court held: (1) Toshiba had not proven that an insubstantial number of Imation users did not take the last step claimed by the patent of “finalizing” their DVDs after recording them; (2) therefore (common sense notwithstanding) a not insubstantial number of Imation users could be skipping that step; and thus (3) Toshiba had not proven that the Imation recorders were not capable of substantial non-infringing use and its claim of contributory infringement therefore failed.

With respect to inducement, however, the Federal Circuit held that because Imation urged users of its product to finalize the DVDs, it was error to grant summary judgment for the defendant.  The Court explained that just because a product is capable of non-infringing use does not mean the defendant is not inducing its users to use it in an infringing manner.  Moreover, in this context, the court explained, where an alleged infringer designs a product for use in an infringing way and instructs users to use the product in an infringing way, there is sufficient evidence for a jury to find direct infringement.

In addition to highlighting the important distinction between contributory infringement and inducement, the case illustrates the potential significance of burdens of proof.  If Imation had been required to prove substantial non-infringing use, it does not seem certain it could have done so.  One might ask whether, as a matter of policy, it is best to place the burden on the plaintiff to prove that an accused product is not capable of substantial non-infringing use, but that is a topic for another day, or for comments to this post.

Good News For Brand Owners Seeking Injunctions

A  judge in the Western District of New York (think Buffalo) wrote last week in a case between two beauty pagaent promoters, Mrs. United States and Miss United States of America :

The potential loss of good will and customers by plaintiff, and possible damage to its reputation, as a result of defendants’ alleged infringement of plaintiff’s marks is not easily quantifiable or remediable by damages, and supports a finding of irreparable harm.

This is more evidence that concerns that the Supreme Court decision in eBay v. MercExchange rejecting the presumption of irreparable harm in patent cases would raise the bar to obtaining injunctions in all IP cases, were overblown. Potential loss of good will and customers  and possible damage to reputation are likely to be present in the majority of trademark infringement cases. 

The court in the Mrs. United States case went on to give the following useful summary of the state of the presumption of irreparable harm law in IP cases.

It is unclear whether a court may presume irreparable harm upon a finding of likelihood of success on a trademark claim. The Supreme Court has held that such a presumption is improper in patent or copyright cases, see eBay, 547 U.S. at 392 (noting that Court’s ruling with respect to patent cases “is consistent with our treatment of injunctions under the Copyright Act”); see also Flexible Lifeline Sys., Inc. v. Precision Lift, Inc., 654 F.3d 989, 996 (9th Cir. 2011) (“under eBay, a presumption of irreparable harm is equally improper in a case based on copyright infringement as it is in a case based on patent infringement”); Salinger, 607 F.3d at 82 (“After eBay, … courts must not simply presume irreparable harm”) (copyright case). To date, however, no consensus has emerged as to whether that holding applies to trademark infringement cases as well. See Peoples Federal Sav. Bank v. People’s United Bank, 672 F.3d 1, 9 n.11 (1st Cir. 2012) (finding it unnecessary, and declining, to decide issue); Southern Co. v. Dauben Inc., 324 Fed.Appx. 309, 318 n.13 (5th Cir. 2009) (same); North American Medical Corp. v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc., 522 F.3d 1211, 1228 (11th Cir. 2008) (same). At least some district judges from within this circuit have applied eBay to trademark cases, however. See, e.g., Ascentive, LLC v. Opinion Corp., ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2011 WL 6181452, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (“Although prior to Salinger, courts in this circuit presumed irreparable injury in trademark cases where a likelihood of confusion was shown, post-Salinger, this presumption is no longer applicable”); Tecnimed SRL v. Kidz–Med, Inc., 763 F.Supp.2d 395, 402 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (applying Salinger to a trademark claim), aff’d, 462 Fed.Appx. 31 (2d Cir. 2012). The Second Circuit has not yet spoken directly on this question, though it has suggested that the presumption may still have some force in trademark cases; see Zino Davidoff SA v. CVS Corp., 571 F.3d 238, 246-47 (2d Cir. 2009) (noting presumption in trademark cases, without referencing eBay or Salinger, but finding that even without benefit of presumption, plaintiff had shown irreparable injury).

 

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