Hillside Plastics, Inc. v. Dominion & Grimm USA, Inc. et al. (17-cv-30037).

Hillside owns a trademark registration for the design of its “Sugarhill Jug” plastic maple syrup jugs, and accuses Dominion of violating that trade dress. Dominion moved for judgment on the pleadings, on the grounds that the trade dress was invalid as functional.

Sugarhill Jug

The trademark application had, in fact, initially been refused because of functionality concerns, but Hillside was able to overcome the refusal with evidence of the many alternative designs for syrup jugs. Dominion, once a Hillside distributor, began offering the accused jugs in 2016. Magistrate Judge Robertson recommended denial of Dominion’s motion. She noted that, as the trade dress is registered and incontestable, Dominion bears the burden of demonstrating functionality. Further, functionality is a question of fact, and Dominion was unable to demonstrate through the pleadings that the designs were factually functional. Judge Robertson did grant Dominion’s motion to stay discovery pending appeal of her recommendation to the District Court judge.

1818 Farms, LLC v. Plum Island Soap Company, LLC (18-cv-00135, N.D. Alabama).

1818 Farms, after negotiating a settlement in principal on Plum Island’s trade dress and trademark assertions, surreptitiously filed this lawsuit and withdrew form settlement talks. Upon learning of this lawsuit, Plum Island Soap filed its own suit in Massachusetts. The background is discussed in detail here. Plum Island Soap sought to dismiss or stay the Alabama suit or, in the alternative, to transfer the Alabama suit to the District of Massachusetts for consolidation. Judge Kallon determined that transfer was appropriate. While 1818 Farms was the first to file suit, Judge Kallon noted that filing suit in anticipation of another pending proceeding or to improperly forum shop may be sufficient to show the compelling circumstances needed to overcome the presumption in favor of the first-to-file rule, particularly when the suit is a declaratory judgment action brought in the face of clear threats to sue. Here, he found that the parties were engaged in on-going discussions that had reached a mutually agreeable framework for settlement, and that in the middle of these discussions, and without informing Plum Island Soap, 1818 Farms filed the Alabama suit. 1818 Farms then continued negotiating without informing Plum Island Soap about their filing. This was found to be a clear attempt to preempt Plum Island Soap and obtain a jurisdiction desirable to 1818 Farms. Additionally, it was found to be in bad faith, given that 181 Farms continued to mislead Plum Island that settlement was imminent. Finally, Judge Kallon determined that a refusal to transfer would undermine the strong Federal interest in encouraging potential plaintiffs to attempt settlement negotiations rather than racing to the courts.

Auratone LLC v. Music Group IP Ltd. Et al. (18-cv-11228).

Auratone is a speaker company founded by Jack Wilson in the 50’s. The company became known for monitor speakers, the “Auratone 5C and 50C Super Sound Cubes, that became the studio standard monitor speaker in the 70’s, and achieved considerable success and fame – the Auratone 5C Super Sound Cube was inducted into the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Hall of Fame in 2015. While running the company, Wilson obtained a federal trademark registration on AURATONE; in 2004, however, the mark lapsed when Wilson’s failing health prevented him from filing an affidavit of continuing use; Wilson passed away shortly thereafter. His heirs attempted to continue the business, marketing and selling existing inventory, and eventually sold the business, along with the rights to the AURATONE mark to one of Wilson’s grandsons, who formed Auratone, LLC in 2013. Auratone continued to market and manufacture speakers, and filed a new trademark application for the AURATONE mark, claiming a date of first use of 1959. Aruatone accuses the defendants, a pair of companies residing in the British Virgin Islands and the Philippines, of trademark and trade dress infringement and passing off as a result of the defendants’ making knock-offs of the Super Cube speakers that utilize the AURATONE mark and the trade dress of the speakers. Auratone also challenges the defendants’ application for a trademark on the AURATONE mark, which was based on an intent to use. Of interest, the suit is being brought by law students at the Suffolk University Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic pursuant to SJC Rule 3:03.

Anova Applied Electronics, Inc. v. RJ Brands LLC d/b/a Chefman (18-cv-10910).

Anova filed suit against RJ Brands, a New Jersey company, accusing RJ of infringing on Anova’s “PRECISION” trademark and trade dress relating to Anova’s Sous Vide Precision Cooker, a constant temperature immersion circulator.  This is the second lawsuit relating to the trademark and trade dress for the product brought in this district in the last six months.  Anova asserts personal jurisdiction via RJ’s website, Chefman.com, which is available in Massachusetts, as well as stream of commerce theories based on the accused Chefman Precision Cooker being sold via on-line retailers such as Amazon.com, Bestbuy.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com.  Anova seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.

Lynx System Developers, Inc. et al. v. Zebra Enterprise Solutions Corp. et al. (15-cv-12297).

