Friday, February 25, 2005

8th Circuit Food Fight over LOUIS KEMP Mark

The 8th Circuit recently presided over a food fight over the trademark LOUIS KEMP. In Kemp v. Bumble Bee Seafoods, Inc., No. 02-3797 (Feb. 23, 2005), the recipe for the dispute was as follows:

  • 1 man (Louis Kemp) who has sold the rights to use his name as a trademark on seafood
  • 1 company to buy the mark
  • 1 contract memorializing the deal
  • millions of $$ spent by the company making the man's name famous
  • 1 ton of second thoughts by the man upon seeing how famous the company made his name

Let's Cook:

Take the LOUIS KEMP mark, mix in the millions of advertising $$, and allow it to rise. In a separate pan, allow Louis Kemp the man to stew in his own juices with the second thoughts and the contract. Add in a plan to use his name for DIFFERENT food items than the ones specifically listed in the contract wherein he sold his rights. Stir and heat in a federal district court at 400 degrees until the dispute comes to a boil and begins smoking. Garnish the trial court's decision with parsley. Serves 3 appellate judges.

The law the 8th Circuit discussed was pretty straightforward, primarily involving an assessment of the likelihood of confusion factors.

To access the decision, go to the 8th Circuit's opinion search page, click on Opinions by Month/Year, select February 2005, and scroll until you come to it.

3d Circuit holds "willfulness" no longer prerequisite for accounting of trademark infringer's profits

The 3d Circuit recently joined the 5th Circuit in holding that the 1999 amendment to section 35(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 USC § 1117(a) -- which added language allowing monetary awards for a "willful violation" of the anti-dilution statute but not adding the word "willful" as to § 43(a) violations -- means that willfulness is now NOT a prerequisite for disgorgement of the infringer's profits. In Banjo Buddies, Inc. v. Renofsky, No. 03-2038 (Feb. 22, 2005), the court held that Congress's failure to add the word willful was, in a word, willful, given that it is charged with knowing that the courts had pretty much, at that time, uniformly been interpreting section 35(a) to require willfulness before ordering disgorgement. The court listed several nonexhaustive factors that a court should consider in deciding whether to award disgorgement of profits, including (1) willfulness, (2) lost sales, (3) adequacy of other remedies, (4) any unreasonable delay in asserting rights, (5) public interest in making the misconduct unprofitable, and (6) whether it's a case of "palming off." In discussing the district court's award of the infringer's profits, the court also noted that "there is no requirement that the defendant's profits approximate the plaintiff's damages" and that an award of the infringer's profits is available if the infringer was unjustly enriched, if the plaintiff sustained damages, OR if the award is necessary for deterrence. (Slip op. at 18.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

9th Circuit says settlement moots v. LL Bean dispute

Many folks are aware that and LL Bean have been duking it out in California over the legality under the Lanham Act and the Copyright Act of's practice of signing up web surfers to receive pop-up ads tied to the web sites they were viewing. The district court kicked the case on Bean's pre-answer rule 12(b)(2) motion, holding that there was no personal jurisdiction over Bean in California. While the personal jurisdictional issue was under en banc consideration at the 9th Circuit, the parties settled the substance of their dispute, with phasing out its pop-ups when web surfers are on Bean's website, and Bean releasing from liability for claims of infringement, etc.

The settlement had a strange wrinkle, however. If Bean were to win the appeal (no personal jurisdiction over Bean), then would pay it an additional 10K. If were to win (p.j. over Bean in Cal.), then Bean got nothing.

Although it isn't clear to me why the parties wanted to continue to have the appeal heard with such a paltry stake riding on it (precedent?), they nevertheless pressed forward. But the en banc 9th Circuit pressed back, and held that the parties' settlement mooted the case. The court reasoned that the 10K personal jurisdiction was a "side bet" only: the REAL dispute as to whether's business practices were legal was fully resolved by the settlement. The court distinguished prior cases where a settlement payment was contingent on the outcome of an appeal by noting that, in such cases, the contingent payment was in essence a liquidated amount for damages claimed in the original dispute. In this dispute, by contrast, said the court, there is no damage claim (because Bean moved to dismiss and won before it answered and counterclaimed?), and the personal jurisdiction argument has nothing to do with the substance of the controversy between the parties.

