Tuesday, August 25, 2009

9th Circuit decision on "tacking" doctrine in context of an evolving trademark design

The Ninth Circuit yesterday decided an interesting case involving the concept of “tacking” the use of one form of a trademark onto another. In One Industries, LLC v. Jim O’Neal Distributing, Inc., No. 08-55316 (9th Cir. Aug. 24, 2009), the trademark owner claimed that the defendant’s stylized letter “O” infringed its stylized “O”. Since the trademark owner’s most recent stylized “O” was closest to the defendant’s stylized “O” but was also adopted after the defendant adopted its stylized “O,” the trademark owner tried to “tack” its junior stylized “O” onto its more senior stylized “O”s.

The 9th Circuit held that tacking doctrine is extremely strict—so strict that it wouldn’t allow the trademark owner to tack the 2003 “O” onto the older “O”s because they did not create the same, continuing commercial impression. (Sorry, I can't figure out how to upload images of the O's so you can see them, but they're in the opinion).

Having rejected tacking, the court then compared the trademark owner’s 1997 “O” to the defendant’s 1999 “O”.*

The 9th Circuit held that, in the absence of actual confusion, and because the “O” field was crowded with other stylized “O”s, these two “O”s were too different to give rise to a likelihood of confusion.

* Interestingly, the court did not explain why it was allowing the trademark owner to assert infringement based on a mark it abandoned in 2003. I mean, shouldn't the Defendant, if anyone, have been the one asserting that the Plaintiff moved closer to it and was, as a result, the infringer??

Sunday, August 16, 2009

9th Circuit decision giving broad interpretation to copyright venue statute

Small law firm with purely local practice in S.D. Cal. copies the “elder law” section of a Northern California firm’s website. Northern California firm sues for copyright infringement in N.D. Cal.

Venue proper?


And if you’re not asleep yet and are interested in why, I try below to summarize the decision.

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit recently took a broad view of the copyright venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(a). Section 1400(a) provides that venue is proper where the defendant “resides or may be found.” So how is it that a small San Diego firm “resides or may be found” in Northern California?

Under 9th Circuit precedent, the copyright venue inquiry is the same inquiry as for personal jurisdiction. The 9th Circuit test for specific personal jurisdiction focuses on whether the defendant “purposefully directed” his activities at the forum or a resident. That, in turn, requires use of the three-part “Calder effects” test. See Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984) ((1) intentional act (2) expressly aimed at forum (3) causing known, likely harm in the forum). While not crystal clear, prior precedent in the 9th Circuit seemed to indicate that “express aiming” requires something more than an intentional act causing harm to a known resident of the forum.

The majority thought there was “something more” in this case because the S.D. Cal. law firm “individually targeted” the N.D. Cal. law firm for the purpose of competing in the same area of law, and possibly confusing potential clients about who authored the text at issue. The dissent thought that the majority’s analysis conflated the “express aiming” part of the Calder effects test with the “known likely harm” part.

The dissent pointed to prior 9th Circuit precedent that held that if the defendant isn’t targeting potential clients in the forum, then there’s no “express aiming.” And here, the defendant was targeting only San Diego clients.

The case is Brayton Purcell LLP v. Recordon & Recordon, No. 07-15383 (9th Cir. Aug. 5, 2009).