Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trademark

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Slep-Tone produces karaoke music tracks marketed under the trademark "Sound Choice" on encoded compact discs (CD-G). Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants for, inter alia, trademark infringement after finding out that defendants were using unauthorized media-shifted files instead of Slep-Tone's original CD-Gs. The district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss. Slep-Tone argues that, by "media-shifting" its tracks from physical CD-Gs to digital files and performing them without authorization, defendants committed trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act,15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125. The court agreed with the Seventh Circuit's holding that "the ‘good’ whose ‘origin’ is material for purposes of a trademark infringement claim is the ‘tangible product sold in the marketplace’ rather than the creative content of that product." Therefore, the court concluded that Slep-Tone failed to plausibly allege consumer confusion over the origin of a good properly cognizable in a claim of trademark infringement. Accordingly, the court affirmed as to this issue. In a concurrently filed memorandum opinion, the court also reversed in part and remanded in part. View "Slep-Tone Entertainment Corp. v. Wired for Sound Karaoke" on Justia Law

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Trader Joe's filed suit against defendant for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., and Washington law after defendant purchased Trader Joe's-branded goods in Washington state and transported them to Canada for resell in a store defendant designed to mimic a Trader Joe's store. The district court dismissed the Lanham Act and state law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court held, consistent with recent case law from the Supreme Court and this court, that the extraterritorial reach of the Lanham Act raises a question relating to the merits of a trademark claim, not to federal courts’ subject-matter jurisdiction. The court concluded, on the merits, that Trader Joe’s alleges a nexus between defendant's conduct and American commerce sufficient to warrant extraterritorial application of the Lanham Act. Therefore, the court reversed as to the Lanham Act claim. The court affirmed the dismissal of the state law claims because Trader Joe’s did not allege trademark dilution in Washington or harm to a Washington resident or business. View "Trader Joe's Co. v. Hallatt" on Justia Law
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The mark “Crazy Horse” has been associated with adult entertainment since the 1950's. In this appeal, at issue is whether Russell Road’s use of the mark “Crazy Horse III” for its Las Vegas strip club infringes defendants Frank Spencer and Crazy Horse Consulting’s rights to the trademark “Crazy Horse.” The district court granted summary judgment to Russell Road. The court agreed with the district court that Russell Road has the right to use the mark because it is the assignee of a valid trademark co-existence agreement entered into with the former owner of the registered Crazy Horse mark. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Russell Road Food & Beverage v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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JL Beverage filed suit against Jim Beam, alleging trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. The district court granted summary judgment for Jim Beam. In its summary judgment ruling, the district court used the standard applicable to preliminary injunctions instead of the standard for summary judgment rulings. Balancing the Sleekcraft factors as a whole, the court concluded that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to the likelihood of consumer confusion. In this case, a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that: the JLV Mark has conceptual strength because the Mark’s salient feature, the color-coordinated lips, requires consumers to use their imagination to connect the color to the vodka flavor; the Lips Mark has conceptual strength because the lips have no commonly understood connection to the vodka product; Johnny Love Vodka does or does not have commercial strength (because a finding of either would support one of JL Beverage’s theories of confusion–reverse or forward); Johnny Love and Pucker Vodka are related flavored-liquor products sold to the same customers and distributors; the products are similar given their use of color-coordinated, puckered human lips as the focal point of their bottle designs; consumers purchasing the vodka products are not likely to exercise a high degree of care in distinguishing between the two; and Jim Beam was aware of JL Beverage’s trademarks prior to rolling out its Pucker Vodka line. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "JL Beverage v. Jim Beam Brands" on Justia Law

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Millennium filed suit against Ameritox, alleging claims of trade dress infringement under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and unfair competition under California Business and Professions Code section 17200. Millennium and Ameritox compete in the medication monitoring industry, and sell urine-testing services to healthcare providers who treat chronic pain patients with powerful pain medications. The district court granted Ameritox summary judgment. At issue is whether a product’s visual layout is functional, defeating a claim for trade dress infringement. The court concluded that, under the Au-Tomotive Gold two-step test, the district court erred by granting summary judgment to Ameritox on Millennium’s trade dress claim. In regard to the first step, genuine issues of material fact remain regarding whether Millennium's claimed trade dress has any utilitarian advantages. Under the second step, because Millennium has presented evidence that the graphical format served in part a source identifying function, Millennium has presented enough evidence to allow a jury to assess the question of aesthetic functionality. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Millennium Labs. v. Ameritox, Ltd." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a copyright dispute between Adobe and defendant and his software company, SSI. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of both Adobe's copyright and trademark claims. Although a copyright holder enjoys broad privileges protecting the exclusive right to distribute a work, the first sale doctrine serves as an important exception to that right. Under this doctrine, once a copy of a work is lawfully sold or transferred, the new owner has the right “to sell or otherwise dispose of” that copy without the copyright owner’s permission. In this case, the court concluded that the district court correctly held that Adobe established its registered copyrights in the disputed software and that defendant carried his burden of showing that he lawfully acquired genuine copies of Adobe’s software, but that Adobe failed to produce the purported license agreements or other evidence to document that it retained title to the software when the copies were first transferred. The district court did not abuse its discretion in granting defendant’s motion to strike and excluding evidence purporting to document the licenses. Finally, the court concluded that the district court properly analyzed the trademark claim under the nominative fair use defense to a trademark infringement claim instead of under the unfair competition rubric. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Adobe Systems, Inc. v. Christenson" on Justia Law

