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

Articles Posted in Trademark
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Plaintiff is a physically challenged athlete and motivational speaker who started the Scott Rigsby Foundation and registered the domain name “scottrigsbyfoundation.org” with GoDaddy.com. When Plaintiff and the Foundation failed to pay the annual renewal fee in 2018, a third party registered the then-available domain name. Scottrigsbyfoundation.org became a gambling information site. Plaintiff sued GoDaddy.com, LLC and its corporate relatives (collectively, “GoDaddy”), for violations of the Lanham Act and various state laws and sought declaratory and injunctive relief, including the return of the domain name. The Northern District of Georgia transferred the case to the District of Arizona, which dismissed all claims.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal and dismissed Plaintiff’s and the Foundation’s appeal of an order transferring venue. The panel held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia’s order transferring the case to the District of Arizona because transfer orders are reviewable only in the circuit of the transferor district court. The panel held that Plaintiff could not satisfy the “use in commerce” requirement of the Lanham Act vis-à-vis GoDaddy because the “use” in question was being carried out by a third-party gambling site, not GoDaddy. As to the Lanham Act claim, the panel further held that Plaintiff could not overcome GoDaddy’s immunity under the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.  The panel held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shielded GoDaddy from liability for Plaintiff’s state-law claims for invasion of privacy, publicity, trade libel, libel, and violations of Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act. View "SCOTT RIGSBY, ET AL V. GODADDY INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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Punchbowl is an online party and event planning service. AJ Press owns and operates Punchbowl News, a subscription-based online news publication that provides articles, podcasts, and videos about American politics, from a Washington, D.C. insider’s perspective. Punchbowl claimed that Punchbowl News is misusing its “Punchbowl” trademark (the Mark).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of AJ Press, LLC, in an action brought by Punchbowl, Inc. (Punchbowl), alleging violations of the Lanham Act for trademark infringement and unfair competition and related state law claims. The panel wrote that no reasonable buyer would believe that a company that operates a D.C. insider news publication is related to a “technology company” with a “focus on celebrations, holidays, events, and memory-making.” The panel wrote that this resolves not only the Lanham Act claims, but the state law claims as well. The panel explained that survey evidence of consumer confusion is not relevant to the question of whether AJ Press’s use of the Mark is explicitly misleading, which is a legal test for assessing whether the Lanham Act applies. The panel held that the district court’s denial of Punchbowl’s request for a continuance under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d) to permit further discovery was not an abuse of discretion. View "PUNCHBOWL, INC. V. AJ PRESS, LLC" on Justia Law

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San Antonio Winery, Inc.’s filed a proof of service in which it stated that it had served Jiaxing Jiaxing Micarose Trade Co., Ltd., through the Director of the PTO. When Jiaxing did not appear to defend itself in the action, the district court clerk granted San Antonio’s request for entry of default, after which San Antonio filed the motion for default judgment in which it asked the district court to issue a permanent injunction. Noting the lack of circuit-level precedent on whether the procedures of Section 1051(e) provide a means of serving defendants in court proceedings, the district court denied the motion on the ground that Jiaxing had not been properly served.   The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s order denying San Antonio’s motion for a default judgment against in an action in which San Antonio asserts claims under the Lanham Act and related state-law claims. The panel held that the service procedures of Section 1051(e) apply not only in administrative proceedings before the PTO but also in court proceedings. Because the district court erred in concluding otherwise, the panel vacated the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "SAN ANTONIO WINERY, INC. V. JIAXING MICAROSE TRADE CO." on Justia Law

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Unicolors, which creates designs for use on textiles and garments, alleged that a design it created in 2011 (the EH101 design) is remarkably similar to a design printed on garments that H&M began selling in 2015 (the Xue Xu design). The Supreme Court held that lack of either factual or legal knowledge on the part of a copyright holder can excuse an inaccuracy in a copyright registration under the Copyright Act's safe-harbor provision, 17 U.S.C. Section 411(b)(1). Accordingly, the panel reviewed anew the threshold issue whether Unicolors holds a valid copyright in registration No. VA-1-770-400 (the '400 Registration), and concluded that under the correct standard, the '400 Registration is valid because the factual inaccuracies in the application are excused by the cited safe-harbor provision.   On remand, from the Supreme Court in this copyright-infringement action the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in general, save that it vacated and remanded with instructions to grant a new trial, limited only to damages, if Unicolors rejects the remittitur amount of $116,975.23. The panel held that a party seeking to invalidate a copyright registration under Section 411(b) must demonstrate that (1) the registrant submitted a resignation application containing inaccuracies, (2) the registrant knew that the application failed to comply with the requisite legal requirements, and (3) the inaccuracies in question were material to the registration decision by the Register of Copyrights. View "UNICOLORS, INC. V. H&M HENNES & MAURITZ, LP" on Justia Law

