Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trademark

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Verisign filed suit against XYZ and its CEO Daniel Negari, alleging that defendants' statements regarding the scarcity of desirable .com domain names violated the Lanham Act's, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1)(B), false advertising provisions. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of XYZ. The court agreed with the district court that Verisign failed to establish the elements of a Lanham Act claim. In regard to XYZ's self-promoting statements, the court held that Verisign failed to produce the required evidence that it suffered an actual injury as a direct result of XYZ’s conduct. Nor can Verisign establish that XYZ’s statements about the availability of suitable .com domain names were false or misleading statements of fact. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "VeriSign v. XYZ.com" on Justia Law

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BBC, owner of the FLANAX trademark in Mexico, and its sister company, Bayer, filed suit against Belmora, owner of the FLANAX trademark in the United States, contending that Belmora used the FLANAX mark to deliberately deceive Mexican-American consumers into thinking they were purchasing BCC’s product. The court concluded that the Lanham Act’s, 15 U.S.C. 1125, plain language contains no unstated requirement that a section 43(a) plaintiff have used a U.S. trademark in U.S. commerce to bring a Lanham Act unfair competition claim; the Supreme Court’s guidance in Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. does not allude to one, and the court's prior cases either only assumed or articulated as dicta that such a requirement existed; and therefore, the district court erred in imposing such a condition precedent upon Bayer’s claims. The court also concluded that BCC has adequately pled a section 43(a) false association claim for purposes of the zone of interests prong; BCC's allegations reflect the claim furthers the section 45 purpose of preventing the deceptive and misleading use of marks in commerce within the control of Congress; and BCC has also alleged injuries that are proximately caused by Belmora’s violations of the false association statute. Therefore, the court held that BCC has sufficiently pled a section 43(a) false association claim to survive Belmora’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Because these statements are linked to Belmora’s alleged deceptive use of the FLANAX mark, the court is satisfied that BCC’s false advertising claim, like its false association claim, comes within the Act’s zone of interests. The court inferred that the alleged advertisements contributed to the lost border sales pled by BCC, and that the claim also satisfies Lexmark’s proximate cause prong. Further, the court agreed with Bayer that the district court erred in overturning the TTAB’s section 14(3) decision because it read a use requirement into the section that is simply not there. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Belmora LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG" on Justia Law

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BBC, owner of the FLANAX trademark in Mexico, and its sister company, Bayer, filed suit against Belmora, owner of the FLANAX trademark in the United States, contending that Belmora used the FLANAX mark to deliberately deceive Mexican-American consumers into thinking they were purchasing BCC’s product. The court concluded that the Lanham Act’s, 15 U.S.C. 1125, plain language contains no unstated requirement that a section 43(a) plaintiff have used a U.S. trademark in U.S. commerce to bring a Lanham Act unfair competition claim; the Supreme Court’s guidance in Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. does not allude to one, and the court's prior cases either only assumed or articulated as dicta that such a requirement existed; and therefore, the district court erred in imposing such a condition precedent upon Bayer’s claims. The court also concluded that BCC has adequately pled a section 43(a) false association claim for purposes of the zone of interests prong; BCC's allegations reflect the claim furthers the section 45 purpose of preventing the deceptive and misleading use of marks in commerce within the control of Congress; and BCC has also alleged injuries that are proximately caused by Belmora’s violations of the false association statute. Therefore, the court held that BCC has sufficiently pled a section 43(a) false association claim to survive Belmora’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Because these statements are linked to Belmora’s alleged deceptive use of the FLANAX mark, the court is satisfied that BCC’s false advertising claim, like its false association claim, comes within the Act’s zone of interests. The court inferred that the alleged advertisements contributed to the lost border sales pled by BCC, and that the claim also satisfies Lexmark’s proximate cause prong. Further, the court agreed with Bayer that the district court erred in overturning the TTAB’s section 14(3) decision because it read a use requirement into the section that is simply not there. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Belmora LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG" on Justia Law

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DRI filed suit against LIA and Ashley under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), alleging that an advertisement placed in a trade magazine by Ashley, and two statements made by the director of LIA's research laboratory, which ran in articles in the same publication, were false and misleading. On appeal, DRI challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment for LIA and Ashley on DRI's false advertising claim. The court agreed with the district court that DRI failed to substantiate a claim that the Ashley Ad is either literally false or impliedly false; that DRI failed to provide sufficient support for a false advertising claim with respect to the director’s statement in the Gunin Article; and that DRI failed to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the director's statement in the Andrews Article was a false or misleading representation of fact. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Design Resources, Inc. v. Leather Indus." on Justia Law

