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.
After discovering 1818 Farms’ “The Man of the Farm Grooming Can” product in the fall, counsel for Plum Island Soap Co. contacted 1818 Farms.
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.
PointCare sued Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Mass. General Hospital, the Koch Cancer Institute, and the two named inveontors, both former PointCare employees, accusing them of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,611,849, which is alleged to cover aspects of “enhanced cellular assays.” The technology, which addresses human cells that have been marked for detection as receptors, can lead to very early detection of conditions such as AIDS, lung cancer, and other diseases. The patent covers the binding of gold to receptor cells to facilitate in their detection and quantification. The complaint alleges that the defendants are preparing to market infringing technology, as evidenced by articles published by the defendants that indicated they had been conducting research to locate markers as to cancer cells which could be addressed through the patented process. In addition to the infringement claim, the defendants are accused of violating Mass G.L. c. 93A, conversion under state law, breach of contract (alleging that infringement of the patent is effectively a breach of the agreement whereby the inventors assigned the patent to PointCare), and interference with a contract (again, the assignment contract).
In a series of consolidated cases (discussed further here and here), a large number of Boston-area cab companies accuse Uber, as well as Uber founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, of unfair competition in violation of Massachusetts state and common law, and some of the plaintiffs further allege that Uber violated state and federal antitrust law, interfered with advantageous business relationships, engaged in civil conspiracy and aided and abetted unfair competition. Kalanick and Camp both moved to dismiss the claims against them as individuals. Judge Gorton granted this motion, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to allege specific facts demonstrating either general or specific jurisdiction – the complaint alleged only that the two formed Uber while in California and that Uber had undertaken activities in Massachusetts, but failed to identify any activities the individuals, as opposed to the company, had directed towards this forum.
As to the claims against Uber, Massachusetts passed a law in August 2016, the “TNC Act,” that pre-empts local municipalities from regulating ride-sharing companies like Uber, and the plaintiffs agree that this precludes Uber’s post-enactment activity. With respect to the pre-enactment activity, Judge Gorton found that, absent the TNC Act, Uber’s activities fell within the Boston municipal taxi regulations. Accordingly, allegations that Uber did not comply with the taxi regulations or incur the concomitant costs to gain an unfair advantage and cause economic injury sufficiently stated a cause of action for the statutory and common-law unfair competition claims. The court likewise denied the motion to dismiss with respect to claims that Uber conspired with its independent contractor drivers to violate the taxi rules. Judge Gorton allowed Uber’s motion to dismiss claims that Uber and its drivers, as an employer and employees (as opposed to independent contractors – it is not yet clear what status the drivers will ultimately be deemed to have held), conspired to violate the taxi regulations, because with the individual founders having been dismissed, this would effectively allege that Uber conspired with itself to do so, a claim that is untenable. Judge Gorton dismissed claims for interference with advantageous business relationships because the complaint did not allege interference with any specific anticipated business relationship, and the plaintiffs’ allegations regarding interference with people seeking for-hire ride services generally was not sufficiently specific. Finally, Judge Gorton also dismissed the antitrust claims. Those claims were based on a predatory pricing theory whereby a company sells products or services below its costs, hoping to drive competitors out of the market, at which point the company can raise its prices due to its monopoly position. The complaint did allege that Uber had lost “billions of dollars” (which seems to be accurate), but this was found to lack the particularity required of the antitrust laws.
Alamite Ventures, owners of a Russian-language internet video streaming service known as “TUA.tv,” filed an interesting lawsuit in the District of Massachusetts against a competitor Russian-language video streaming service, “eTVnet.” According to the complaint, eTVnet is populated with pirated copyrighted videos for which no license fees were paid, and advertises the service as legal and fully-licensed. Because of this, eTVnet can both offer content that the copyright owners do not license out, making the content unavailable to companies operating legitimately, and to offer lower prices as a result of not paying license fees. The complaint names eTVnet’s two owners and operators as co-defendants with the company, and use the multiplicity of defendants to assert claims of civil conspiracy, along with unfair business practices and false designation of origin/false or misleading representations of fact under the Lanham Act. It will be interesting to see if this complaint, which effectively argues for redress of harm resulting from infringement of third-party, non-plaintiff’s copyrights, can survive a preemption challenge under 17 U.S.C. § 301.