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AK Futures LLC (“AK Futures”), an e-cigarette and vaping product manufacturer, brought suit for trademark and copyright infringement against Boyd Street Distro, LLC, (“Boyd”). According to AK Futures, Boyd has been selling counterfeit versions of its “Cake”-branded e-cigarette and vaping products containing delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (“delta-8 THC”). Boyd contended that AK Futures does not have protectible trademarks for its Cake products because delta-8 THC remains illegal under federal law. The district court held that theAgriculture Improvement Act (the “Farm Act”) legalized the company’s delta-8 THC products, and it granted injunctive relief.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction. The court reasoned that the district court’s order properly distinguished between trademark and copyright protection. Further, the court held that the plain and unambiguous text of the Farm Act compels the conclusion that AK Futures’ delta8 THC products are lawful. the court concluded that on the available record, the delta-8 THC in AK Futures’ e-cigarette liquid appears to fit comfortably within the statutory definition of “hemp”—i.e., the liquid is properly understood as a derivative, extract, or cannabinoid originating from the cannabis plant and containing “not more than 0.3 percent” delta-9 THC. The court wrote that because the Farm Act’s definition of hemp is not ambiguous, the court does not consider agency interpretation, and even if it did, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s view of the Farm Act’s plain text aligns with the court’s own. View "AK FUTURES LLC V. BOYD STREET DISTRO, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trademark
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After Bacardi began an advertising campaign in November 2013 using the phrase “Bacardi Untameable” to promote its rum products, Lodestar filed suit for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of Bacardi, and held that Plaintiff failed to meet the elements of a trademark infringement action. Plaintiff alleged “reverse confusion”, which occurs when a person who knows of a well-known junior user comes into contact with a lesser-known senior user, and the similarity of the marks causes the individual to believe that the senior user is affiliated or the same as the junior user.   The court found that Plaintiff’s Untamed Revolutionary Rum product should be excluded from the likelihood-of-confusion analysis because it did not reflect a bona fide use of the mark. In applying the Sleekcraft factors, the court found that Plaintiff failed to carry its burden to show a likelihood of confusion. Further, while the district court erred in certain aspects in its consideration, the errors did not alter the ultimate conclusion. View "LODESTAR ANSTALT V. BACARDI & COMPANY LTD." on Justia Law

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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

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Apple in a trademark infringement action brought by Social Tech over the use of the MEMOJI mark. The panel held that mere adoption of a mark without bona fide use in commerce, in an attempt to reserve rights for the future, is insufficient to establish rights in the mark under the Lanham Act. The panel explained that Social Tech failed to put forward evidence that the release of its Memoji application to the public was for genuine commercial purposes warranting trademark protection and thus it failed to establish a triable issue regarding whether it engaged in a bona fide use of the mark in commerce within the meaning of the Lanham Act.The panel considered the totality of the circumstances and concluded that, while at the time of its original intent-to-use filing, Social Tech may have had some commercial intent to develop the Memoji application, at the time it filed its Statement of Use, its use of the MEMOJI mark was made merely to reserve a right in the mark. Because Social Tech did not engage in bona fide use of the MEMOJI mark in commerce, its registration is invalid, and Apple is entitled to cancellation of Trademark Registration No. 5,566,242. View "Social Technologies LLC v. Apple Inc." on Justia Law

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Ironhawk filed suit against Dropbox for trademark infringement and unfair competition, alleging that Dropbox's use of the name Smart Sync intentionally infringes on Ironhawk's SmartSync trademark and is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the affiliation of Ironhawk's product with Dropbox. After the district court concluded that Ironhawk could not prevail because a reasonable trier of fact could not find a likelihood of consumer confusion, Ironhawk appealed based on a theory of reverse confusion.The Ninth Circuit held that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to the likelihood of consumer confusion under a reverse confusion theory of infringement and thus reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Dropbox, vacating the judgment, and remanding for trial. The panel first concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Ironhawk's potential consumers include commercial customers. Applying the Sleekcraft factors, the panel then concluded that a reasonable trier of fact could find a likelihood of confusion. Therefore, Dropbox has not met its high burden of establishing that no genuine disputes of material fact exist as to the likelihood of confusion between Smart Sync and SmartSync. View "Ironhawk Technologies, Inc. v. Dropbox, Inc." on Justia Law

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Metal Jeans, an apparel brand and owner of the non-stylized "METAL" trademark, filed an infringement claim against Metal Sport, a powerlifting brand with a similar but stylized mark. The district court denied both parties' merits motions because material facts remained in dispute, but granted Metal Sport's separate motion for summary judgment on whether Metal Jeans was barred from pressing its infringement claim by the equitable doctrine of unclean hands. In doing so, the district court rejected Metal Jeans' counter-defense that Metal Sport also acted with unclean hands.In a separate memorandum disposition filed simultaneously with this opinion, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court improperly granted summary judgment against Metal Jeans. The panel wrote here to resolve an issue of first impression: the standard of review the panel employs when a district court concludes that a party has acted with unclean hands. The panel held that the appropriate standard of review of a district court's determination to grant summary judgment on the affirmative defense of unclean hands is abuse of discretion. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Metal Jeans, Inc. v. Metal Sport, Inc." on Justia Law