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DC filed suit against defendant, producer of replicas of the Batmobile, alleging, among other things, causes of action for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition arising from defendant’s manufacture and sale of the Batmobile replicas. The court concluded that the Batmobile, as it appears in the comic books, television series, and motion picture, is entitled to copyright protection. The court also concluded that the Batmobile character is the property of DC and that defendant infringed upon DC’s property rights when he produced unauthorized derivative works of the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1966 television show and the 1989 motion picture. Finally, the district court did not err when it ruled as a matter of law that defendant could not assert a laches defense to DC's trademark infringement claim because defendant willfully infringed on DC's trademarks. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for DC on the copyright and trademark infringement claims. View "DC Comics v. Towle" on Justia Law
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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) creates and assigns top level domains (TLDs), such as “.com” and “.net.” Plaintiff, a registry specializing in “expressive” TLDs, filed suit alleging that the 2012 Application Round for the creation of new TLDs violated federal and California law. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court rejected plaintiff's claims for conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce under section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, because plaintiff failed to allege an anticompetitive agreement; the court rejected plaintiff's claim under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, because ICANN’s authority was lawfully obtained through a contract with the DOC and did not unlawfully acquire or maintain its monopoly; the trademark and unfair competition claims were not ripe for adjudication because plaintiff has not alleged that ICANN has delegated or intends to delegate any of the TLDs that plaintiff uses; and the complaint failed to allege a claim for tortious interference or unfair business practice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "name.space, Inc. V. ICANN" on Justia Law

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MTM filed suit against online retailer Amazon under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., alleging that Amazon had infringed MTM's trademark. MTM argues that initial interest confusion might occur because Amazon lists the search term used – here the trademarked phrase “mtm special ops” – three times at the top of its search page. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon. The court considered five non-exhaustive Sleekcraft factors to determine whether a trademark gives rise to a likelihood of confusion: the strength of the mark, relatedness/proximity of the goods, evidence of actual confusion, defendant’s intent, and the degree of care exercised by purchasers. The court concluded that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether there is a likelihood of confusion under the initial interest confusion theory. Finally, the court held that the customer-generated use of a trademark in the retail search context is a use in commerce. In this case, Amazon's purpose is not less commercial just because it is selling wares, not advertising space. Therefore, the court declined to affirm the district court on the alternative ground that Amazon’s use is not a use in commerce. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Multi Time Machine v. Amazon.com" on Justia Law

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Hope Road, an entity owned by Bob Marley's children, granted Zion an exclusive license to design, manufacture, and sell t-shirts and other merchandise bearing Marley's image. Hope Road and Zion filed suit against multiple defendants who were involved in the sale of competing Marley merchandise, alleging claims arising from defendants' use of Marley's likeness. The court concluded that the district court did not err by denying defendants' post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law on the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), false endorsement claim where defendants waived several defenses to plaintiffs' claims by failing to properly raise them in the district court; the district court did not abuse its broad discretion in determining the profits for Defendants A.V.E.L.A., Freeze, and Jem where there was sufficient evidence to find Freeze willfully infringed plaintiffs' rights because Freeze's vice president of licensing testified that she knew that plaintiffs had the right to merchandising Marley's image before Freeze began selling similar goods; the Seventh Amendment does not require that a jury calculate these profits because juries have not traditionally done so, and a claim for profit disgorgement is equitable in nature; the district court did not abuse its discretion by ordering A.V.E.L.A. defendants to pay attorneys' fees; the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants on the right of publicity claim; there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that A.V.E.L.A. defendants interfered with prospective economic advantage; and the district court did not err in granting defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. View "Fifty-Six Hope Road Music v. A.V.E.L.A." on Justia Law