A class action complaint was filed against Eversource Energy and Avangrid, Inc., accusing the companies of manipulating the flow, and thus price, of natural gas into New England, with a resulting increase in the price of electricity. Both companies are accused of systematically over-ordering natural gas from the Algonquin gas pipeline, the biggest supply line into the region, and then cancelling a portion of the order at the last minute, making it unavailable for other electricity generators. Eversource and Avidgrid own companies that operate as Local Distribution Companies that allow them, through legacy contracts, to adjust orders of natural gas throughout the day without penalty; it is this possibility that enables them to order more gas than they expect to use and cancel portions of the order when the gas cannot be purchased and put to use elsewhere. The two companies are alleged to be the only two companies to operate large-scale natural gas and electric companies in the area, giving them unique capabilities for this type of behavior. The complaint alleges that this practice resulted in customers paying a minimum of 20% more for electricity than they should have, costing consumers $3.6 billion over a three-year period from 2013-2016. Plaintiffs bring antitrust claims as well as unjust enrichment and unfair competition under New England states’ consumer protection laws.
DR Media Holdings and its wholly-owned subsidiary, DealerRater.com, LLC, sued Saskatchewan resident Dan Robinson, alleged to be the founder and operator of Dealeradar, Inc., for trademark infringement. DR Media’s website, www.dealerrater.com, is asserted to be a leader in the field of automotive consumer reviews on dealers and service centers, while its subsidiary, DealerRater.com, offers online reputation management and monitoring services for automotive dealers. DR media alleges that the defendant also offers reputation management and social media services for automobile dealers under the DEALERADAR name at its website, www/radaresults.com/automotive, and that it also owns the domain name www.dealeradar.com, which Mr. Robinson previously used for the business and which, since being notified of DR Media’s rights, redirects users to the current site. DR Media further alleges that Mr. Robinson falsely uses the trademark registration symbol ® in association with the DEALERADAR mark, despite not having a registration. Aside from trademark infringement, DR Media brings claims for false designation of origin, unfair competition, and violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act (Ch. 93A).
Global Protection, a condom and reproductive health aid manufacturer, sued Sooka for declaratory relief relating to ownership of intellectual property connected with prophylactic dams. According to the complaint, Global purchased the assets of Glyde Health Pty. Ltd. in 2015, including the rights to Australia’s Glyde Health’s prophylactic dams, the associated trademarks and goodwill, and associated 510(k) Premarket Notification FDA submissions and supporting documentation. The FDA’s Premarket Notifications had been issued in the name of Glyde Health’s former U.S. distributer, Glyde USA, Inc., who is alleged to have transferred them to Glyde Health in 2014. Sooka, a customer of Glyde USA who resold Glyde products, entered into an agreement with Glyde Health to distribute condoms, but not prophylactic dams. Over the course of several months in 2015, Sooka sought to purchase rights to the FDA Premarket Notifications from Glyde Health as part of a bid to obtain North American rights to the product; the negotiations fell through, however, and Global purchased U.S. rights to the product in October 2015. At that point, Sooka claimed that it had acquired the rights to the product directly from Glyde USA prior to the transfer to Glyde Health. Both parties filed for trademark protection on SHEER GLYDE DAMS, with Sooka receiving the registration. The suit was filed after Global received a cease and desist letter from Sooka. Global seeks a declaration that it is the sole owner of the Premarket Notification, that it received the legal rights to the SHEER GLYDE DAM mark, and that it has not infringed any valid Sooka mark, as well as findings of unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and conversion.