Photographic Illustrators Corp. v. Orgill, Inc. et al. (14-cv-11818).

Photographic Illustrators, a company working in commercial photography, accused Orgill of infringing a number of Photographic Illustrators’ copyrights in photographs of Osram Sylvania lighting products. Orsram has a license to the photographs; PI asserts that Orgill, an Osram distributor, is not covered by that license. Orgill was granted summary judgment on PI’s DMCA and Lanham Act claims in 2015, but Orgill’s motion with respect to the copyright infringement claim was denied. Following an arbitration involving PI and Osram, Orgill again moved for summary judgment on the copyright claim, asserting that they were sublicensed under the Osram license and that that arbitration award precludes the copyright claim. PI cross-moved for summary judgment that there was no sublicense or that Orgill’s use fell outside of the purported sublicense.

Orgill asserted that it had impliedly been sublicensed by Osram, which was confirmed in a nunc pro tunc 2014 sublicense. In her 2015 decision, Judge Saris found that PI had provided sufficient evidence that Orgill had sublicensed the photographs to Orgill’s dealers for a fee, which was not permitted under PI’s license with Osram, and without the attribution required by the PI/Osram agreement. Subsequently, the arbitrator found that the no-fee provision and the attribution provision were merely covenants enforceable via contract law, rather than conditions on Osram’s license.

In her decision of last week, Judge Saris determined that Osram had granted Orgill an unwritten sublicense, through its course of conduct in giving Orgill images to promote Osram products since 1998 and in never objecting to Orgill’s use of the images. She further found that an implied sublicense could legally be granted. PI had asserted that an implied copyright license could not be granted by a licensee to a sublicensee who has no direct contact with the copyright holder; looking to the totality of the circumstances to determine that the parties intended Orgill to be licensed, specifically that PI intended to permit Osram to sublicense the photographs and that Osram intended that Orgill be licensed to use the images. The arbitration decision effectively precluded PI from arguing that Orgill exceeded the scope of this implied sublicense, because the relevant terms of PI’s license with Osram did not condition sublicenses Osram could make. She further found that the confirmatory sublicense, which included language requiring attribution where feasible, but further stated that this requirement was “[w]ithout effect on the rights of Orgill… to Use the Images as granted…” This quoted language meant that the attribution requirement was not a condition which must be met to form the sublicense, but again merely a contractual obligation. Accordingly, use by Orgill of photographs lacking attribution cannot be the basis for the copyright infringement claim.

Judge Saris further addressed PI’s argument that it had not licensed “approval” images to Osram, such that Orgill could not have been sublicensed with respect to those images. These “approval” images were rough photographs sent to Osram for approval before being retouched and refined into he final photographs by PI. While the issue of whether these images were licensed was not affirmatively determined by the arbitrator, Judge Saris determined that PI had not disclosed this infringement theory during discovery, and precluded PI from pursuing this theory under FRCP 37(c)(1). Accordingly, she granted Orgill’s motion for summary judgment.

DogWatch, Inc. v. DogWatch of Sarasota, Inc. et al. (19-cv-10625).

DogWatch, a Natick company that makes electronic pet restraint systems such as the “invisible fence,” accuses its former Florida dealer DogWatch of Sarasota (“DoS”) of trademark and trade dress infringement, trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, passing off, unfair competition, tortious interference with contractual relationships, and unjust enrichment in connection with DoS’ continued use of DogWatch’s name and proprietary information following termination of their business relationship. DogWatch has had a federal registration to its name since 1993, and asserts (with no real evidentiary support) that the name is famous. DogWatch further asserts trade dress protection in some combination of its order forms, yard flags, letterhead, stationary, internet web pages, URL’s van graphics and other unspecified materials. DogWatch further asserts trade secret protection in pricing information, draft marketing and promotional material, and business strategy and plans, and it asserts that the exclusive dealer agreement with DoS included an implied covenant not to use or disclose these purported secrets. Late last year, DogWatch notified DoS that they were terminating the exclusive dealer agreement, for reasons not specified in the complaint. Despite this, they assert that DoS continues to hold itself out as a DogWatch dealer and to use the trademark, trade dress, and trade secrets of DogWatch. The breach of contract count cites acts of DoS that occurred following termination of the agreement – there is no suggestion that DoS did anything wrong prior to termination. Judge Saris has this case.

Litigation Training in the District of Rhode Island

The U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island today announced a training program on opening statements and closing arguments.  The session will run from May 20th through the 24th at the federal courthouse in Providence, and will provide CLE credits for those of you in states requiring them.  These sessions tend to fill up quickly, so anyone interested should sign up here.

