Sunday, May 25, 2008

5th Circuit Adopts Presumption of Irreparable Harm by Rejecting Presumption of Irreparable Harm

In Paulsson Geophysical Serv., Inc. v. Sigmar, No. 07-50406 (5th Cir. May 23, 2008), the US plaintiff licensed the named US defendant (Sigmar) and his US company (RSI) to "promote Paulsson's MASSIVE 3D VSP services in Mexico." RSI immediately turned around and, going beyond merely "promoting" Paulsson's services, "licensed" its Mexican sister company, RSM, to "use" Paulsson's mark in Mexico, and RSM did. In Mexico. They just didn't use Paulsson's services with Paulsson's mark.

Paulsson sued in the US and got a preliminary injunction. The 5th Circuit affirmed. First it found it had extraterritorial subject matter jurisdiction even though the infringement was limited to Mexico because US companies were involved, there was no conflict with Mexican law, and the defendants obtained financing for their Mexican business in the US. In so holding, the 5th Circuit made fairly clear that, for a case claiming trademark infringement in a foreign country to have enough "effect" on US commerce to trigger the Lanham Act, a court need not limit its inquiry to the actual challenged transaction, but can look at all sorts of ancillary activity too.

Now to the irreparable harm issue. As you know, courts are beginning to apply eBay's holding ("no broad rules for or against patent injunctions") to the "presumption of irreparable harm" concept in trademark cases. See, e.g., N. Am. Med. Corp. v. Axion Worldwide, Inc., No. 07-11574, 2008 WL 918411, at *12 (11th Cir. Apr. 7, 2008), which I previously blogged on. The Fifth Circuit had been the last holdout on adopting this presumption. While patting itself on the back for holding out, and citing eBay, the Fifth Circuit in this case then turned around, however, and -- in effect -- adopted the presumption. It said it wasn't, but, really, it was. It said that "loss of control of the quality" of services RSM was offering (and mentioning the size of the RSM transaction), was enough to prove irreparable harm.

So the lesson here is this: To get the presumption of irreparable harm in TM cases in the 5th Circuit, simply have your client speculate, er, I mean "testify," about the potentially devastating consequences of the lack of control (i.e., "OMG! What if the defendants' [goods] [services] are sub-par? Their customers will probably think it's us!! And they'll, like, hate us forever!! OMG!"). And voila! Irreparable harm! (Just don't say "presumption.")