Friday, April 30, 2010

Second Circuit gets rid of presumption of irreparable harm in copyright injunction cases

The Second Circuit yesterday overruled prior precedent that provided for a presumption of irreparable harm in the preliminary injunction context in copyright cases. In Salinger v. Colting, No. 09-2878 (2d Cir. Apr. 29, 2010), the Second Circuit held that the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay, Inc. v. MercExchange, LLC, 547 U.S. 388 (2006)--in which the Supreme Court, in a patent case, rejected general or categorical rules favoring or disfavoring injunctions--was not limited to patent cases.

The new test for a preliminary injunction (in copyright cases in the Second Circuit) is now:

1. (a) likelihood of success on the merits; or

(b) sufficiently serious merits questions and the balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant’s favor;

2. a demonstration of likely irreparable harm;

3. consideration of the balance of hardships; and

4. confirmation that the public interest would not be disserved.

As to factor (2), the Court softened the blow to copyright holders, however, by hinting that courts could consider “historical tendencies” in past copyright cases in assessing the showing of irreparable harm. It will be interesting to see whether such “historical tendencies” will actually put litigants pretty close to where they were under the “presumption of irreparable” standard.

While the Court was careful to limit its holding to copyright cases, nothing I could find in the opinion suggested that the Second Circuit would not also extend eBay to trademark cases once the issue is squarely presented to it. However, in what might have been an instance of purposeful judicial foreshadowing, the Court noted that historically courts have tended to find “possible marketplace confusion” as an example of irreparable harm. Hmmm.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ninth Circuit Decision on the line between descriptiveness and suggestiveness

In Zobmondo Entertainment, LLC v. Falls Media, LLC, No. 08-56831 (9th Cir. Apr. 26, 2010), the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, on summary judgment, that the registered mark “WOULD YOU RATHER . . . ?” for books and games was merely descriptive and that its registration should be canceled.

While largely fact-specific, the 9th Circuit opinion is notable in a least a couple of respects. First, it discusses three different tests that could be employed to determine whether a challenged mark is suggestive or descriptive: the “imagination” test, which focuses on how much thought consumers need, when confronted with the mark, to make conclusions about the nature of the product; the “competitors’ needs” test, which focuses on the extent to which, if any, competitors need to use the mark to describe their competing products; and the “extent of use” test, which looks at the frequency with which competitors actually use the mark on similar merchandise. (To me, there looks to be little difference between the “competitors’ needs” test and the “extent of use” test.)

Second, the court gave substantial weight to the fact that the PTO registered the mark without requiring proof of secondary meaning.

Finally, the court highlighted the challenger’s citation of statements by people associated with the registrant that seemed to indicate that they thought “WOULD YOU RATHER . . . ?” was a good mark for the precise reason that it described the subject of the book and the game. Good evidence to look for in discovery.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Three recent decisions re: architectural copyrights; a stolen domain name; and copyright/trade secret ownership in the employment context

While interesting, the following three recent decision don’t seem to warrant extended analysis, so here are the TV Guide summaries:

2d Circuit Throws Out Architectural Copyright Claim on 12(b)(6) Motion Based on Designs Appended to Complaint

Don’t plead yourself out of court. That may be the lesson of Peter F. Gaito Architecture, LLC v. Simone Dev. Corp., No. 09-2613-cv (Apr. 7, 2010). The plaintiff copyright owner alleged that a developer infringed his copyrighted plans, and attached depictions of the designs to its complaint. Assuming for purposes of argument that copying occurred, the Second Circuit compared the two designs for substantial similarity. Concluding that the depictions demonstrated that only general ideas and concepts—not protectable expression—was misappropriated, the court affirmed dismissal of the case. Of course, not attaching the depictions of the designs to the complaint would likely have only postponed the dismissal to the summary judgment stage, but it may have increased leverage for some kind of monetary settlement in the meantime.

9th Circuit Grapples with Conflict of Laws Issue in Domain Name Conversion Case

In an intensely-fact specific case involving a claim that the defendants converted the plaintiff’s domain name registration (replete with a bad guy in the PRC, an innocent purchaser for value defense, and a cameo appearance by Ralph Lauren), the 9th Circuit in CRS Recovery, Inc. v. Laxton, No. 08-17306 (Apr. 6, 2010), engaged in a lengthy discussion of the policies underlying the respective laws of Virginia and California to determine a tricky and potentially outcome-determinative choice-of-law issue.

9th Circuit Analyzes Employee/Independent Contractor Issue to Decide Who Owns Copyrights and Trade Secrets in Computer Software Source Code

In JustMed, Inc. v. Byce, No. 07-35861 (Apr. 5, 2010), the Ninth Circuit went through a lengthy, fact-intensive analysis of the often-litigated issue of whether the author of copyrightable material or creator of a trade secret was an employee or independent contractor of a company claiming that it owned the individual’s work. The case is interesting in that it seems to somewhat alter the traditional weighing of the factors relevant to that determination to fit the context of small, non-traditional, techie start up companies.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

2d Cir. decision rejecting Tiffany's allegations that eBay liable for sale of counterfeit goods

The Second Circuit today affirmed judgment in favor of eBay and against Tiffany in Tiffany’s much-publicized case against eBay for permitting the sale of counterfeit Tiffany products in its on-line auctions. The case involved significant rulings in the area of (1) buying “sponsor links” on Internet search engines using others’ trademarks, and also (2) as to the liability of an on-line auction site for hosting sales of counterfeit goods.

In Tiffany (NJ) Inc. v. eBay Inc., No. 08-3947 (2d Cir. Apr. 1, 2010), the Second Circuit first rejected Tiffany’s claim of direct trademark infringement. Although eBay bought Yahoo! sponsor ads/links using Tiffany’s trademark, the court found that this was a nominative fair use of the Tiffany mark, because Tiffany goods were in fact available on eBay.

The Second Circuit next rejected Tiffany’s claim that eBay contributorily infringed the Tiffany marks by facilitating the sale of counterfeit goods at auction. Citing the Supreme Court’s familiar standard from Inwood v. Ives, 456 U.S. 844 (1982), and decisions from other circuits concerning flea markets, the Second Circuit first ruled that eBay exerted substantial enough control over the auctions on its site to potentially be subject to contributory liability. But because eBay effectively stopped known instances of counterfeiting pursuant to its various programs designed to stop sale of counterfeit and infringing goods, the Second Circuit ruled that eBay did not run afoul of the Inwood v. Ives prohibition against continuing to permit sales of known counterfeit items or permit known counterfeiters to continue to list on eBay.

Tiffany pointed to evidence that nearly three-quarters of its goods sold on eBay are counterfeit. The Second Circuit, however, rejected the notion that generalized knowledge that many counterfeit items are being sold can trigger contributory liability under Inwood v. Ives, particularly in view of the substantial anti-counterfeiting steps that eBay has implemented. In so doing, the Second Circuit admitted that it was adopting a somewhat narrow reading of the Inwood v. Ives standard of continued support in the face of a “reason to know” of infringing activity. The court also noted that such generalized knowledge does not rise to the culpable level of “willful blindness.”

The court also quickly dispatched Tiffany’s trademark dilution claim (because eBay did not itself use the Tiffany marks).

Finally, the court remanded Tiffany’s claim of false advertising for the district court to determine whether any of eBay’s ads were implicitly misleading as to the nature of the Tiffany goods that were listed on eBay.