Earle et al. v. Standard Process, Inc. (19-cv-10613).

Daniel Earle and his Amazon reseller company, The Antitrend, filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that they do not infringe a number of Standard Process’ trademarks or otherwise unfairly compete with Standard Process. The Antitrend is in the business of reselling branded goods bought on the open market through an Amazon storefront. This district has seen a number of suits brought by trademark holders against Amazon resellers, notably ecobee’s recent series of suits. In this case, Earle claims that he obtains Standard Process goods legally and without restriction. He further asserts that his site makes clear that it is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers whose products are sold thereon, and that no manufacturer’s guarantees or warranties will apply to goods purchased from his site. Despite this, he has received a number of cease and desist letters from Standard Process, and that Standard Process filed (but did not serve) a complaint against his site in the Western District of Wisconsin last month. By this complaint, Earle challenges the claims in that complaint, asserting that the first sale doctrine prohibits these claims. Earle notes that Standard Process has already lost on the first sale doctrine in a prior litigation in the Eastern District of Wisconsin (although I would note that Banks prevailed at summary judgment with respect to a website that included an express disclaimer of affiliation, but denied summary judgment with respect to solicitations that included pictures of Standard’s products and lacked a disclaimer of affiliation). Earle also asserts that Standard Process’ resale policy does not form an enforceable contract, particularly where Earle bought the products on the open market, another issue that Standard Process had previously litigated and lost on (in a 2008 case, Standard’s unilateral resale policy was found not to constitute a valid contract, because it imposed no obligations on Standard; it is unclear from the complaint in this case whether Standard has since changed the policy). Earle’s complaint does not provide a reason why this case should be heard in Massachusetts instead of the first-filed district, so it will be interesting to see whether this case moves forward in the Commonwealth.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Inc. v. Naismith’s Pub & Pretzel, Inc. (19-cv-30039).

James Naismith created the game of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891. Beginning at least as early as 1959, the Hall of Fame began operating a basketball hall of fame in the same town, named for James Naismith. The Hall owns a number of trademark registrations involving the name Naismith, including NAISMITH MEMORIAL BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME, NAISMITH BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME, NAISMITH COACHES CIRCLE, NAISMITH ORANCE, and several logo marks that incorporate “Naismith” in the logo. The Hall accuses Naismith’s Pub & Pretzel of deceit as to affiliation, false designation of origin, sponsorship or approval, dilution, and unfair competition, under both the Lanham Act and Massachusetts common law, asserting that the name of the restaurant, located a mere 1.3 miles from the Hall of Fame, was intended to trade off the good will of the Hall. The Hall notes that the restaurant is decorated with basketball memorabilia, including a number of images of James Naismith. The Hall’s claims all rely on “Naismith” being the dominant part of both its registered marks and Defendant’s name. Notably, the Hall does not indicate any direct connection with Naismith or his family. Also noteworthy, the first of the registrations was initially refused over a prior registration to “Naismith Awards,” with the examining attorney noting that the dominant part of each was “Naismith.” The Hall overcame the rejection through a consent agreement in which each asserted that there was no confusion between the two. While that might seem inconsistent with the current lawsuit, the “Naismith Awards” took place in Atlanta, not Springfield, and had coexisted at the time for nearly twenty years with no confusion noted.

Zavala Licensing LLC v. Tejas Networks India Private Limited (19-cv-10594).

Plano, Texas company Zavala sued Tejas Networks, accusing the company of infringing its U.S. 6,684,086 patent on radio base stations and communications methods by sale of its TJI600 LTE eNodeB products. The patent claims priority to a Japanese application filed December 8, 1999, meaning the litigation is unlikely to conclude prior to the expiration of the patent.

Ecolab USA v. B & B Pest Control et al. (19-cv-10307).

Ecolab sued B& B in February, accusing the pest control company of infringing its U.S. Patent 10,070,639, which claims heat systems for killing bed bugs and other pests. Ecolab had notified the manufacturer of a heat treatment system, called “AmCan BugStop Hot House,” and asked the manufacturer to provide notice of the ‘639 patent to all U.S. purchasers of the product. On this basis, Ecolab asserted that the infringement was willful, and sought treble damages and attorney’s fees. The dispute did not last long – On March 21, the owners of B & B, acting pro se, entered into a consent judgment, which Judge Young entered as a court order four days later. Under the consent judgment, B & B agreed that the ‘639 patent is valid and enforceable and that it infringed the patent. B & B further accepted a permanent injunction.