Judge O’Toole ruled on a pair of privilege disputes in this trade secret litigation, finding some claims of privilege to be without merit while upholding others.  Lynx accuses Zebra of misappropriating real-time player tracking technology and used it to obtain a deal with the NFL that did not include Lynx.  During discovery, certain e-mail chains were produced by Zebra in both keyword-searchable and non-searchable formats; redactions based on privilege were made in only one of the formats.  The parties could not resolve whether the privilege claim was legitimate, leading to the filing of a motion to remove the redactions by Lynx.  A first set of e-mails included communications between Zebra, Zebra’s counsel, and non-employee consultants hired by Zebra o assist in reaching agreement with the NFL.  Following en camera review of the communications in question, Judge O’Toole determined that Zebra had waived privilege in these communications by sharing them with the consultants.  He found that the Kovel doctrine, which extends privilege to communications with third parties that are necessary, or at least highly useful, for effective consultation between the client and the attorney, did not apply, because the redacted communications were not made for the purpose of obtaining legal advice, and instead concerned business advice.  The communications also did not demonstrate that the consultants were necessary to interpret matters beyond the lawyers’ reach.  He also rejected Zebra’s attempted reliance on the “functional equivalent” doctrine, by which non-employee agents of a corporation can be considered functionally equivalent to corporate employees by virtue of their close connection to the corporation, such that privilege would extend.  Here, the consultants were not so closely tied to Zebra as to be equivalent to employees – they lacked longstanding relations with the company, worked remotely, were not Zebra’s sole representatives in negotiations, and were free to work for others.  Judge O’Toole further noted that neither the First Circuit nor the District of Massachusetts had ever adopted or applied the doctrine.  The results were different with respect to a different set of communications, with Judge O’Toole upholding the privilege in communications between Zebra executives and in-house counsel.  He noted that such communications would only be privileged if they revolved around legal, as opposed to business, advice, but noted that the communications in question did address legal perspectives on issues being discussed.

Plum Island Soap Co., LLC v. 1818 Farms, LLC et al. (18-cv-10214).

The Plum Island Soap Company sued 1818 Farms sued Alabama’s 1818 Farms and its sole operator, Natasha McCrary for trademark and trade dress infringement relating to men’s grooming products sold in combination and packaged in a paint can.  The background of the lawsuit is interesting. Plum Island Soap Co. has an incontestable registration on “THE MAN CAN” mark.  It alleges it has been using the paint can trade dress for more than five years, establishing a prima facie case of secondary meaning, and successfully obtained injunctive relief relating to the mark in 2013.

themancan

After discovering 1818 Farms’ “The Man of the Farm Grooming Can” product in the fall, counsel for Plum Island Soap Co. contacted 1818 Farms.

1818_Farms_Man_of_the_Farm_Can_5_1024x1024

According to the complaint, they negotiated and agreed upon terms to resolve the dispute in which 1818 Farms acknowledged the validity of the trade dress and agreed to be enjoined, needing only to memorialize the agreement into a formal settlement document, and in reliance upon this, Plum Island Soap Co. did not file suit; yet in January, while in daily communication with Plum Island’s attorneys , 1818 Farms filed suit in Alabama seeking declarations of non-infringement, challenging the validity of the trade dress , and seeking to cancel the trademark registration.  Six days later, 1818 Farms then contacted Plum Island’s lawyers and reneged on the agreed-upon terms of the settlement and informed Plum Island of the Alabama complaint.  Plum Island asserts that, but for the false indication that 1818 Farms was settling the dispute, it would have filed suit in Massachusetts, and that Massachusetts should thus be the forum for the litigation.  Plum Island claims trademark and trade dress infringement, as well as contributory and vicarious trademark infringement in connection with third-party sales of “The Man of the Farm Grooming Can” product and the preparation of marketing materials by third parties for 1818 Farms’ benefit.  Plum Island also alleges breach of contract and of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, stating that the settlement discussions had reached the point of an actual agreement, as well as fraud relating to statements made in the Alabama complaint that Plum Island made false statements to the PTO when seeking to register THE MAN CAN mark, and unfair and deceptive practices under Mass. G.L. 93A.  Plum Island seeks temporary, preliminary and permanent injunctions, enforcement of the settlement agreement, monetary damages, and treble damages and attorney’s fees.

Solid Holdings, LLC et al. v. Solid Logic Limited et al. (17-cv-12528).

Solid Holdings, Solid Surface Care, Inc. and Solidcare, LLC (collectively, “Solid”) sued Solid Logic, along with two of its officers, for trademark and trade dress infringement, false designation of origin, dilution and cybersquatting. Solid alleges that it is the registrant and owner of SOLID marks in connection with cleaning and maintenance of stone, metal, concrete, terrazzo, grout and wood surfaces, as well as a distinctive trade dress using red-orange and gray.  Solid  asserts that, after meeting with Solid to discuss possibly becoming a franchisee, the defendants formed Solid Logic Limited to offer the same services in a deliberate attempt to poach off of the good-will of the SOLID mark and trade dress, and that its registration of its “solidlogicltd.com” website comprises cybersquatting on Solid’s “solidcare.com” domain name.