Friday, February 11, 2005

3d Circuit Holds Lanham Act Claim Barred by Laches

The Third Circuit discussed the laches defense to a Lanham Act false advertising claim in Santana Products Inc. v. Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc., No. 03-1845 (3d Cir. Feb. 9, 2005). In Santana, the plaintiff filed his false advertising claim 7 years after he first learned of the defendant's alleged false statements. The defendant raised statute of limitations and laches defenses. Since the Lanham Act doesn't have a stated statute of limitations, the district court looked to "borrow" one from state law. But it held that the statute of limitations defense didn't fully bar the claim, just that part of it that was outside the 6-year limitation it borrowed from what it viewed as the most appropriate Pennsylvania law, the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL). But because the plaintiff first learned of the false statements outside the UTPCPL's 6-year limit, the district court held that a presumption of laches arose. It also held that the plaintiff's delay was inexcusable. Ultimately, however, it rejected the laches defense because it concluded that the plaintiff had proven that the defendant wasn't prejudiced by the delay. In other words, the district court held that a plaintiff can overcome laches so long as it can defeat a showing of EITHER (a) inexcusable delay OR (b) prejudice to the defendant.

The 3d Circuit held that the district court should have dismissed the Lanham Act claim as barred by laches. It agreed with the district court's choice of the UTPCPL statute of limitations as the proper guidepost for the false advertising claim (take heed -- this may not be the proper source from which to borrow for a Lanham Act trademark infringement claim). It also agreed that a presumption of laches arose because of the plaintiff's seven-year wait. But it disagreed that a plaintiff facing a presumption of laches need overcome only one of the two elements of laches. The plaintiff needs to show BOTH that its delay was excusable AND that the defendant wasn't prejudiced by the delay. (Slip op. at 29.) The 3d Circuit discussed the issue in some detail despite several of its prior opinions expressly so holding, probably because the plaintiff had cited a district court decision written by Senior Third Circuit Judge Becker (when he was a district judge) that adopted the "either/or" rule for overcoming the presumption of laches.

Friday, February 04, 2005

11th Circuit Certifies "Advertising Injury" Insurance Issue in Lanham Act Case to Florida Supreme Court

Most trademark litigators know that, where possible, a plaintiff should plead that the alleged infringer's acts were willful and intentional. It helps in the likelihood of confusion inquiry and any secondary meaning debate, and, in most circuits, it also triggers the plaintiff's ability to seek "big gun" relief, such as treble damages, attorneys' fees, and disgorgement of the infringer's profits.

And if you've defended such cases in situations where there may be insurance coverage for "advertising injury," you might have heard the insurer squawk about how the allegation of intentional or willful infringement triggered a common exclusion in such policies for intentional acts.

The issue of whether an insurance policy covers the particular claims is an issue of state law, and federal courts usually put on their Erie hats and decide them. In Vector Products, Inc. v. Hartford Fire Insurance Co., No. 04-10975 (Jan. 26, 2005), however, the allegation of willful conduct complicated things. One of Vector's competitors claimed that Vector was engaged in false advertising, and brought a Lanham Act claim against it. Probably to try to qualify for additional remedies, the competitor claimed that Vector's acts were intentional. The insurer then refused to defend because of that allegation. Realizing that allegations of willfulness might trigger the exclusion against the insurer's duty to defend, yet wasn't required for Lanham Act liability, the 11th Circuit thought the issue of coverage was sufficiently subtle and unsettled under Florida law to require a punt to the Florida Supreme Court.

Insurers and trademark litigators will be watching the runback on this one.