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After Radiance published an article online entitled “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People” that criticized the NAACP’s stance on abortion, the NAACP sent Radiance a cease-and-desist letter. Radiance sought a declaratory judgment that it had not infringed any NAACP trademarks and the NAACP filed counterclaims alleging trademark infringement and dilution. The court concluded that the NAACP does not have actionable claims for trademark infringement in this case; Radiance's use of the NAACP's marks or colorable imitation falls squarely within the exceptions to trademark dilution specifically included in the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., to avoid encroaching on free speech rights; and therefore, the court reversed the district court's injunction and remanded with directions that defendant's counterclaims be dismissed. View "The Radiance Foundation, Inc. v. NAACP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a dissatisfied applicant in an ex parte trademark proceeding, sought review of an adverse ruling on his trademark application by commencing a de novo action in a federal district court. Under the Lanham Act, if an applicant elects to proceed in district court and no adverse party opposed his application before the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), the applicant must name the Director of the PTO as a defendant and pay all the expenses of the proceeding, whether or not she succeeds in the action. At the end of the proceeding in this case, the Director of the PTO sought the expenses of the proceeding from Plaintiff, including the PTO’s attorneys fees. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the imposition of all expenses on a plaintiff in an ex parte proceeding does not constitute “fee-shifting” that implicates the “American Rule” but, rather, constitutes an unconditional compensatory charge imposed on a dissatisfied applicant in an ex parte trademark proceeding who elects to engage the PTO in a district court proceeding. View "Shammas v. Focarino" on Justia Law
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This case involved a dispute between two clergymen, each of whom believed himself to be the proper leader of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. Bishop Charles vonRosenberg brought this action against Bishop Mark Lawrence, alleging Lanham Act violations and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Bishop Lawrence asked the district court to dismiss this federal action for lack of standing or, in the alternative, to abstain and stay this action pending resolution of related state court proceedings. The district court granted the motion to abstain and dismissed the action, concluding that it had broad discretion to decline to grant declaratory relief under the abstention doctrine articulated in Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of Am. and Wilton v. Steven Falls Co. The Fourth Circuit vacated the dismissal order, holding (1) Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, which permits a federal court to abstain only in “exceptional” circumstances, properly governed the abstention question in this action; and (2) because the district court did not apply the correct abstention standard, the case is remanded for a determination of whether “exceptional” circumstances are present in this case. View "vonRosenberg v. Lawrence" on Justia Law
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This case involved a dispute between two clergymen, each of whom believed himself to be the proper leader of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. Bishop Charles vonRosenberg brought this action against Bishop Mark Lawrence, alleging Lanham Act violations and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Bishop Lawrence asked the district court to abstain and stay this action pending resolution of related state court proceedings. The district court granted the motion to abstain and stayed the action, concluding that it had broad discretion to decline to grant declaratory relief under the abstention doctrine articulated in Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of Am. and Wilton v. Steven Falls Co. The Fourth Circuit vacated the stay order, holding (1) Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, which permits a federal court to abstain only in “exceptional” circumstances, properly governed the abstention question in this action; and (2) because the district court did not apply the correct abstention standard, the case is remanded for a determination of whether “exceptional” circumstances are present in this case. View "vonRosenberg v. Lawrence" on Justia Law
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Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products LP commenced three separate actions against von Drehle Corporation or its distributors, alleging contributory trademark infringement. In the instant action, a jury found in favor of Georgia-Pacific and awarded Georgia-Pacific $791,431. The district court entered a permanent, nationwide injunction prohibiting von Drehle from infringing Georgia-Pacific’s trademark rights, trebled the jury’s award, awarded attorneys fees, and awarded prejudgment interest and court costs. In the two parallel actions, the district courts ruled against Georgia-Pacific. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s injunction and award of attorneys fees and reversed its award of treble damages and prejudgment interest, holding (1) the Eighth and Sixth Circuits’ rulings against Georgia-Pacific rendered the district court’s injunction unduly broad, and the district court is instructed to narrow it to cover only the geographical area of the Fourth Circuit; and (2) the district court applied the wrong legal standards for trebling the jury award and for awarding attorneys fees and prejudgment interest. View "Georgia-Pacific Consumer Prods. LP v. von Drehle Corp." on Justia Law
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McAirlaids filed suit against Kimberly-Clark for trade-dress infringement and unfair competition under section 32(1)(a) and 43(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), 15 U.S.C. 1114(1)(a) and 1125(a), and Virginia law. McAirlaids produces "airlaid," a textile-like material composed of cellulose fiber. McAirlaids fuses shredded cellulose fiber ("fluff pulp") through a patented embossing process that produces a "pixel" pattern for its absorbent products. McAirlaids filed suit against Kimberly-Clark after Kimberly-Clark began using a similar dot pattern on its GoodNites bed mates, an absorbent product manufactured in a manner different from McAirlaid's pads. On appeal, McAirlaids appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Kimberly-Clark. The court concluded that McAirlaids has presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the functionality of its pixel-pattern. In particular, deciding whether McAirlaid's embossing pattern affects the quality of its pads requires weighing evidence and making credibility determinations. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "McAirlaids, Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp." on Justia Law