California

Not All Buffalos are Alike: Court Finds No Likelihood of Consumer Confusion Between Bourbon Bottle and Wine Bottle Trade Dress

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Sazerac Co. Inc. v. Fetzer Vineyards,
N.D. Cal. (Sept. 19, 2017) (Judge William Orrick)

Winemaker Fetzer Vineyards recently escaped a trademark infringement lawsuit brought by Sazerac Co. Inc. over the label design and imagery featured on its 1000 Stories red zinfandel wine product.  Sazerac produces a bourbon called Buffalo Trace which features a label that contains an image of a buffalo facing head-on towards the right, as well as an image of a buffalo on the neck of the bottle and white and gold lettering.  Sazerac has used the Buffalo Trace trade dress in commerce since 1999, and has several federal trademark registrations for the buffalo design and the word mark BUFFALO TRACE.  In 2013, Fetzer developed a male-orientated bourbon aged wine brand and selected the buffalo as the icon for the brand based in part on an article in the Smithsonian magazine entitled “101 Objects that Made America.”  Although Fetzer’s wine label also featured an image of a buffalo in which the entire animal is visible, on its wine label the animal faces toward the left and is placed on a black background.  The following image is a comparison shot of the two respective bottles:

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Two Recent Decisions Highlight Divergent Extraterritorial Application of Lanham Act and Copyright Act

The question whether and under what circumstances the Lanham Act and the Copyright Act will be applied to conduct occurring at least partially outside the United States grows increasingly important as the world economy continues to globalize and many manufacturers seek to extend their franchises across borders. Two recent federal court decisions have addressed this issue, underscoring the somewhat anomalous differences in extraterritorial enforcement of trade dress and copyright laws, as well as the ability of plaintiffs to obtain injunctive relief with extraterritorial effect. READ MORE

Save Me Some Money: Paring Down Costs in Patent Litigation

Order Re Pilot Motions for Summary Judgment, Comcast Cable Communications, LLC v. OpenTV, Inc. et. al., N.D. Cal. (August 4, 2017) (Judge William Alsup)

It’s no secret that patent litigation is expensive—especially when multiple patents and a multitude of claims are in play.  In 2015, the American Intellectual Property Law Association estimated the median cost of patent litigation, through trial, ranged from $600,000 in lawsuits with less than $1 Million at risk to $5 Million in lawsuits with more than $ 25 Million at risk.  Given this expense and the complexity of these cases, it’s not surprising that courts and parties have sought ways to minimize the resources consumed by patent litigation through various narrowing tools particular to patent lawsuits, including by limiting the number of claims and/or patents litigated in a given lawsuit. READ MORE

Unwillingness of Plaintiff to Test Merits of Claims Tests Court’s Patience

Shipping and Transit, LLC v. Hall Enterprises, Inc., C.D. Cal. (July 5, 2017) (Judge Andrew J. Guilford)

Plaintiff Shipping & Transit, LLC (“S&T”) is a non-practicing entity that filed hundreds of patent lawsuits in 2016 alone, alleging infringement of three patents directed to monitoring and reporting the location of a vehicle. One of these patents was asserted in more than 400 cases, and the other two patents were asserted in more than 90 cases. However, S&T would routinely settle or dismiss a case with prejudice prior to a ruling on the merits where a defendant challenged the validity of the patents.

In this case, Defendant Hall Enterprises, Inc. asked S&T to voluntarily dismiss the case due to perceived patent validity issues. After S&T refused, Hall Enterprises moved for judgment on the pleadings arguing that all of the claims asserted against it were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 due to ineligible subject matter. Only then did S&T move to dismiss its own claims with prejudice. READ MORE

TC Heartland – One Month Later Delaware, Texas, California and Illinois Courts Most Popular Venues

We previously reported on the early impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in TC Heartland based on the first few weeks of new filings. (For a summary of the TC Heartland opinion and its implications, click here.) It has now been one month, and based on the filing data for the month since TC Heartland as well as historical data since the beginning of 2016, we now have a better sense of how things have changed and how things may look in the future. Using data obtained from Docket Navigator, we compared filings in the month since TC Heartland came down on May 22 with filings earlier this year and also for all of 2016. READ MORE

Determination on Indirect Infringement Requires Factual Record, Warranting Denial of Motion to Dismiss

Order Denying Motion to Dismiss, The Regents of the University of California v. Boston Scientific Corporation, Case No. 16-cv-06266-YGR (Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers)

Ever since the abolition of form complaints in patent cases (see our previous reporting here, here, and here), patent defendants have been incentivized to file motions to dismiss, and many have succeeded. But as Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ recent Order in this case reminds us, even after Twombly and Iqbal, Rule 12(b)(6) still offers a relatively lenient pleading standard and, in many cases, requires development of a factual record before dismissal can be considered.  READ MORE

The Northern District of California Shoots to Second Place After TC Heartland

It’s been just over two weeks since the Supreme Court decision in TC Heartland.  (For a summary of the opinion and its implications, click here.)  As plaintiffs and the courts now struggle to deal with venue in patent cases (and patent litigators brush up on venue law), we looked at recent filings to see what effect the decision had on where patent complaints are being filed.  Using data obtained from Docket Navigator, we compared filings in the sixteen days since TC Heartland came down on May 22 with filings earlier this year between March 1-May 21.  READ MORE

A “Virtual” Home Is Not a Home: Court Sanctions Plaintiffs for “Reckless Disregard” in Deciding the Proper Forum for Their Litigation

Usually, one benefit of being a plaintiff is deciding in what forum to pursue litigation.  Generally, even a foreign-based plaintiff may pursue litigation in a U.S. forum where a defendant may be found or in which there is a substantial connection to the litigation.  There are, however, limits on a plaintiff’s choice of forum, and a recent decision in Tapgerine LLC v. 50Mango, Inc. demonstrates that pushing those limits may result in sanctions. READ MORE

Inadequate Disclosures Preclude Monetary Damages Recovery in Trademark Infringement Suit

Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Sazerac Co., Inc., et al. v. Fetzer Vineyards, Inc., Case No. 3:15-cv-04618-WHO (Judge William H. Orrick)

As any practitioner who has sought to establish trademark infringement already knows, likelihood of confusion is difficult to prove at trial. Nonetheless, a recent Order in Sazerac Co., Inc., et al. v. Fetzer Vineyards, Inc. demonstrates that plaintiffs still retain certain inherent advantages at the summary judgment stage in proving that there exists a likelihood of confusion, given the high hurdle for defendants to convince a court that no genuine issues of fact exist and that summary judgment is warranted.  But as this case also demonstrates, that does not mean that plaintiffs can “sleep at the wheel,” so to speak, when disclosing infringement or damages theories during discovery. READ MORE

Foreign Party Cannot Hide Behind Hague Convention To Avoid Service

Order Re Service and Motion to Dismiss Re Service, Xilinx, Inc., v. Godo Kaisha IP Bridge 1, Case No. 3:17-cv-00509-JD (Judge James Donato)

It is not uncommon for parties to race to file competing patent suits in their preferred districts once negotiations break down and litigation appears necessary. In some cases, recognizing that federal courts generally give priority to cases which are the “first filed” and procedurally further along, a party may attempt to delay service of an opposing party’s complaint.  That was the apparent strategy of Japan-based Godo Kaisha IP Bridge 1 (“IPB”) in its patent dispute with San Jose-based Xilinx, Inc. (“Xilinx”).  But as IPB discovered, delay tactics do not always work. READ MORE